Milwaukee County Deserves Good Representation

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors serves a valuable purpose and does the citizens of Milwaukee County, bus riders and non-bus riders alike, a valuable service. Members of the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union know this, which is why we were disappointed to hear that a piece of legislation will be introduced at the State level to all but dismantle the County Board under the guise of reform. State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-15th Assembly/West Allis) is the author of this proposal, similar to one that he introduced as a County Supervisor that failed due to a lack of support.

This proposal is a blatant violation of Milwaukee County’s home rule. We are not saying that the County isn’t facing challenges; to the contrary, we think a strong County Board will be effective in meeting these challenges. If reform is needed, we believe that the dialogue around it needs to happen at the local level and in an open and honest fashion. Unfortunately, this proposal falls short in both of these categories.

The arguments surrounding this proposal are disingenuous and have more to do with spite than Milwaukee County citizens’ best interests in our opinion.
Our responses to the arguments made by advocates of the bill
Argument: The County Board doesn’t do enough work to be a full time body.
Fact: To the contrary, the Milwaukee County Board has a lot of responsibilities. Here are just some of them:

  • Transit
  • Paratransit/TransitPLUS
  • Parks
  • General Mitchell International
  • Courts
  • Mental Health
  • Senior Programs
  • Family Care
  • Sheriff funding
  • County highways
  • Jail
  • House of Correction
  • Medical Examiner’s Office
  • County Ordinances

This is in addition to their core duty of representation. On average, a Milwaukee County Supervisor represents a comparable number of citizens as a member of a the State Assembly.

Average population of a State Assembly District (Wisconsin's population in the 2010 Census was 5,686,986. Wisconsin has 99 Assembly Districts.)57,444
Average population of a Milwaukee County Supervisory District (Milwaukee County's population in the 2010 Census was 947,735. Milwaukee County has 18 Supervisory Districts.)52,651

Argument: 71 out of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have part-time boards.
Fact: While it is true that all of the other Wisconsin Counties have part-time boards, the comparison between these counties is disingenuous. The size and demographics of Milwaukee County make it unique to Wisconsin. Milwaukee County has a significantly larger and more diverse population that any other county in Wisconsin. More people means more services are needed, which means much more is demanded of Milwaukee County Supervisors than, for example, Iron County Supervisors who run a county with a population that is less than 1% of the size of Milwaukee’s.

Argument: Milwaukee County voters endorsed County Board cuts in April 2012.
Fact: Advocates of the bill have been arguing that it is not a violation of local control because of ‘a referendum’ held in April 2012 that went in favor of board cuts and part-time status. This is misleading. There was no county-wide referendum on this issue in April 2012. What did happen was a series of municipal referendums in a dozen suburbs. Each of these suburbs conducted their own referendums. All of these referendums occurred on April 3, on the same ballot as the Republican Presidential Primary and an uncontested Democratic Presidential nomination, resulting in a skewed turnout. What makes the results of this vote even more dubious is the fact that the City of Milwaukee, which accounts for two-thirds of Milwaukee County’s population, was not part of this. With these issues in mind, we feel that the suburban referendums should not be construed as an indicator of widespread support for this bill.

Argument: This bill doesn’t violate home rule because of the referendum it mandates
Fact: A key provision of this bill, cutting 85% of the County Board’s budget and capping it at 0.4% of the tax levy will not go before voters, it will be dictated by the bill. Such a cut would leave almost no money for the operations, meetings, analysis and research of the County Board. The results of the referendum will be largely ceremonial since if it goes in favor of keeping a full time board there will be no money to operate it. There may not even be enough money to run a part-time board.

What does the bill do?
We have serious concerns that the Milwaukee County Board will not be able to perform it’s duties if this bill became law. Here are some of the reasons:

  • It will cut the budget of the board by 85% and arbitrarily cap it at 0.4% of the tax levy.
  • It will cut the pay of County Supervisors by 70%. Supervisors will make $15,000 a year, making it unlikely that anyone who is not independently wealthy will be able to serve as a Supervisor.
  • It will preclude the county from putting any other referendum on the ballot in the April election

With the aforementioned concerns in mind, the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union is proud to stand against this effort to diminish the representation of Milwaukee County citizens. We stand firmly behind the citizens and Supervisors of Milwaukee County.

Could democracy suffer a setback in Milwaukee?

Transit riders should know about an far-reaching proposal to be announced today. A bill will be unveiled today by State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo [brother of American United (Red) Cab magnate Michael Sanfelippo] to drastically curtail the abilities of the County Board of Supervisors.

