Endangered Species

Students say bus routes are vital to education

 

By Andrea Mesalk

Nichole Graves lives in Thiensville. She is a student at UWM and does not have a car. How does she get to campus every day?

“I take the 49U from Brown Deer, Graves said.

The bus comes about every 40 minutes, which can mean a long wait and an even longer round trip.

What would she do if her Freeway Flyer route was eliminated?

“I’ll probably have to have someone drop me off, which is really inconvenient, or I’ll have to… I don’t know how I would get here,” Graves said.

The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is in danger of losing $12 million in state funding if Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill is passed. Walker proposed the budget bill in early February to help relieve Wisconsin of its $3.5 billion budget deficit.

In order to make up for that loss in funding, MCTS would have to increase bus fares, reduce service and eliminate routes.

Graves said she knew Gov. Walker’s budget bill would decrease funding for public transportation but did not think it would affect her route, and possibly her education.

If her direct route to campus was cut, Graves said, “I may have to consider something closer, like MATC Mequon or something.”

Changing schools may be Graves’ only choice since MCTS is proposing the elimination of all Freeway Flyer routes to save $1 million. The Freeway Flyer program provides bus service from the suburbs to downtown Milwaukee. Riders can park their cars for free in suburban parking lots and MCTS advertises that travel times to and from the bus stops are equivalent to driving. There are ten Freeway Flyer routes and they are all in danger.

Early morning and late night services may also be on the chopping block since eliminating those underused routes would save $1.5 million. Cutting bus service to Summerfest and other festivals would save MCTS $500,000.

MCTS also proposes the elimination of routes 28, 64, 68 and 219 to save $1.8 million. None of these routes come directly to UWM campus, but the Freeway Flyers are used by many students who commute to school.

Jon Matuszewski is one of those commuters. He takes the 40U to campus, a Freeway Flyer with two stops right off of I-94. He said he would drive to school, park on campus and risk getting mounds of parking tickets if his route was cut.

“Well, luckily I’m a senior so it won’t affect me too much,” Matuszewski said.

But students like Amanda Burtnett rely on the bus to get to school because it is her only choice.  

“I actually don’t have a car right now, so I do take the bus more frequently than most people,” Burtnett said.

Burtnett takes the Route bus 21 to school but has a backup plan if her route disappeared.

“I would have to find another route. Probably the 22 if that one didn’t get cut either,” Burtnett said.

According to Harold Mester, the public information manager for MCTS, any decisions on how to deal with reduced state funding will be made during the 2012 county budget deliberations.

“It is accurate to say that route cuts, reduced frequencies, fare increases and the elimination of Flyer routes will all have to be seriously considered,” Mester said.

He said it is still too early to give any final answers.

“The County Executive will present his budget proposal to the County Board on Sept. 29. The final budget will be determined by Nov. 16. We’ll have a much better picture by then,” Mester said.

That means Graves and other bus-riding UWM students will be able to ride the bus to campus for the rest of the year. That doesn’t improve Graves’ anger toward Gov. Walker.

“It’s ironic because his picture is all over the sides of the buses. And he wants to get rid of the buses but he uses them for promotion. It’s just stupid to me,” Graves said.

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