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Abele says MCTS bus fare cards should be accepted on Milwaukee streetcar

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MILWAUKEE – County Executive Chris Abele said Monday, March 20th that county bus passes should be accepted on the Milwaukee Streetcar but that the county should not be the operator of the rail service.

Abele made the comments after County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb pressed the him for the county’s position on the downtown streetcar during a Public Policy Forum discussion on the future of the Milwaukee County Transit System.

“MCTS uses the M-Card system, people are familiar with it, and I think that’s something that would be relatively easy to adapt to the streetcar,” Abele said of the potential to use bus passes on the streetcar.

Abele and Lipscomb split over the larger question of whether the county should seek to operate the streetcar, which would require the county to submit a bid with the City of Milwaukee. Abele said MCTS, as a bus operator, doesn’t have the proper experience to run a rail system.

Lipscomb hammered Abele, accusing the county executive of being “caught flat-footed” about the operational issues of the streetcar.

He said MCTS could hire people who are knowledgeable about downtown streetcars, adding that having a single operator for both rail and bus systems would increase efficiencies for riders.

“Someone’s going to operate the system and someone’s going to be compensated to do that,” Lipscomb said. “I think it makes perfect sense that the county transit system would do that so all aspects are coordinated.”

A county board committee has approved legislation that directs MCTS to submit a bid to the city. The full board will consider the measure on Thursday.

Work is scheduled to start in April on the first phase of the downtown streetcar. City officials have said the first line will be completed in late 2018, with the additional Lakefront line opening in 2019.

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