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FAQ About Proposed 2020 Budget

Below are frequently asked questions about the proposed 2020 budget. If you haven't already, please click here for an overview of the budget and background information about the current fiscal crisis.

Why does MCTS have to cut bus routes?

Milwaukee County has reached a fiscal crisis point.  Limitations in state law have caused Milwaukee County to effectively reach the cap on the amount it can collect from property and sales tax. The largest funding source for MCTS is state transit aids, which have been flat for the past five (5) years.  Rising costs coupled with flat state funding, and constraints on Milwaukee County’s ability to fund transit, results in a budget imbalance.  Specifically, MCTS had a 2020 budget gap of more than $8 million that couldn’t be balanced without a $5.9 million service reduction. Over the last few years, MCTS has avoided large numbers of route cuts by reducing costs and consolidating internal operations and facilities. Unfortunately, the large size of the 2020 budget gap made it impossible to avoid reductions in service.

Did MCTS consider other ways to reduce costs than cutting routes?

Yes, MCTS examined all operations to find ways to reduce costs before any consideration was given to reducing service. Specifically, MCTS eliminated multiple positions through attrition, delayed modernization projects, reduced the number of buses in the fleet (this also lowers bus replacement costs), and left requests for new positions unfulfilled. In the previous year, MCTS took a major step and consolidated its garage/station facilities from three to two by closing the smallest facility and shifting staff and equipment to the other locations.

Other cities are making transit improvements. Why aren’t you expanding transit services?   

The reality is that Milwaukee is falling far behind other cities of similar size who are prioritizing transit funding. When local residents were surveyed, 65 percent told the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) that public transit services should be improved and expanded.

Indeed, MCTS would like to be maintaining and increasing transit services, not decreasing. Unfortunately, the reality is that the transit budget has been shrinking for many years. The largest source of funding for MCTS – from the State of Wisconsin – continues to be lower than it was a decade ago. This fact, combined with rising costs and a lack of local funding options allowed by the State to Milwaukee County, has often resulted in a need to adjust and/or eliminate service in order to balance the budget. These issues were laid out back in 2008 by the Wisconsin Policy Forum in its “Milwaukee County’s Transit Crisis” report. Today, the gap still remains despite the best efforts by Milwaukee County to support its transit system.

How did you choose which bus routes would be cut?

MCTS considered several factors when faced with the difficult decision to reduce service. Our top priority was to protect the routes with the highest number of riders, thus ensuring that as many people as possible can travel where they need to go. Another measure is the efficiency (productivity) of the service, which is the number of riders per bus hour (a bus hour equals one operator driving a bus for one hour). In short, routes with the lowest ridership and efficiency (productivity) were considered for reductions, which enabled us to preserve the transit services that produce 97% of annual ridership.

In addition, MCTS considered how people access transit services. For example, most (but not all) people who ride Freeway Flyers or UBUS routes drive to a park-ride lot and thus have the option of using their car for their entire trip. It’s always an inconvenience to have to change a regular travel pattern, but the fact that car-less passengers in our community have much fewer options available to them than most passengers who use park-ride lot services, cannot be ignored.

We at MCTS realize that these proposed cuts may have a major impact on some riders' transportation needs and personal budgets.

Where does racial equity fit into the budgeting decision?

Racial equity was given deliberate consideration in the preparation of this proposed budget. While it was necessary to include service reductions, MCTS made efforts to minimize changes that would have a disparate impact on minority populations or cause a disproportionate burden on low-income individuals.

In addition, MCTS has begun working with Milwaukee County’s Office on African American Affairs to better understand how policy and budget decisions can help or hinder minority populations in our community. This proposed budget reflects that input. 

Which routes are proposed to be eliminated?

  • Freeway Flyers: 40, 43, 44, 46, 48, 49
  • UBUS Routes: 40U, 42U, 44U, 49U
  • Shuttles: 17, 137, 219, 223, 276
  • Route 52: Clement – 15th Avenue
  • Route 55 Layton Avenue: no service west of S. 76th Street
  • Route 80 6th Street: no service south of MATC South Campus

The following seasonal services could also be eliminated as a cost-saving measure:

  • Brewers Line buses for Miller Park
  • Wisconsin Avenue Downtown shuttles for ethnic festivals and Summerfest
  • Freeway Flyer service for Summerfest may also be impacted
  • Freeway Flyers for German Fest, Irish Fest and Festa Italiana
  • Shuttle and Freeway Flyer services for Wisconsin State Fair

Is this budget final? What’s the timeline for the budget?

  • Between August 13 and the 20th, the County Executive and County Board hosted a series of four public engagement sessions.
    • County Board Supervisors often host meetings on the budget and other important matters in their district. Additional information can be found here.
  • On or before October 1, the County Executive will present a Recommended Budget to the County Board.
  • The County Board’s Finance & Audit (F&A) Committee then reviews the Recommended Budget.
  • By the end of October, County Supervisors can present amendments to the budget to the F&A Committee which can adopt or reject amendments.
  • On November 4, the County Board will hold a public hearing on the budget.
  • On November 12, the County Board adopts amendments to the budget and then adopts the full budget.

How can I voice my concern about the proposed 2020 budget?

  • We thank everyone who attended one of the County’s Budget Open Houses in August and gave feedback in person. Please watch for other public meetings hosted by County Supervisors in the coming weeks and months.
  • You can also fill out this online survey.
  • Please sign the petition supporting a Fair Deal for Milwaukee County here.
  • Tell your state legislators how important public transportation is to you.

What is the Fair Deal for Milwaukee County?

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and County Chairman Theodore Lipscomb launched the Fair Deal Workgroup in 2018 to mobilize local community groups and business leaders to explore new revenue options to address Milwaukee County’s growing structural deficit. Over the past decade, Milwaukee County taxpayers have been sending more and more money to the State, but the funding that the County receives back has remained flat or even declined. The result is that the quality of services our community cares about – like transit, public safety, parks and health and human services – continue to deteriorate, year after year, while costs all increase annually.

The Fair Deal proposed partnership between state government and Milwaukee County will help generate the revenue Milwaukee County needs to fund essential public services and cultural amenities and invest in our future.

OK, you were able to preserve 97% of annual ridership, what’s the plan for MCTS going forward?

Although balancing the 2020 budget with service changes hinder MCTS’s ability to meet some of the needs of the travelling public, MCTS remains committed to focusing its scarce resources on the sustainability of a strong core grid network of local bus routes in order to maximize system ridership. In effect, MCTS is maintaining services on routes that are most heavily used by current passengers, while maximizing potential to grow ridership in the future. Even if MCTS continues to be faced with significant fiscal constraints in the future, it will remain committed to providing services as sustainably as possible.

MCTS also remains committed to the MCTS NEXT project that would increase the proportion of high frequency service in the system. This strategy can move more people to their destinations faster and easier, which will strengthen the system’s ability to contribute to economic competitiveness and quality of life in the County.

In addition, MCTS continues to work on the East-West Bus Rapid Transit project that would be the first BRT line in Wisconsin. A pending Federal grant is anticipated to be awarded by the end of 2019. The expected start date for this service is late 2021.  This route will provide a strong east-west backbone of support to rest of the MCTS route structure thereby improving the operation of the core grid network.

Projects similar to the ones mentioned above have been very successful at other transit systems across the country, leading to increased customer satisfaction and increased ridership.