Why Transit Is Essential:  An economic driver that is vital to Wisconsin’s future

Transit plays a pivotal role in our growth as a vibrant economic region, and our success in competing in the global marketplace.  Public transit spending accounts for less than 5% of Wisconsin’s transportation budget, but that small investment does so much for the citizens and businesses of Wisconsin and the economy.

The Coalition for Advancing Transit (C.A.T.) believes that a vibrant, modern transit system is essential and includes:

  • A permanent regional transit authority (RTA) in SE WI to provide regional coordination, create a united voice to access local funding and federal investments, and advance efficient linkages for jobs and economic growth.
  • A dedicated funding source for transit – it is vital to provide adequate, stable funding for transit and prevent significant cuts in service, along with reducing property taxes at the same time.
  • Click here for our latest “Transit is Essential” Fact Sheet.

Why Choose Public Transportation?

The American Public Transportation Association website is a great resource for information on how public transportation helps our environment and connects our communities.  Most people in metropolitan areas face choices when it comes to travel – car, transit, bike or walk?   These decisions have a huge impact on our wallets, on the environment and on our quality of life.

The Wisconsin Urban & Rural Transit Association (WURTA) website has some good links that shows the broad support transit gets from communities across the state.  WURTA works to promote the interests of public transportation in Wisconsin through strong partnerships at the federal, state, and local levels.  Click here to access information on how transit provides long-term economic benefits for the State.

AltTransport.com is a site dedicated to providing the latest news and analysis on the shift towards smarter and more efficient modes of transportation.  “Your Guide To Smarter Ways of Getting Around,” AltTransport has links and information for various modes of transportation (car, rail, aviation, bikes) and ways to get involved.

Hear real stories from experts and colorful people in this 4-part documentary series by HumanKind, “Passengers.”  Click on the “Listen or Download” tab to hear stories about a Virginia man who goes “car-free” for a month, Business people and environmentalists who come together to grow their local economy through public transportation, a family that seeks a low-carbon lifestyle and a discussion of gas taxes and funding public transportation.  Their website also has great links and resources related to the choice of using public transportation.


Connect People to Jobs and Build Wealth
Families need job security and the individual freedom to be employed and educated, and to build upward mobility.  It’s the bedrock of our society.  Creating jobs while removing the means to get to a job will lock families in a financial decline as their cost of living increases and earning ability stagnates.

An adequately funded regional transit system can efficiently and reliably link workers to jobs, helping to reduce poverty and unemployment and their significant costs to society:

  • On average, nearly half of all trips made on transit in Wisconsin are for work purposes.  In Milwaukee County alone nearly 35,000 people rely on transit for work every weekday.  One out of 6 households do not have access to an auto (16.6%.)
  • Cuts in transit service can only result in more unemployment, fewer qualified workers, and higher government costs.   Transit service reductions from 2001 – 2007 made 40,500 jobs inaccessible by transit in Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties alone (UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development).
  • Transit saves money and keeps Wisconsin dollars working in our communities.  Access to good transit can save up to $8,000 for a household per year by eliminating the need to own and operate a car.   Those dollars are instead added to the local and state economy.
  • Every dollar invested in transit returns $4.72 to the community in economic benefits in Milwaukee County.
  • Cutting transit increases our dependence on unreliable and costly oil that robs us of income and financial security as fuel prices climb.  Transit saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually in the U.S., more than 3 times the amount of gasoline imported from Kuwait. (APTA)

Allow Wisconsin businesses to thrive, grow, and create jobs
Access to qualified workers is the top most priority for businesses in SE Wisconsin (Milwaukee 7 survey 2006.)   Without transit an educated and well-trained workforce is out of reach.

  • Transit is vital to an educated workforce and yet proposed cuts in transit funding will diminish access to education.  For many, the cost of owning a vehicle as the admission price for an education is often the difference between getting an education or not.
  • Transit is a top attractor for the talent that businesses require to be successful.  Business leaders from Wisconsin companies like NML, Bucyrus International, SC Johnson, and many others have stated their support for better transit to assure we have a talented workforce and reverse “brain-drain” to build a globally competitive regional economy.
  • Transit keeps highways, roads and parking facilities open for business by easing congestion, adding efficiency and needed capacity to our transportation system. Transit saves $19 billion in congestion costs every year in the U.S (APTA.)  With the Zoo Interchange upgrade in the near future, having access to transit will keep Wisconsin’s economy moving.
  • Other regions in the U.S. have invested in transit and are reaping the rewards – we are falling behind and that has to stop.  Transit is a vital infrastructure component that builds the local and regional economy, returning many times the original investment.  Our transit systems must be brought into the 21st century.

