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Ozaukee, Washington counties explore public transit merger PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by JOE POIRIER   
Wednesday, 24 May 2017 20:19

Combining systems has its challenges, but officials see potential for costs savings, improved service

    The Ozaukee and Washington county public works committees began discussing last week the creation of a regional public transportation partnership that would be one of the largest in the state.
    A merger of the two transit systems, both of which provide express bus service to and from Milwaukee and shared-ride taxi service within their counties, has potential to save money and improve service, officials said. This comes on the heels of the merger of the two counties’ Public Health Departments in 2015.
Daily Press    “It makes a lot of sense to work with both counties because of the operational expenses and to improve the quality of life with transportation,” Ozaukee County Supr. John “Chip” Slater said during the May 18 meeting of the two departments at Newburg Village Hall.
    Ozaukee County Supr. Kathlyn T. Geracie, chairwoman of the committee, agreed.
    “I’m in favor of moving forward because we’re always looking for how we can work together with other counties and businesses to provide a good quality of service that is cost effective,” she said.
    The consolidation would allow for seamless public transportation between the two counties, Ozaukee County Transit Supt. Jason Wittek said.
    Both counties currently use the same dispatching software so consolidating the system would be relatively easy and save money, officials said.
    “It’s really been initial exploration so far. We’ve been talking about what we need to get this done, and now we’re looking for direction from the two boards,” Wittek said. “There may be pent-up demand for crossing county lines.”
    Currently the two counties are weighing the potential cost savings for the merger. One example is having a consolidated dispatch center that could provide a savings of $60,000.
    “It’s not as straightforward as it was for the public health merger because there were some very definite cost savings one could see in terms of staffing,” Wittek said.
    There are currently 230,000 rides per year for residents crossing between Washington and Ozaukee counties. According to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, which analyzed the proposed merger, it expects that number to grow by 7,000 rides if the merger occurs.
    With the future increase in rides and route distance, Washington County Transit Division Manager Joe Stier III noted it will require added accountability for federal and state reporting.
    “My concern is if we become a bigger entity, regardless, there will be more federal and state reporting. We’ll be one of the biggest organized transit services in the state,” he said. “In my eyes we’ll be the size of Waukesha County. The bigger the organization, the longer the travel distances are going to be.”
    The other concern for the merger is improving the quality of rides for the passengers.
    “By working together to cross county lines, that would eliminate the need for arranging two different rides for the shared-ride taxi, which would be a benefit for people waiting outside during inclement weather or having the elderly and disabled waiting at transfer points,” Wittek said.
    Wittek also said the two counties need to decide on a plan for a contract of service.
    “The administrative plan is the more technical and confusing, where as the operational plan isn’t that complicated because we essentially both have contracted services,” Wittek said. “So really the operational expertise really rests with the contractors.”
    If the departments are merged, a standard fare structure would be needed. Currently Ozaukee charges by a zone rate while Washington charges at a mileage rate.
    Both committees are uncertain as to when the transit partnership will take place but said they will have a stronger idea for a set time in 2018.