This bill would cut the budget of the Milwaukee County Board by 85%, cut the pay of supervisors to $15,000/year and reduce the board to a part-time status. This could make our mission of fighting for expanded transit much harder, since the County has the responsibility over routes, fares and the other on-the-ground details of the transit system. A part-time County Board may not have enough time to make these decisions. Getting a hold of your County Supervisor to may become hard as well.

Sanfelippo, a former County Supervisor, brought forth a similar measure at the County level in 2011 that failed to gain enough support. In a move that has been described as a slap in the face to local control and democracy, he will be introducing this bill at the State level today.

We’ll keep you posted on further developments on this bill. Details are expected to be released mid-day today.

Come to our meeting August 4 at 1:00pm

UPDATE: The agenda for this meeting is now available.

The Milwaukee Transit Riders Union will be having it’s monthly meeting on Saturday August 4, 2012 at 1:00pm.

This meeting will take place at the Amalgamated Transit Union Upper Hall, 734 N. 26th Street.

View Walking directions from 27th/Wisconsin to ATU 998 Hall in a larger map

We will be discussing:

  • 2013 Milwaukee County budget update
  • Upcoming campaigns
  • Coalition-building
  • Outreach

Do you want to add something? Submit it here before the deadline.

All bus riders and transit supporters are welcome to attend.

Snacks will be served.

The agenda is available here.

Upcoming changes to Milwaukee bus service

On January 29, 2012 there will be several changes to how us bus riders get around in Milwaukee.

Riders of Routes 11, 15, 18, 23 and 62 will have to make some adjustments to how they get around. New color coded express routes are being introduced as part of a complicated move by MCTS to stave off service cuts by replacing busy local service with new express bus routes funded with federal money.

Why is this happening?
In his 2011-2013 budget, Governor Scott Walker slashed the amount of money that the Milwaukee County Transit System gets each year from the State of Wisconsin. As a result of this cut and limitations on how communities can raise more money, the bus system was planning on cutting about 20% of service. This is why we were pushing for a Vehicle Registration Fee to fund transit; it would have raised enough money to keep the system intact and it does not require any approval from the State legislature or Governor.

Ultimately, County Executive Chris Abele applied for a Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant to fill the hole in MCTS’s budget. The catch: CMAQ funds can only be used for brand new service. CMAQ funds can not be used to keep current routes running. The solution? Create express routes out of the busiest routes in the system. Eliminate most or all of the current local service along the current routes 11, 15, 18 & 23 and use the money saved (or ‘freed up’) to keep the other routes running.

What is changing?
MCTS has released a special issue of BusLines with the maps of the new routes included. The route changes are as follows:

Route 11 Holton-Greenfield/Howell

  • Holton branch becomes part of Route 15
  • Greenfield branch becomes part of a new Route 56
  • Howell branch becomes part of the limited stop GreenLine MetroEXpress
  • Service to Centennial Plaza (43rd/Lincoln) and the Bolivar-Pine-Layton loop is eliminated

Route 15 Oakland-Kinnickinnic

  • RENAMED: 15 Holton-Kinnickinnic
  • Current 15 service north of 1st/Pittsburgh becomes part of the limited stop GreenLine MetroEXpress
  • Will operate via the current Holton branch of Rt. 11 to Bayshore
  • Clement-Pennsylvania-15th Av branch becomes Route 52 (evening and night service is eliminated)
  • All trips will operate via 5th Av-Columbia to Chicago/Drexel

Route 18 National-Greenfield

  • Service east of 70th/Greenfield becomes part of Route 23
  • 124th via Greenfield branch becomes part of the new Route 56
  • National branch becomes part of Rt. 54. Service on S. 92nd is eliminated

Route 23 Fond du Lac Avenue

  • RENAMED: 23 Fond du Lac-National
  • Mill via 64th branch becomes part of BlueLine MetroEXpress
  • Service east of 2nd on Wisconsin is eliminated
  • Takes on current Route 18 between Wisconsin and 70th/Greenfield

Route 62 Capitol Drive

  • Service east of Humboldt becomes part of RedLine MetroEXpress
  • Service west of 76th becomes part of RedLine MetroEXpress

Route 63 Silver Spring Drive

  • RENAMED: 63 Silver Spring-Port Washington
  • Takes on the part of the current Route 68 between Bayshore and Glencoe (Green Tree-Lake Drive-Brown Deer segment is eliminated)

Route 68 Port Washington Road

  • Current segment between Bayshore and Glencoe becomes part of Rt. 63
  • Current segment between Bayshore and Capitol becomes part of Rt. 15
  • Service on Port Washington between Keefe and Capitol is eliminated
  • Service on the Green Tree-Lake Drive-Brown Deer loop is eliminated

