The prospect of the Milwaukee County Transit System raising fares and cutting service - particularly on routes 15 and 11 - is spurring protests among bus riders in Bay View.
An estimated 12 to 15 riders, most sporting various shades of green, boarded the northbound Route 15 bus along South Kinnickinnic Avenue in a "protest ride" from about 7 to 7:20 a.m. Aug. 6.
County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic was among them and said the bus was just about full of regular transit patrons in addition to those participating in the protest ride.
"I think it's important to recognize the fact that people had to inconvenience themselves to take part in this," said Bay View resident Bill Sell, who handed out fliers to bus patrons promoting a similar ride next week.
Sell said he believes many people in Milwaukee feel strongly about maintaining the transit system, including those who do not regularly ride the bus.
"It's also the kind of people who care about others," Sell said.
Fare increases proposed
As Milwaukee County begins its 2008 budgeting process, transit system officials are proposing a 13 percent cut in service and a 14 percent fare increase. Among the items on the table are eliminating route 11, which travels along South Howell Avenue and cutting service on route 15, which runs along South Kinnickinnic Avenue to Milwaukee's East Side.
Regular fares for adults paying cash would go from $1.75 to $2, and for riders 12 and younger or those older than 64 or disabled, fares would increase from 85 cents to $1. Sheets of 10 tickets and weekly passes would remain at $16.
Dimitrijevic said it is her understanding that if the fare increases are adopted in the county's 2008 budget, Milwaukee bus riders would be paying some of the highest fares in the country.
Sell pointed out if the current proposal becomes law, fares on Transit Plus vans that transport Milwaukee County's frail elderly and disabled residents would rise from $3.25 to $4. Areas served by Transit Plus also would be reduced to three-quarters of a mile of county bus routes.
Dimitrijevic said she finds that aspect of the proposal particularly "appalling."
"This is the mode of transportation for people with disabilities," she said. "To tax what I consider the people who need it the most is unbelievable and I think just wrong."
Commuters could feel impact
One lesson learned during the protest ride was that many of the transit system's regular patrons are unaware cuts in service and hikes in fares are being proposed, said Amy Carlson of Bay View, who participated in the protest.
"A lot of times people don't know about what's being taken away until it's too late," she said.
At least one resident riding route 15 about 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, had not yet heard about the transit system proposal.
Matthew Dolezal of Bay View said he rides the bus - usually the 15 route - to both work and to school.
"I have a bike, but it's not in good shape," Dolezal said. "(Cuts) would be really inconvenient."
He said most of the time the bus is full when he rides it.
"I'm sure a lot of people don't have a car," he said.
Denise Schultz of West Allis, who got off of the route 11 bus on East Lincoln and South Howell avenues on Aug. 3, said she was unaware of the proposed cuts in service and fare increases.
"I don't like that idea," she said. "I hope it doesn't happen. I take two buses to work. I rely on it every day. I'd be lost."
Connecting south, East Side
Carlson, of Bay View, said she had not been a regular bus rider, but publicity surrounding earlier proposals to trim the transit system budget drew her attention to buses as a community asset.
"(Route) 15 in particular is such a great route to the downtown area and to Brady Street," she said. "It's such a nice, safe alternative if you want to go out and have a couple cocktails, plus avoid parking downtown. And it's just convenient because it stops right in front of my house."
Dimitrijevic said route 15 is a "lifeline" for Bay View and its growing businesses.
"Every time you cut part of the service, you lose riders," she said.
Alderman Tony Zielinski, who also participated in the Aug. 6 ride, agreed buses are important to local merchants and residents.
"I think Bay View would suffer all the way around and I think it's important to bring attention to the issue," he said. "I commend Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic for her leadership on this issue."
Dimitrijevic gave credit to Bay View residents for organizing the protest ride.
Board will have budget input
"I think there's a certain standard of living we expect in Milwaukee County, and when you start swiping those things away, people get very emotional about it," Dimitrijevic said. "(The ride) is a way to be proactive early in the process and show support."
Carlson said she hopes the ride and subsequent rides will focus attention on the transit issue.
"Maybe we can draw a little positive attention to Bay View and the fact that we are very concerned about these cuts," Carlson said. "We're very fortunate to have an alderman and county supervisor to help us try to keep these services available."
County Executive Scott Walker is expected to present his 2008 budget to the Milwaukee County Board at the end of September. The County Board will likely amend the budget and send its version to Walker's desk for signature or veto in November.
Nan Bialek can be reached at email@example.com or (262) 446-6632.
Get on the bus
WHAT: bus ride to protest fare hikes and proposed cuts in Milwaukee County Transit System services
WHEN: Monday, Aug. 13
WEAR: green clothing
BUS: northbound route 15
• South Kinnickinnic and Oklahoma Avenues, 6:58 a.m.
• Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co., 7 a.m.
• South Kinnickinnic and Clement avenues, 7:03 a.m.
• Sven's European Café, South Kinnickinnic and East Russell avenues, 7:04 a.m.
• Stone Creek Coffee, East Lincoln and South Kinnickinnic Avenues, 7:08 a.m.
• South Kinnickinnic Avenue and Mitchell Street, 7:12 a.m.
• South Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue, 7:22 a.m.
INFO: visit milwaukeerenaissance.com and click on "Buses are green"
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