Once again, Scott Walker is trying to blame someone or something else for his failed policies in Milwaukee County. This time it is after a report that Milwaukee County transit ridership plunged to a 35 year low. Walker's response was predictable as he placed blame elsewhere. This time it wasn't an actual person or entity, this time he played the economy card. While the economy certainly could have played a role, it is no wonder that Walker ignored the other contributors that have made the problem so much worse.
This isn't the first time that ridership levels have plunged to historic depths on Walker's watch. The last time was before the Great Bush Recession, so placing blame solely on it now is just a weak attempt to transfer blame. Perhaps Walker would like to forget that 2007 was also a record breaking year for MCTS plunging ridership numbers. Again, that was before the Great Bush Recession and it was at the same time that transit systems nationally were soaring to a 50 year high. No, these latest numbers can't be laid at the feet of the economy alone. One can't seriously address this problem without addressing Walker's short-term thinking on transit. Short term thinking that totally ignores the devestating long term consequences that it breeds.
Scott Walker has proposed eliminating routes, raising fares or a combination of both in almost every budget that he has ever proposed as county executive. Those kinds of short sighted polices have consequences, and we started seeing them dramatically in 2007. Now we are seeing that they got even worse in 2009. There is no mystery here. The analysis of the historic 2007 ridership drop and the current drop both focus on the role of constantly rising fares and cuts in service.
In 2008 the Public Policy Forum released a study focusing on the desperate state of the MCTS. In that study they found a direct correlation between route cuts, fare increases and dramatically reduced ridership. They found that during years when there was no fare increase, the average annual ridership went up by over 184,000. They also found that during years of fare increases, average ridership numbers went down by an amazingly high 2.1 million.
Although all of the available data shows a very clear connection between raising fares and losing ridership, Walker continued his flawed short-term thinking on transit. In fact he tried to step up his short term thinking by inventing brand new ways to charge riders such as his proposed transfer fee. Not only did he continue the bad policies but he even went out of his way to create more. Not only did he promote these proven ridership killers but he did so at a time when people were already struggling to survive the Great Bush Recession. Walker may try to transfer his self inflicted transit problem, but eventually the truth will become one route that Walker just can't cut.
UPDATE: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel later reported that the current ridership plunge in Milwaukee County was more than twice as fast as the national average.