Free bus rides could be ending in Milwaukee County

Posted at 9:57 PM, Sep 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-07 07:45:31-04

MILWAUKEE -- A proposal to save the Milwaukee County Transit System money means eliminating free rides for seniors and the disabled.

Milwaukee County supervisors are considering it to fix a growing budget hole. But the people who rely on the bus system wonder how they will get by.

Jeffrey Butts leaves his home and gets on the bus every day - a feat for the Vietnam veteran. He says until he got the GO Pass he was more likely to sit in his apartment and isolate himself.

"I use it to go to the VA for all my medical appointments, for my psychologist, my psychiatrist, I use it for church and I use it for social entertainment and interaction with my family," said Butts.

According to the county, last year 21,000 GO Passes were issued. That's $3 million of missed revenue in free rides. The county says that is contributing to a $7 million deficit. But Disability Rights of of Wisconsin says the county is saving money because of the creation of the GO Pass.

"People can only live in the community if they have transportation. If they don't have transportation they are going to end up in more costly institutional settings like nursing homes or the Milwaukee County Mental Health complex, so I think it's a smart investment," said Barbara Beckert, director of Disability Rights Wisconsin.

According to County Comptroller Scott Manske's report, it is not sustainable. The suggestion is to instead offer a discounted fare. But Butts says even just paying a buck for a ride will mean he will be back to limited access to the services he needs to function.

"I need every one of the aspects in my life to keep me functionable and maintain my dignity," said Butts.

The Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee will meet on September 7 at 9 a.m. to further discuss the GO Pass.

The county executive's office released this statement to TODAY'S TMJ4 Tuesday night:

"The GO Pass, while well-intentioned, is expected to cost more than $3 million in lost revenue next year alone, according to both internal estimates and an analysis by the independently-elected comptroller. That said, the county executive is exploring budget options that will allow the county to preserve the GO Pass for our most vulnerable residents. He looks forward to partnering with supervisors and transit advocates during the budget process to find a solution on the GO Pass and on ensuring the long-sustainability of our transit system as a whole."