Retiree James Taylor, 88, relied on bus Route 18 to get him to the grocery store and meet family and friends.
“I used to be able to go all the way to [South] 108th Street but now I have to transfer there and transfer back,” he said. Referring to the recent elimination of the bus line, he added, “I think it’s lousy. It’s inconvenient.”
Route 18 was eliminated as a result of budget cuts to Wisconsin transit systems.
Before the changes went into effect on Jan. 29, Route 18 served the Clarke Square and Layton Boulevard West neighborhoods and ran on National Avenue between South 2nd Street and South 124th Street. It has been replaced by Routes 23, 54, 56 and the BlueLine MetroEXpress, each serving a segment of the old route.
The BlueLine express and Route 23 end at South 70th Street, and commuters going further west have to transfer to Route 56. A South 92nd Street segment connecting West National Avenue and West Greenfield Avenue also has been eliminated.
The Milwaukee County Transit System cited budget concerns and reductions in state aid as reasons for the cuts to local public transportation. Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature sliced annual aid to transit systems statewide by 10 percent in the 2011-2013 state budget, cutting $6.8 million from Milwaukee County alone.
At least 13,553 jobs would have been inaccessible by public transit if bus routes were sliced as planned in the MCTS 2012 budget request, according to a September 2011 analysis by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Economic Development. The state Department of Transportation, however, approved funding for the BlueLine, RedLine and GreenLine MetroEXpress routes with $19.1 million in federal aid in October 2011 to stave off what could have been deep cuts in service.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele told the Journal Sentinel that the funding would only last two years, and that a long-term transit funding solution is still needed.
“The purpose of [Route] 18 is for people to go to work…it hurts a lot of people, economically and personally,” said Patrick Vaughn, 43, a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College in downtown Milwaukee. “I think they could’ve found other ways to cut the budget, ways to find money other than cutting out the bus routes that people like us need every day.”
The changes also resulted in varying increases in commuting times. A bus trip down National Avenue from 2nd Street to 124th Street now takes about an hour instead of 43 minutes on Route 18.
“The 23 and the BlueLine take a lot longer to get here,” said Theodore Wielochowski, 55, who is currently unemployed.
The BlueLine express stops every half-mile, compared to standard buses that stop every one-eighth mile, according to an MCTS newsletter describing the changes.
Added Sher Singh, 72, who works at a gas station on National Avenue, “The times changed. Route 18 had good timing.”
However, some South Side commuters have no complaints.
“As long as I get to the same places it doesn’t matter what bus it is,” said John Bliesner, 54, a crane operator for a galvanizing company.
Brian Jones, 35, works at a morgue on the south side. “It’s still the same, it’s just a change of numbers,” he said.
Juan Camacho, 21, said the new routes actually seem faster.
“At first I was just kind of confused, but the 23 seems to come faster than the old 18,” said Juan Camacho, 21, a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College in West Allis. “I’m not sure if that’s entirely true, but it’s not a big deal.”
Janet Boles, professor emerita of political science and urban politics at Marquette University, said it is unfortunate that cuts have to be made in the transit system, especially since poor people in the inner city need to use the bus.
“When it becomes more difficult to get poor workers to jobs, the problems of economic recovery increase,” Boles said.
Candace McNair, 31, said she isn’t sure if the cuts were done in the best interest of the state.
“[Walker] didn’t discuss anything with us, he just made the changes,” said McNair, a restaurant chef and cashier. “Really, it’s like we don’t even have an input, so it doesn’t matter what we think.”