Cuts in transit could add to poverty levels in Milwaukee

Compiled by Courier Staff

A recent analysis by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Economic Development revealed that if the Milwaukee County Executive and the County Board slice the bus routes targeted in the Milwaukee County Transit System’s 2012 budget request, at least 13, 553 jobs would be inaccessible by public transit.

“One likely consequence of implementing the proposed service reductions for 2012 would be to make it difficult or impossible for transit-dependent workers and job-seekers in Milwaukee to reach many job locations in suburban Milwaukee county,” wrote the study’s author, Joel Rast, director of the center. “Given Milwaukee’s already high poverty and jobless rates, especially for African Americans, this scenario is particularly troublesome.”

The recently released study drew concern from county supervisors. County Executive Chris Abele and the supervisors blame Madison for the bus system’s plight. Following the recommendation of Gov. Scott Walker, the Legislature cut aid to transit systems statewide by 10 percent in the 2011-13 state budget. That will be a $6.8 million cut for Milwaukee County next year, partly offset by $1.45 million in new aid for Transit Plus service for disabled and elderly riders. Together with other revenue shortfalls and rising expenses, the transit system is facing a $15 million budget hole for 2012.

In their budget request, transit officials recommended eliminating six Freeway Flyer routes, regular Route 68 (Port Washington Road) and five school routes; ending most service to Summerfest, other festivals and Milwaukee Brewers home games; and reducing service on other routes.

Although some of the service reductions would not affect access to jobs, others would have a major impact, the study found. Ending Route 68 would cut off access to at least 3,803 jobs, including all of those in Fox Point, and Bayside and at Cardinal Stritch University, while shortening Route 27 (N. 27th St.) would block access to at least 2,170 jobs, many of them at the Glendale Industrial Park, according to the study.

“The cuts to our transit system are unacceptable in this high unemployment arena,“ Supervisor Patricia Jursik stated in a news release. “Every year that routes are cut, it strangles the transit system even more. The additional 13, 553 projected loss is on top of 40,000 already lost due to prior cuts. Employees can’t get to work, and employers can’t get workers they need.”

This week Milwaukee County Supervisor Mark A. Borkowski joined Milwaukee Aldermen Bob Donovan and Joe Dudzik held a news conference to propose that the Milwaukee Streetcar funding be used for the Milwaukee County Transit System.

Sup. Michael Mayo released the following statement in response to the news conference:

“I am pleased that my County Board seatmate, Supervisor Mark Borkowski, has stepped up to the plate against the Milwaukee Streetcar and in favor of funding the Milwaukee County Transit System. The transit system is on life support, and we need all the help we can get to preserve transit over the long-term.

“The bus system reaches every neighborhood in Milwaukee. We can’t afford to throw dollars at a new mode of transit while our existing system is dying.

“Mayor Barrett has an opportunity to foster a great partnership with the County. This can be a win-win for the residents of the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. If the Mayor decides to work with Milwaukee County to invest in modernizing our existing transit system, I will publicly and enthusiastically applaud his efforts.”