Bruce Murphy has a telling story about how the stupid decisions of the liberal Milwaukee County Board are destroying the county bus system. One would think that someone could have foreseen the consequences… oh wait, someone did. The county board decided that economic laws didn’t apply to them.
The Transit System estimated the loss of half-priced fares would cost the county some $4.2 million, yet Dimitrijevic and the board allocated just $822,600 to pay for the program, leaving a likely $3.3 million shortfall. An alarmed Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele vetoed the proposal, but was overridden by the board. As Dimitrijevic declared, “The time is now to take the largest transit system in the state to the next level.”
It’s almost shocking how cavalierly Dimitrijevic and company proceeded, despite the fiscal warning signs. The likely $3.3 million shortfall was documented in a story by my colleague Jeramey Jannene in November 2014, long before the plan was passed. Urban Milwaukee did a follow-up story in September 2015 showing how the GO Pass system, was running up a huge deficit as predicted, and Jannene did a March 2016 story documenting how the program was bleeding the county transit system.
Meanwhile the number of free riders keeps rising. In the program’s first year, from April 15, 2015 through April 14, 2016, there were 5.3 million free rides given, and about 60 percent of them were to disabled riders. But the number has steadily grown, month by month: in April there were 629,000 free rides, which annualized would equal 7.5 million. In April free riders accounted for 21 percent of all rides, and that percent keeps rising, meaning there are fewer and fewer fares being collected and less and less revenue to support the transit system.
What’s likely happening is more and more people are getting doctors excuses claiming a disability. In Chicago, the level of fraud (for both senior and disabled riders) eventually raised costs to the point where the system was unaffordable. As free riders continue to increase, Milwaukee’s transit system will have to raise the fare for others or cut back routes or do both.