Walker Sends Bus System Into Death Spiral

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Thank you, Scott Walker: Milwaukee’s bus system is deteriorating faster than any other transit system in the country. The Journal Sentinel reports:

Milwaukee County Transit System ridership plunged to a 33-year low in 2007 – at the same time public transit ridership nationwide was on track toward a 50-year high.

Reeling from repeated service cuts and fare increases, county buses carried 42.5 million passengers in 2007, down 9% from 46.6 million in 2006, the transit system reported. The 2007 ridership total was the lowest since the county took over the bus system in 1975, based on Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission figures.

By contrast, rising gas prices and growing traffic congestion drove national transit ridership to a 49-year high of 10.1 billion in 2006, and ridership was up another 2% through the first nine months of 2007, according to the American Public Transportation Association…

The Milwaukee County ridership drop may have been the biggest decrease of any major U.S. bus system…

This is no accident. It is the result of a clear, deliberate policy by County Executive Scott Walker, who has publicly said that his transportation solution is for everyone to drive a car.

Since taking office, Walker has repeatedly reduced service and raised fares every year.

The outcome could not have been more predictable.

Four years ago, when David Riemer challenged Walker in the spring election, Riemer warned that the bus system was about to go into a “death spiral” because of Walker’s policies.

If you cut service and raise fares, he explained, it will reduce ridership. The reduced ridership then becomes the reason to cut more routes and raise fares again, which reduces ridership even further.

That is exactly what has happened. The JS again:

By the Numbers
42.5 million Number of bus passengers in 2007
46.6 million Number of passengers in 2006
17 bus routes Eliminated from 2001 to 2007
$1.35 Adult cash fare in 2001
$2 Current fare

And this is a county which, 20 years ago, was winning awards for having the best bus system in the nation.

Can this be reversed? Most likely, with a county executive who believes in public transportation, realizes that some people have no alternative, and understands that making it attractive, affordable and convenient can attract more riders who have a choice about how to travel.

That is not Scott Walker, who unfortunately seems about to be reelected.

Unless two-thirds of the County Board gets together to turn around this wrong-headed policy, Milwaukee’s bus system is destined to die, or to be so crippled by cuts that it might as well be put out of its misery.

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