Riders disembark from the Route 43 Freeway Flyer on a recent Friday afternoon. Photos by Patti Wenzel

Working under the constraints of the county executive’s 2011 budget goals, administrators at the Milwaukee County Transit System have submitted a proposed budget that meets Scott Walker’s $165.5 million transit suggestion which will cut routes and service, raise fares and reduce Paratransit access. Unfortunately, that flies in the face of what county citizens have beentelling Walker for months.

MCTS proposes to eliminate four street routes and all of the Freeway Flyer routes currently in operation.

The route cuts include Route 68: Port Washington Road; Route 28: 108th Street; Route 64: South 60th Street; Route 219: Oak Creek Shuttle; Route 39: Timmerman Flyer1; Route 40: College-Ryan Flyer; Route 43: Whitnall Flyer; Route 44: Fairpark/National Avenue Flyer; Route 45: Watertown Plank Road Flyer; Route 46: Loomis-Southridge Flyer; Route 47: South 27th Street Flyer; Route 48: South Shore Flyer; and Route 49: Brown Deer/Northridge Flyer.

In addition to cutting these 13 routes, MCTS is also recommending elimination of the Summerfest Flyers numbered 39, 40, 41, 43, 45, 46, 47 and 49. There was no mention of the UWM Flyers, so it is assumed that service will remain for 2011.

Two routes will lose segments of service – Route 80 (South 6th Street) will stop at the MATC South Campus, losing service to Puetz Road and Route 12 (Hampton-Teutonia) will stop service at Florist Ave., no longer traveling to the northern county line.

Service cuts are also proposed on JARC-funded routes. The Job Access and Reverse Commute program provides funds to address the transportation challenges faced by low-income people seeking and maintaining employment. This money administered by the Federal Transportation Fund has been growing smaller over the years leading to service cuts.

Among the changes proposed for JARC-funded routes are Route 12 Saturday and Sunday: North of Good Hope Road to Cherrywood Land; Route 28: Weekday headway improvements; Route 27: Trips to Glendale Industrial Park; Route 68: Port Washington Road – No Sunday or Saturday evening service; Miscellaneous routes: Elimination of early A.M. and late P.M. routes.

On all remaining routes MCTS is proposing to eliminate all service between Midnight and 4:30 a.m. during the week. The weekends will see service only between 6 a.m. and Midnight, with Sunday service hours on Saturdays on Routes 10, 11, 12, 14, 31, 33, 35, 51, 53, 54, 57, 67, and 80.

Click here to view the current MCTS route map.

Riders who use Paratransit services are facing a 75 cent fare increase, from $3.75 one way to $4 and the potential for MCTS to reduce its service to federal levels if funding from Washington does not come through at previous levels. That would restrict Paratransit stops to within ¾ of a mile from the nearest fixed route.

Rate increases are also in the offing – depending on the final budget requirement. Depending on the size needed to reduce the tax levy, there is the possibility of a 25 cent fare increase and/or possible $1 increases to pass and ticket users.

Officials at MCTS explained that they are proud of their record of having the lowest administrative costs among its peer system, but reiterate that budget constraints often call for the reduction in services which affect customers. Prior to proposing route cuts or elimination, MCTS  loos for service that is duplicated or underused to reduce customer impact.

Walker’s office said he will look at every alternative to close the $45 million budget gap facing the county in 2011. On transit, Walker has repeatedly said that he would rather see rate increases passed onto riders who use transit, instead of passing costs onto the property taxpayer.

The implications of the route eliminations are staggering. The loss of nine freeway flyers will add thousands of vehicles to an already congested freeway system, parts of which are under major reconstruction. Public safety could be compromised with the elimination of the Summerfest Flyers, taking away a inexpensive and safe alternative to driving after a full day or evening of drinking at the festival. And while it is not a legal issue to reduce the service area to disabled and elderly Paratransit riders, the moral, social and economic costs to this population could be devastating.

Plus the increased cost of fares will place constraints on low-income riders who depend on bus service to get to work, shopping, entertainment and medical services. Without affordable, accessible bus service economic development in Milwaukee County could be compromised.

The Make It Work Milwaukee! Coalition is asking all residents to contact their county supervisors and Walker to demand they prioritize transit and Paratransit funding and services in the 2011 budget.

While cutting taxes is a noble cause, let’s hope Walker, the county board and MCTS can find a way to keep buses rolling. Remember, less than 2 years ago county residents voted for a 1 percent sales tax dedicated to fund transit and parks. Listen to the people and find a way to stop the hemorrhaging at MCTS.

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