Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s proposed 2011 budget will take all buses off the road by midnight, start the first buses out of the garage at 6:00 am on week-ends, reduce the number of buses in the fleet from 483 to 414, run eight fewer buses during peak hours of the day, cutting a total of 59,874 hours of service for the year. Walker, who has frequently criticized the percentage of cost covered by passenger fares, has actually structured the budget for a net decrease in fare collections of $2.058 million.
In addition, Walker has increased charges to managed care organizations for paratransit services for riders with disabilities by $5 per ride, to $15.80.
Eyebrows were raised when Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker announced that no bus routes would be cut, nor fares raised, in the 2011 budget he presented to the Milwaukee County board. Walker has always insisted on no increase in the property tax levy: Milwaukee County Transit System administrators had calculated on that basis that thirteen routes would have to be cancelled, including all Freeway Flyer service, as well as ending all service after midnight, and raising fares.
The entire transit system would have been taken off the property tax levy permanently if the state had granted permission for a Regional Transit Authority, supporting Milwaukee county’s buses with a half percent sales tax – vigorously opposed by Walker, and vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle.
The numbers reveal flagrant cynicism in the flowery words and fair promises Walker presented for the news cameras. Every bus commuter who has ridden any route during peak hours knows that the buses are crammed to the limit, even with half the passengers standing. With fewer buses spaced out over longer time periods, there simply won’t be room to take on more passengers at all, and many will be left waiting for “the next bus” – if that bus has space. Waits between buses will be longer, backing up more waiting passengers at bus stops for limited space.
“Ending at midnight is crazy” said Renee Bacon, a nurse at Genesis Behavioral Services on north 32nd street. “One of our nurses gets off at midnight, and she counts on taking the bus home. People won’t be able to get to work, or home, they’ll lose their jobs. Walker is going to take away people’s paychecks and put them on welfare checks.”
The role of the bus system in getting people to work, and as an essential link in getting people on public assistance connected to jobs, has been emphasized by organizations such as Coalition for Advancing Transit for over a year. Walker has promised that he has 250,000 new jobs inside his brown paper bag, but his campaign web site offers no details on where they will come from. His budget will make it more difficult for Wisconsin citizens in need of work to get to them.
This is the first year Walker has not increased fares on Milwaukee bus riders, or cut routes, and it happens to also be the year he is running for governor, with the election a month away when he presented his budget. Board Chairman Lee Holloway observed that Walker is leaving the county board to the do “heavy lifting” of actually making the numbers balance. If he is elected governor, making the widely doubted numbers work will fall to his successor, rather than to himself.
The budget also assumes $2 million in advertising revenues, to be spent in 2011, which are not likely to materialize until 2013, according to county supervisor Johnny L. Thomas. The county is attempting to find a vendor who will pay to put ads and program content on video screens aboard buses, but doesn’t even have a bid yet. “Putting an immediate $2 million budget burden on the backs of potential vendors is not the way to go. We can’t put businesses in a position where they cannot succeed” says Thomas.