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Suspend the Hop? Milwaukee aldermen consider halting streetcar service to cut costs

Posted at 5:44 PM, Oct 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-12 18:58:28-04

MILWAUKEE — Could Milwaukee suspend the Hop? It’s a possibility, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact funds available for transportation, and the city looks to cut costs during current budget hearings.

Nearly two years ago, we started to hear the ringing sound of the Hop in downtown Milwaukee, as the streetcar moves up and down the streets. During that time, it’s gained some frequent users, including Casey Duzeski and Dave Diehl.

“It’s cheaper than Ubering and trying to find parking downtown is hard,” Duzeski said.

They would be disappointed if the Hop was gone.

“I would miss it,” Duzeski said.

“It would kind of impede my ability to get around downtown a little bit,” Diehl said.

The idea of suspending the streetcar in 2021 was brought up at Friday’s budget hearing of the city’s finance committee.

This comes as ridership has declined 25 percent this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Department of Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske said it’s not that simple to shut it down.

“We have a project agreement that specifically spells out our obligation, our commitment to the federal government in operating this system for the life of the project,” Polenske said.

Next year will be the first time the city won’t have federal grants to fund the Hop. The plan is for the city to use parking funds for the streetcar, but the problem is those parking funds are currently short.

Alderman Scott Spiker of District 13 is on the committee.

“With no exact plan for how we’re going to pay for existing operations in the new environment, we have to at least look at this as one option,” Spiker said.

Even if they did suspend service, Polenske said they will still need funds for maintenance, retraining staff and getting the cars back up and running.

“You can’t just simply shut down service and come back and operate it, and expect it to work in the same way that it is now,” Polenske said.

Nothing is decided at this point. Discussions continue between the committee and DPW.

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