New routes

  • GreenLine MetroEXpress – Limited stop route comprised of the current Rt. 15 north of Pittsburgh and current Rt. 11 south of Pittsburgh with an extension to the Airport
  • BlueLine MetroEXpress – Limited stop route comprised of the current Route 23 Mill Road – 64th Street and current Route 18 east of 70th
  • RedLine MetroEXpress – Limited stop route comprised of the current Route 62
  • Route 52 Clement-15th Avenue – Limited service route comprised of the current Route 15 Clement-Pennsylvania-15th Av branch. Set to operate seven days a week, mornings, mid-days and afternoons. Service after approximately 6:00pm is eliminated
  • Route 56 Greenfield Avenue – Regular route running between 1st/Michell and 124th/Greenfield via 1st-Greenfield-43rd-Burnham-60th-Greenfield

Will this improve service?
It depends on where you are. These routes were designed with the purpose of saving money and riders had no ability to weigh in on the designs. Some residential areas will have no local bus service and bus riders will have to walk several blocks to catch a bus. On the other hand, the limited stop service may benefit commuters traveling from the central city to outlying areas by decreasing their travel time. Time will tell whether or not the MetroEXpress service is successful in shortening trip times, however bus riders should take note that the money funding this service is temporary and will expire in two years.

Getting dedicated funding for the transit system is as important now as ever
The CMAQ grants that funded his service are meant as start-up assistance for new routes. These particular grants run out in two years, at which point the County will be expected to fund the service. If we do not get the transit system off of the property tax, we face the loss of this service once this money runs out, or even the loss of other routes before that time due to rising fuel prices and declining home values in Milwaukee County.

This year, the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union will be renewing it’s push for dedicated funding wih more energy than before. As bus riders, it is essential that we be heard on policy and funding matters for the transit system. We need to be part of this, as we know the bus system, we ride the bus system and we are the most affected when services are cut.

On Saturday January 28, 2012 at 12:00pm we will be hitting the streets of Downtown Milwaukee to inform bus riders of the changes, listen to their concerns and pass out information. If you would like to join us, let us know.

We condemn attacks on Bus Drivers

The Milwaukee Transit Riders Union is an organization comprised of, and dedicated to being the voice of fare-paying bus riders in Milwaukee; advocating for better service and lower fares in the region.

Recently, a small percentage of Milwaukee bus riders who choose to evade paying the same bus fare everyone else pays, who contribute to disorder on the bus and even go to the extent of physically assaulting bus drivers have garnered a lot of attention in the local media.

Yesterday around 5:30pm, during a busy time on the extremely busy Route 12 an individual got on the bus headed Downtown. When asked for the fare this individual physically attacked the driver. The driver continued his run and was again victimized by this individual who damaged the bus window and threatened this same driver’s life. This is on top of another incident involving another driver just last week.

We condemn this violence against bus drivers. Bus drivers bear no responsibility for high bus fares; bus fares are determined in the budget. Bus drivers serve riders firsthand and fight hard to keep fares from going higher.

We stand with the drivers who have been the victims of these vicious attacks.

UPDATE: The transit system has suspended the driver victimized in yesterday’s assault.

MCTS to split up Route 23

Since December 2010, the Milwaukee County Transit System has been proposing splitting up Route 23 Fond du Lac Avenue on the northwest side. This plan has been finalized by the Milwaukee County Board’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee and will proceed on March 27, 2011.

The plan calls for turning the segments of Route 23 that serve northwest side industrial parks into a new Route 223. The segments were created in 2004 when Route 101 Silver Mill-Park Place Shuttle and Route 102 West Loop Shuttle were eliminated as a cost-cutting measure. The Mill Road Transit Center at 76th/Mill was also closed.

It seems strange that MCTS is taking a segment of existing service and branding it as a new route. According to an article about the change produced by the bus system the route is being ‘created’ to ‘serve businesses’. On the other hand, a report from the Managing Director of the bus system to the Transit committee says that the current Route 23 is hard to manage and requested the route.

The real threat here is that the full-service ends of this route, at Vincent High School and at 107th/Fond du Lac will be redesignated as Route 223 and be reduced to limited service. Scott Walker has attempted to eliminate these parts of Route 23 in the 2008 County Budget.

The 91st Street branch of Route 23 has full service up to Vincent High School at Granville/Calumet. The Mill Road branch has full service up to 107th/Fond du Lac, where a sizable, transit dependant residential district is.

Little has been released about the changes yet. We will publish updates soon.