MCTS: Special service to summer events canceled this year due to bus driver shortage
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) announced it is canceling shuttle services for special events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and cultural events at the lakefront because of a shortage in bus drivers.
"Unfortunately, this summer’s activities come amidst a tight labor market that's hampering the transportation, governmental, tourism, restaurant, and service industries — as well as many other businesses," MCTS said in a statement.
The agency said it has hired more than 125 new bus drivers in the last year but is still short 60 positions, despite heavy recruiting and hiring efforts. That is putting it near a five-year low for bus staffing.
On top of that, Summerfest moved from the end of June and beginning of July to September, which means the event was moved from a season with lower ridership to one of its busier seasons when bus lines for essential travel are in full swing.
"Tens of thousands of people rely on MCTS every day to get to work, school, medical appointments, grocery shopping, and other critical destinations," the agency went on to say. "To ensure there are enough bus operators available to run these daily routes that so many people’s livelihoods depend on, MCTS had to make the difficult decision to suspend its special service to summer events in 2021."
Both Summerfest and State Fair told CBS 58 they were surprised by the announcement.
"Our team was planning a full transit operation in cooperation with MCTS as in the past, so their sudden decision was unanticipated and completely contrary to all recent communications," Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., which runs Summerfest, said in a statement. "With appreciation for the importance of transportation options for our patrons, we will immediately begin exploring potential alternatives.”
"While this unfortunate news will certainly impact both our fairgoers and employees, our staff is working on a plan to mitigate the effects and potentially offer other transportation solutions," Wisconsin State Fair Park officials said in a statement. "We will provide updates on all transportation options as plans are finalized."
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters he's looking into addressing the issue.
"I have to talk to them to see what they see is a solution," Barrett told reporters Monday. "We want to work with them, we want to work with the county, to make sure that people can get there safely."
County Board Supervisor Steven Shea, who sits on the Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee, told CBS 58 the cuts in services are another effect of the statewide worker shortage but also points to a tight budget for the agency.
"It's sad but it is a labor shortage," Shea told CBS 58. "The Milwaukee County Transit System budget has been cut to the bone, and there's only so much money to hire so many drivers."
Shea said he hopes legislators in Madison do not continue to cut public transportation funding for the county or, he says, service cuts will likely continue. Shea is also concerned the cut in shuttle services will potentially lead to more drunk driving during those events.
"It would be in everybody's favor, everybody's benefit if we have buses for special events," Shea said.
MCTS is encouraging people to apply for bus driver positions which include a sign-on bonus. People interested can CLICK HERE to apply.
MCTS still offers its normal routes that can be used for Summerfest or the State Fair.
Anyone heading to Henry Maier Festival Park for Summerfest or any other lakefront events can ride the MCTS GoldLine, GreenLine, Route 14, Route 15, Route 30, or Route 33 – all of which get you within walking distance. Anyone heading to State Fair Park can ride Route 33, Route 56, or Route 67 (S. 84th Street Branch). Passengers can plan their bus ride by using the Trip Planning tool on RideMCTS.com or the Ride MCTS app.