Friday, October 21st, 2016

Magic bus


The Milwaukee County Board is finally catching up to the rapid bus.

When Walker proposed bus rapid transit for Milwaukee County (for reference sake, the current Brewers’ logo had just been unveiled), skeptics wondered if it was just an excuse to avoid supporting a light rail system like the city of Milwaukee wanted. Others, like then-County Supervisor Chris Larson, suspected Bus Rapid Transit was just a back door method of gutting the existing county bus system.

Larson said to WUWM, “So it’s not a new expanded service, it’s just replacing something that’s already there so it’s like somebody took away your car and then gave it right back to you and said, ‘Look you have a new car, only now with this new car you won’t be able to stop everywhere you want to. You’ll have to stop every six stops instead.’”

Fast-forward a couple of years. Walker is in the governor’s mansion. Chris Larson is a State Senator that sometimes shows up for work.

The state budget passed by the Republican legislature killed the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter train and the regional transit authority (RTA) that funded it’s planning and lobbying efforts. The remaining money sitting in the fare box from the rental car tax, plus federal and state grants, has to be divided up.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and members of the Milwaukee County Board want $15 million of the leftover federal KRM money for three rapid bus lines.

“In addition to shorter travel times for transit riders, express routes would allow the County to reprogram funds from portions of underlying local routes to support other parts of the transit system facing severe potential service cuts.

“If approved, the grants would be used to create express bus routes along three existing highly used local route corridors to improve transit travel times.”

In other words, what was once a criticism of rapid buses, that they could be used to replace slower lines along the same route, is now an asset. Milwaukee County would be able to actually save local tax money for the existing bus system by taking out some of the routes and replacing them with the rapid bus system. Funny how that works.

More importantly, the whole exercise shows just how outdated and expensive rail projects, much more expensive than bus systems, not only compete for transportation funding but waste the money. Milwaukee County’s belated enthusiasm for rapid buses was only made possible when Walker and the legislature killed off wasteful rail spending.

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