Improve and Extend Service

  • We need a stable, dedicated funding source to provide transit service, stabilize existing bus systems and receive needed federal infrastructure dollars.  Most major metropolitan areas in the United States use sales taxes as a dedicated funding source for transit, with Milwaukee being an exception.
  • In 2008, voters in Milwaukee County approved a referendum for a dedicated 0.5% sales tax for transit.  This funding source would allow Milwaukee to restore routes, pay for new buses, reduce fares or support new transportation initiatives such as rapid transit buses and downtown streetcar project.  An estimated 20-30% of the revenue from these funds would be generated from people outside the area, and would increase with inflation, ensuring that transit investments remain intact.
  • Other communities are exploring their local funding options; they now need approval from the State Legislature to move forward.

Provide Future Sustainability & Efficiency
Transit investments can catalyze sustainability and a green economy, while saving money for businesses and families by reducing travel costs.  Transit provides an essential option in the face of climbing gas prices and fuel uncertainty.

  • Using public transportation is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint – one person switching to public transit can save nearly 4,800 pounds of C02 a year.  Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) provides 46 million passenger trips annually, saving 54,000 tons of C02 – learn more here about how MCTS “goes green.”
  • Dedicated funding for transit will support investments that fill transportation system gaps by linking densely populated corridor areas and urban transit systems that currently have few connections.
  • Demographics and consumer demand are shifting toward transit and away from driving.   The two largest demographic groups in the U.S. want more public transportation choices.
    • Senior population will increase by 80% by 2025. 1 in 5 seniors do not drive. (AAA Foundation “Getting Around”).
    • Miles driven by Generation Y (people aged 21 to 30) in the U.S. fell to 13.7% in 2009 from 18.3% in 2001 and 20.8% in 1995, (FHA National Household Travel Survey 2010)
    • From 1995 through 2009, public transportation ridership increased by 31%—a growth rate higher than the 15% increase in U.S. population and higher than the 21% growth in the use of the nation’s highways over the same period.  (APTA)
  • Transit keeps Wisconsin dollars working in our communities Reliance on auto drains income from our economy. From 2001 – 2008 $5.1 billion was drained from Wisconsin’s economy from just in the INCREASE in the cost of fuel (Scott Bernstein, CNT.)
  • Of all freight-transportation options, rail is the most environmentally friendly way to move goods over land.  According to this recent series showcasing CSX Rail innovations that encourage environmental sustainability, if just 10% of the nation’s freight were shifted to rail, fuel savings would approach one billion gallons annually.  Learn more about Rail efforts in Wisconsin here.
  • Recent polls show that 8 out of 9 Americans are very concerned about the costs of fuel, and 79% are greatly concerned.  (USA Today March 16, 2011 http://tiny.cc/iidsz)
  • Other studies have found that when gas prices reach $5 per gallon, it will trigger an additional 1.5 billion more transit tripsIs Wisconsin ready?

Transit in Wisconsin Needs Our Support Now

Current State legislative and budget proposals have serious and detrimental impacts for local transit that will undermine our community.  Public transportation is the backbone of our economy, bringing customers and workers together – growing businesses and growing our economy.  Nearly half of transit trips are work-related and many people depend on transit for work, school, to shop for food and to get to health care. 

Transit spending accounts for less than 5% of Wisconsin’s transportation budget, but that small investment does so much for the citizens and businesses of Wisconsin and the economy.  Even those who have no plans to ever step on a bus or a train should be concerned about transit.

We need budget solutions that support transit to:

  • Give businesses access to the workers and customers they need,
  • Give people the freedom and independence to be employed, educated, and connected to the community and opportunity
  • Give people freedom from “pain at the pump” as gas prices soar and rob communities and families of income and a stable economic future.

Now it’s important for EVERY person to show their supportWhat can you do?

  1. Contact your legislators and remind them now is the time to support and invest in transit.  Visit our Contacting Elected Officials page for links and information on key upcoming events and issues.
  2. Join our Coalition so you can receive the latest updates and information on transit issues in SE WI.

Learn More
If you would like to learn more about transit issues in Southeastern Wisconsin or would like us to present to your group, members of the Coalition for Advancing Transit and its supporting organizations are available to meet and present.  Contact Kristi at the Urban Economic Development Association of WI (UEDA) at 414.562.9904 or kristi@uedawi.org to get connected or to set up a presentation/meeting.