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MCTS clarifies bus fare policy before county board votes on ordinance

MILWAUKEE COUNTY (CBS 58) -- A Milwaukee County supervisor says someone gets on the county bus without paying every 90 minutes, and he wants to put a stop to it.

The Milwaukee County Transit System admits some people don't pay, but say there's a reason they let people sit down and ride.

11th District County Supervisor Dan Sebring says county bus drivers contacted him and informed him they were upset with and MCTS policy about ride fares. Sebring says drivers can only ask someone to pay their fare once, and if they refuse or are short on the amount, they are still allowed to ride.

"My biggest concern is the drivers - so many drivers have contacted me and think it is so unfair to the tax payers that they are required to give free rides to people that refuse to pay," said Sebring.

Sebring has proposed an ordinance that would enforce fares. He says under the ordinance, if someone doesn't have the money, they can't ride -- adding right now there is no law or rule that requires people to pay, and he believes that's some of the reason it's not enforced. The ordinance was voted down by the committee on September 5th, but will go to the full board on September 20th.

There is no opportunity for public comment, but people can email the board their opinion on the issue. Contact information can be found by clicking here

Sebring says he's contacted other metropolitan cities, such as Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Detroit, New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, and he says no other transit system has this policy that he knows of.

"It's mind-boggling that Milwaukee is the only transit company that has this policy," said Sebring. He says someone wouldn't get on an airplane without paying for a ticket, and this shouldn't be any different.

Martha Malik rides the bus every day, and she's never seen someone get on without paying a full fare.

"Never. Never. I fluctuate between the 49, 15 and sometimes the 30, and I've never seen it happen," said Malik.

She doesn't want someone to take advantage of the system, but understands why some people are allowed on.

"If the person is elderly, or there's a mental illness, yeah, I would probably give them a pass, but if it's someone getting on my bus every day on a routine basis and not having money, I wouldn't let them on," said Malik.

David Mayfield rides a route that stays in the city, and says he sees refusals on every bus he rides. He says the occurrence happens in front of him almost daily.

"It's either, 'I don't have it,' or, 'I'm short. Can you just let me ride?' or they say, 'I don't have any transportation.'" said Mayfield.

He agrees with the ordinance and says something has to be done about the people that skirt the system.

"I just want a change in what's going on on the bus. I'm concerned about other passenger's rights too. Something should be done."

While he believes in a new policy, he understands why drivers allow some people on without paying.

"I think that the bus drivers kind of fear [them]. You don't know what to expect from this gentlemen, what he might do," said Mayfield.

Brendan Conway with MCTS says safety is the number one reason drivers only ask for fare once, and then allow the passenger to continue regardless of whether they pay. They don't want their drivers or passengers assaulted by an angry bus rider.

"The bus driver's job is to get people safely from 'A' to 'B' -- they do it really well, but what you don't want is tell people is,'You have to pay.' Someone may have a bad day and want to start a fight over that," said Conway.

Conway says people that don't pay costs them over $336,000 each year. MCTS collects about $34 Million each year from people that do pay. He also adds - calling security or the police every time someone is short on their fare will take time, and make other riders late to appointments and jobs.

Despite the policy, Conway says people shouldn't expecting to ride for free from now on.

"If a person gets on all the time, our drivers can file a report and say, 'every day this person gets on and they're not paying,' guess what security's going to be there."

As to the allegation that MCTS bus drivers want to Conway says he can't speak for all 750 drivers, but the stance of the union and MCTS is to get drivers home safe.

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