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Milwaukee aldermen raise prospect of suspending streetcar service, citing funding issues

Posted at 5:29 PM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 18:31:47-04

MILWAUKEE — Some Milwaukee aldermen are raising the prospect of suspending streetcar service, known as 'The Hop,' citing a lack of funding to keep it running, the Milwaukee Business Journal reports.

TMJ4's news partner reports that aldermen Scott Spiker and Michael Murphy said at a city budget hearing Friday that funds are running out in the city's parking fund, which pays for the free streetcar service. Several forms of parking enforcement have already been suspended amid the pandemic, which has led to the shortfall of funding.

But Milwaukee Department of Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske tells the BizJournal that suspending the Hop would violate the City of Milwaukee's agreement with the federal government. The city is obligated to continue running the service because federal dollars were used to build the service, running across the city's downtown and lower east side.

Polenske says he brought the issue up with the Federal Transit Administration. The BizJournal reports that FTA officials told him that the obligation to continue the service remains in place amid the pandemic.

The city has already been allowed to reduce streetcar service during the pandemic.

Polenske adds that shutting the service down may lead to even higher costs, like rehiring and retaining streetcar operators.

But some aldermen question running a service that is seeing lower ridership over COVID-19 concerns.

“At some point, the question becomes for an ever-shrinking group, do you want to have the citizens of the rest of the city footing that bill, given that bill is large and, without fare boxes, not about to get smaller,” Ald. Scott Spiker said during a city budget hearing, according to the BizJournal.

Ald. Michael Murphy also questioned the service:

“If you have those types of cuts, you have to really, seriously look at the option of suspending the streetcar because you just don’t have the money,” Murphy said, per the BizJournal.

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