Bus fare enforcement stirs up controversy between MCTS, county supervisor

MILWAUKEE -- Don't have the money? Get off the bus, says one Milwaukee County supervisor.

Supervisor Dan Sebring is proposed to end a policy that allows Milwaukee County Transit System passengers to ride the bus even if they don't pay the fare. His idea has drawn opposition from MCTS, the bus drivers' union, and other supervisors.

The head of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 said drivers already get punched or spit on, and confronting passengers over fare collection will only make the job more dangerous.

"I’m not going to put my drivers’ life on the line for $2.25," said James Macon, the union president. "And sometimes not even $2.25. It’s a dime or a quarter. I’m not going to do it."

Sebring said MCTS loses $28,000 a month, or $337,000 a year, because of fare evasion caused by a policy that drivers can only ask once for the fare. The transit system's revenue from passenger fares was $40.8 million in 2014.

Dan Sebring

Sebring said bus drivers who live in his district brought the issue to his attention. He said the current system is unfair to paying passengers.

"The people that I represent think that the idea that you could get on the bus and say, 'I'm not paying the fare - and that you could ride,' they think it's ridiculous," said Sebring.

Sebring said drivers should tell passengers that the bus won't move until they pay.

But MCTS administrators say their current policy protects drivers. Confrontations between drivers and passengers would also delay the bus for paying riders, said Brendan Conway, a spokesman for MCTS.

"We think that our current policy makes the most sense," Conway said in a phone interview.

The Transportation, Public Works and Transit committee of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors opposed the proposal, 3-2, this month.

The full board still must take up Sebring's legislation at its Sept. 20 meeting.

Marina Dimitrijevic

Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, who's against the proposal, said it will "criminalize people who are unable to pay the bus fare."

"The overwhelming majority of people pay and support our system," she said.

MCTS has a contract with private security firm Allied Universal to provide security on the buses. Security guards can remove people from buses but don't have police powers and they're not on every bus, Conway said.

Macon said that would leave it up to his drivers to enforce the fare collection.

"You want someone to enforce it? We're not law enforcement, we are bus drivers. Our job is to drive a bus, not collect fares," said Macon.

James Macon

Sebring said he wants to see more law enforcement officers on the bus, but some agencies have said they don't have the manpower to do it.

"There’s people who genuinely have financial concerns or whatever that maybe don’t have enough money to pay the fare, but we’ve got every program in the world (to help them afford it)," he said. "There's really no reason for people to not pay the fare."