Brief History: Transit in Milwaukee County



The Milwaukee County transit system has been managed and operated by a private provider, Milwaukee Transport Services (MTS), for more than three decades. All transit employees, including bus drivers, maintenance workers, and administrative/management staff are employees of that firm, not County employees. The physical equipment, such as the buses themselves, is owned by Milwaukee County but maintained by the private provider.  The County sets the fares and routes.


The contract that was signed in 2009 with MTS inadequately protects taxpayers. For example, under the contract the County is ultimately responsible for covering any end-of- year deficits, giving MTS no incentive to efficiently manage its budget. There are also no built-in penalties for poor performance or incentives for good performance; again, providing no incentive to perform at a high level. This contract, put in place originally in 1975, also does not require MTS to provide open information to the County or the public about the workings and finances of MTS or MCTS, ultimately resulting in inadequate accountability to taxpayers.


In 2012 we saw this lack of accountability play out when MTS botched a paratransit contract, losing $8 million in savings. Because of the current contract, Milwaukee County had no recourse to recover any of the money.


This lack of accountability, combined with declining state support, resulted in annual cuts to bus routes and increases in fares in the 10 budgets preceding County Executive Abele’s election (see information from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:




Despite these past cuts, County Executive Abele has worked hard to make sure that routes were not cut and fares were not raised.



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