By Dylan Deprey
While taking a cruise down Capitol Dr. attempting to avoid potholes can be just as stressful as sprinting to the bus stop. County Executive Chris Abele has big plans to improve transit, but for car owners and bus riders alike it will mean they have to open their wallets.
County Executive Chris Abele announced the SAVE (Sustainable, Affordable, Visionary, Efficient) Transit Plan as part of his $1.19 Billion 2017 County Budget proposal.
In the past five years the county has paid off debt, while at the same time reversing a 10-year trend of fare increases and route cuts without raising taxes.
Abele noted that State transit funding has dwindled lower then it was in 2009, and without any new methods of revenue the Milwaukee County Transit system could “be gone forever.”
“We don’t have anymore tools left,” Abele said.
The SAVE Transit Plan involves three components: Vehicle Registration Fees (VRF), Restructuring of the GO Pass system and Bus Rapid Transit.
VRF’s are the $60 per year ($5/month) registration fee that would be applied to all car owners in the Milwaukee County.
According to Abele this was the only legal revenue option available. It is estimated that the VRF would generate around $27 million and would cover the County’s entire transportation infrastructure costs, including the numerous amount of unfilled potholes scattered throughout the county.
The VRF’s will also cover bus, highway and bridge repairs, which are normally financed by the Parks.
“This frees up more funds for the parks to catch up further on deferred maintenance,” Abele said.
Other money generated by the tax would flow directly into funding the MCTS GO Pass. The GO Pass provides free transportation to seniors and people with disabilities.
Abele noted that although the GO Pass was necessary for those who lived it daily, over the past three years it had burned a $12 million hole in the County’s pockets.
“The GO Pass has really been a program that is a lifeline for the thousands of people with disabilities and older adults in Milwaukee County,” said Barbara Beckert, Milwaukee office director for Disabilities Rights Wisconsin.
Around 25 percent of MCTS riders use the GO Pass, and instead of cutting the program a one time $5 fee for the GO pass would be charged as well as an additional 25 cents per ride.
People wishing to be issued a GO Pass would also have to be eligible for SSI, SSDI, EBD, or Food- Shares.
The compromise came after recommendations given during listening sessions with organizations and the communities.
The third component of the SAVE Transit plan is to invest $44 million in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
The nationally recognized proposed 9-mile bus line would connect downtown Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, and Milwaukee’s near west side and Wauwatosa. BRT would also include more frequent stops and faster service times, while also connecting people to potential employment around the city.
“Being able to take the bus everyday allowed me to do things that I never would have if I didn’t have the GO Pass,” said Patricia Lidicker, Milwaukee resident and lifetime MCTS rider.
On Oct. 3, Abele gave his budget proposal to the County Board of Supervisors. Deliberations for the budget will begin Oct. 11 as well as amendments scheduled for Oct. 24 and a public hearing at the Marcus Center on Oct. 31.
“The reason its important to do this now is because if we don’t we are going to start running up the credit card again and I don’t want to pass that debt on to the county that I love,” Abele said.