The tragedy of Milwaukee’s bus service

By Felix Salmon
April 6, 2011
William Alden's huge article about the vicious financial circle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where local-government cutbacks are hitting the bus service, with the knock-on effect that a lot of jobs are literally out of reach for people without cars.

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You’re probably not going to read all 3,700 words of William Alden’s huge article about the vicious financial circle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where local-government cutbacks are hitting the bus service, with the knock-on effect that a lot of jobs are literally out of reach for people without cars. But it’s a great article, and a fine example of the kind of in-depth original reporting being done by HuffPo.

Alden’s story centers on Petty Schulz, a 53-year-old woman out of work for almost two years who doesn’t own a car. That was fine during the halcyon days of, say, 1999, when the American Public Transportation Association bestowed its Outstanding Achievement Award on Milwaukee County transit. But already the seeds of disaster were being sown: in 2000, when the county Board of Supervisors increased the pension multiplier which determines the percentage of final salary that an employee gets upon retirement, it made a contribution of just $600,000 to the pension fund — down from over $20 million five years earlier.

Today, the cutbacks in bus service have been so severe that even a job at the Milwaukee County Transit System required that Schulz have a car. And the cutbacks don’t just prevent the unemployed from getting new jobs, either: they also force the employed to give up good jobs and become unemployed when they can no longer make it to work.

Of course, the fewer people with work in Milwaukee, the less the city earns in taxes, the more depressed the local economy becomes, and the more the government has to cut back. This is why you can’t cut your way to growth. In the meantime, locals are left to calculate whether they can possibly afford a $25 cab ride each way to get to and from a job which pays $13 per hour. And to wonder how on earth their city can get out of its current predicament.

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