Bus riders find other ways to get around

Some bus riders were left stranded this morning amid a shutdown of Milwaukee County Transit System service that began at 3 a.m.

The shutdown, which the county describes as a strike, was called after Milwaukee County and the transit workers’ union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, could not reach an agreement on a new contract during all-day negotiations Tuesday. The union has called the situation a “work stoppage,” and said its workers will return to work at 3 a.m. on July 4 no matter what.

 “If they would have been willing to go to arbitration, we would have been willing to go ahead and basically keep service going,” said ATU Local 998 president James Macom. “They knew that they would lose.”

MCTS provides about 150,000 rides per day.

Milwaukee County on Tuesday evening set up a hotline for the public related to the strike. The number is 414-988-5966. Riders can also get information on RideMCTS.com as it becomes available.

“Union leaders have been saying this strike is simply symbolic. If that’s the case, they should explain the symbolism to the single mother who won’t be able to make it to work, the senior citizen who relies on MCTS to get to the doctor or the family who planned to ride the bus the watch the fireworks at the lakefront,” said MCTS spokesman Brendan Conway.

According to a release from MCTS, the county made “significant” concessions to the union Tuesday, which included increasing the matching Flexible Spending Account for employees’ health care costs from $500 to $1,000; Putting a limit on the number of part-time drivers it would hire to reduce overtime; and giving some flexibility to mechanics on their personal time.

Macom said the county is twisting the numbers, and the pay raises it refers to are already in the workers’ contracts.

Enterprising car owners took to Craigslist to fill the gap, offering “taxi” services from different parts of the metropolitan Milwaukee area.

On Reddit’s Milwaukee section, a thread called “Emergency MCTS Strike Carpooling Thread” had 59 comments as of this morning. Drivers offered to pick up bus riders on their commutes and provided free codes for ridesharing service Lyft. Bus riders asked for rides to work and discussed how the strike has impacted their ability to get around. Some were staying with friends near work to avoid being stranded at home.

Ridesharing service Uber released the following statement:

“Uber was founded to connect people to reliable rides, wherever and whenever. The Uber Wisconsin team works every day to connect Milwaukee residents with a safe and affordable transportation option when they need one. In anticipation of potential increased rider demand over the coming days, we are encouraging our driver partners to be available to help people get to where they’re going.”

An account representing Milwaukee drivers for Lyft, another ridesharing service, tweeted “No @RideMCTS? Use a friend’s referral code for a free ride or enter Lyft7x5 or LYFTHQ before your first ride.” Lyft representatives could not be reached for comment.

Some of Summerfest’s 2,000-plus workers were also left without a ride in the mess, and the Big Gig is concerned about the impact on the festival’s attendance, according to BizTimes media partner WISN 12 News. Summerfest runs through July 5, and MCTS provides tens of thousands of rides each day to the event.

Summerfest chief executive officer Don Smiley said last night at a press conference: “There is no plan B, if you will, to replace the gigantic, logistical operation that goes along with running buses around four or five different counties.”

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president Tim Sheehy released the following statement about the strike:

“Transit is a critical component of metro Milwaukee’s infrastructure, providing 150,000 rides each day on Milwaukee County Transit System. Without this service, thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of workers and residents are suffering. People depend on this service to reach jobs, schools, appointments and for daily living – it is their lifeline. It is an economic imperative that this strike be resolved as quickly as possible.

“We believe Milwaukee County is focused on providing the best service for transit riders now and in the future. We applaud their efforts to provide a high quality transit system while modernizing and expanding services.

“We urge the Amalgamated Transit Union members to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and resume immediate service.”

Alderman Bob Bauman released the following statement:

“The overwhelming majority of Milwaukee County Transit System riders are city residents who rely on the bus to get to work, to school, and to the doctor. This fact makes it absolutely necessary for the mayor to get involved in helping end the bus driver work stoppage.

“Yes, the work stoppage is disproportionately impacting residents of Milwaukee, and I might point out that the people being impacted are those who can least afford to be impacted!

“This morning I had the opportunity to meet with some of the bus drivers, and I’ve been around long enough to know that there are two sides to every story. But I am calling on the mayor to step in and provide the leadership necessary to bring the work stoppage to an end as quickly as possible.

“If it were up to me, I would call both sides into my office, lock the door, and no one would leave until we ironed out an agreement.

“Obviously, the work stoppage is negatively impacting our economy, and the timing couldn’t be worse for Summerfest attendees and workers.

“But I am concerned for the little guy in this whole scenario – workers, seniors, and children who are just trying to live their lives on a daily basis. The ability to get to where they need to be must be restored, and as soon as possible.

“So Mr. Mayor, here’s your chance to show some leadership – so don’t miss the bus!

Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander released the following statement:

 “The Milwaukee County Board has been very supportive of our bus system and driver concerns. Hearing that ATU leaders cut off service to the community and then placed blame for this discomfort on elected officials is irritating—it was the union that pulled that trigger.

“This is a major public safety concern and I can hardly believe that the ATU would choose to take the thousands of people drinking at Summerfest hostage during this strike, increasing the risk that those who can’t find a bus they are accustomed to relying on, may get behind the wheel.

“I encourage the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to commit special attention to highway safety during this strike and I am grateful that taxicabs and rideshare services Uber and Lyft have committed to pick up the slack while the ATU punches off the clock to hold a temper tantrum.

“Further, the working poor, disabled and senior citizens totally dependent on public transit to get to work and make ends meet will bear the true punishment doled out by the ATU during this strike. Workers will face lost wages and potentially lost jobs when they can’t get to work. I am glad to hear that some churches and community organizations are stepping in to provide transportation where the ATU is leaving Milwaukee stranded.

“This service stoppage also creates a critical revenue loss that could have funded some of the pay increases the ATU is demanding from MCTS. The ATU’s demands for about $8 million more in wages over two years would essentially require the County to raise taxes to the fullest extent allowed by law and then to direct 100 percent of the increase to that extorted expense.
“We should all be focused on providing safe, efficient public transit to love and I am very disappointed that the ATU has chosen to hurt transit riders just to further their bargaining position, as if management has not been making a good faith effort to reach a position both sides can agree to.

“The County Board, the County Executive, and MCTS management all respect bus drivers and support our transit system, and I look forward to hearing when a deal has been reached so we can be assured the ATU will no longer be directing workers off the job.”

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