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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Missing the bus

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Failure to get behind one plan threatens to again doom state legislation that local transit systems desperately need to continue serving their communities.

There is widespread support for the creation of regional transit authorities that would provide the dedicated funding necessary for transit systems in southeastern Wisconsin - especially the Milwaukee County Transit System. But there is a possibility that nothing will happen in the current legislative session. And if that proves to be the case, supporters in the Legislature should look no farther than their mirrors for someone to blame.

Instead of uniting behind one sound proposal - such as that offered by the governor and legislative leaders in January - legislators have offered different versions of RTA legislation that only serve to confuse the issue.

On Thursday, legislators are expected to hold a public hearing on the issue in Madison. Transit riders, business leaders, union leaders, local officials and others should make sure their voices are heard. They should stress the importance of transit in building jobs and the economy, and they should tell legislative leaders to unite behind one proposal and make sure it is approved this spring. Transit systems and the families and businesses that rely on them cannot afford to wait much longer for relief.

Ridership on the Milwaukee County Transit System was down 9% last year to a 35-year low, as Journal Sentinel reporter Larry Sandler reported on Monday. The reasons are wide-ranging: the economy, the loss of a contract with Milwaukee Public Schools and certainly a continuing pattern of fare increases and/or route cuts that discourages riders.

And things won't get any better as long as governments that fund transit have to rely on an already overburdened property tax. To provide the funding that systems require and at the same time offer property taxpayers relief, legislators need to approve legislation that would authorize the creation of regional transit authorities.

That legislation should include a 0.5% sales tax increase for Milwaukee County, as the governor's bill proposes and other funding means in other counties.

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