Monday, May 22, 2006

Beating the dead bus

Elliott noticed, but today's editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on mass tranit and the Milwaukee Connector raises more questions than it answers. Here's what we know. According to the paper, the current bus system carries 8% of the County's residents on any given day. I think they are double counting there, but let's look at the other side of that. My guess, based on these numbers and my own experience in this community, is that 90% of the folks who live around here never take the bus.

That doesn't necessarily end the issue because 1) the 10% who do may not have a good alternative and 2) maybe it'd be good if more people used transit.

Let's look at the first. The few people who use the bus are apparently unable to pay for the service - or at least they don't. Fare revenue covers 35% of the system's operating costs. The good news, at least for Milwaukee County residents, is that the County only pays for a bit over 10%, with the rest made up by the state and the feds.

But that's the part that is hard to raise because, as we all know, the public servants who ran Milwaukee County basically put it into debtor's prison.

Here's the disconnect. Since we can't afford to pay for 10% of a system that few people use, we should spend $300 million for a new system that will only replace a small portion of the existing one.

This is, to put it mildly, counterintuitive. The reason for this "damn the torpedoes" approach is, I guess, that the feds want to give us $91 million and we can only use it to build something new. So whether we need - or even if we can afford - this new thing doesn't matter.

But, to get to the second bit of magical thinking, perhaps if we build it they will come. Maybe people who currently decline to get on a boring conventional bus will hop on the shiny new guided tram. It'll kind of be like a luxury box on wheels.

I am not implacably opposed to mass transit, but, as I have said before, you've got to make a better case than this.

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