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County transit system merger talks skid to a halt PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by JOE POIRIER   
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 19:27

Proposal to combine Ozaukee, Washington services fails to garner support of officials from either county

    Negotiations over a joint Ozaukee-Washington county public transit system skidded to a halt last week when officials from both counties voted not to pursue the merger.
    If the merger had been approved, it would have created one of the largest public transit systems in the state, but the committees determined bigger isn’t necessarily better.
    “Is this worth pursuing? We already have a good transit service,” Washington County Supr. Daniel Goetz asked during the meeting of the Ozaukee and Washington counties public works committees on Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Newburg Municipal Building.
    Both public works committees voted   not to pursue the merger 2-2. For Ozaukee County, supervisors Kathryn Geracie and Donald Korinek voted for the merger and supervisors LeRoy Haeuser and Barb Jones voted against.
     The Ozaukee and Washington shared-rides taxi service provides about 230,000 rides annually to people cross between the two counties. Officials estimated that number would have increased by 10,000 if the services were merged because riders would no longer have to transfer in Newburg.        Proponents said the merger would save money and improve public transit in both counties, which provide express bus service to and from Milwaukee and a shared-ride taxi service.
    The current contract operator for both counties’ share-ride taxi services, National Q, indicated that it might be able to reduce the dispatch costs if the services were merged, which would’ve saved about $50,000 per year.
    Officials said federal funding would only increase slightly if the merger occurred.
    Proponents also argued that a joint shared-ride taxi service would have been easier for riders, who predominantly are elderly and disabled people, to use because it would eliminate transfers.
    “They would likely experience quicker trips and wouldn’t have to wait for the transfer in Newburg, which could be out of the way from the origin or destination of their trip,” Kevin Muhs, deputy director of Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said.
    Muhs also said an Ozaukee-Washington transit service would better serve businesses in both counties struggling with a labor shortage.
    “It could assist with the labor shortage both counties are currently experiencing,” he said.
    But opponents of the merger said they were concerned about creating an unwieldy system managed by a transit commission that would have three to four representatives from each county.
    “You’ll be creating another bureaucracy and adding another layer of supervision,” Ozaukee County Supr. LeRoy Haeuser said, noting he was wary of what the commission would do if there would be a tie vote.
    Managing the assets of each county was also an issue. Each county owns its own shared-ride taxis, and Ozaukee County owns a dispatch and storage facility, which it would have had to transfer to the joint commission.
    “Why can’t we leave it the way it is,” Haeuser said.
    Other topics discussed included service hours, staffing, vehicle storage and dispatch, maintenance, brand marketing and reconciling fare structure. Ozaukee has a zone-based fare system while Washington’s is distance based.
    “In addition to the idiosyncrasies of each fare structure, Washington County taxi fares for adults are currently higher, on average, than Ozaukee’s,” Muhs said.
    Washington County fares range from $4.25 to $9, while Ozaukee County’s range from $3 to $6.75.
    Wisconsin has five multi-county transit systems.
    Discussions of a public transit system merger started after the Ozaukee and Washington counties merged their public health departments in 2015.Daily Press