Now, Southeast Wisconsin wants to bleed another $12 a rental from those who are in town for business or pleasure. The purpose of the cash grab? Regional Transit Authority members know they can't get the money for commuter rail from anyone else, so they're targeting people who have no say in the matter.
If Southeast Wisconsin was going to build an extensive, rail-based system of public transit in the region, I'd have no problem with increasing the rental car tax. In that instance, you're providing the consumer with a competitive option. Instead of getting a rental car at the airport, for instance, I could take the train downtown, or to Miller Park, or to the Zoo.
But they're not doing that. They're trying to build commuter rail, almost solely for the purpose of giving residents another way to get to work. That's a perfectly laudable goal. But if the target of the expansion is residential commuters who live in the area, then it should be their tax dollars that fund the project. If the purpose is to spur development, use impact fees or a tax on businesses.
Let's face it. Milwaukee's public transit system sucks, and as long as it sucks, everyone else in the region is stuck. If I'm a tourist flying into Milwaukee or if I'm in the area on business for a few days, renting a car at the airport is really the only option I have in terms of transportation (other than taking a cab).
If it's going to bother doing anything, Southeast Wisconsin should develop a comprehensive, integrated system of public transit with the purpose of improving transit options for everyone in the region. This patchwork, piecemeal garbage is just nonsense, and is partly why public transit is so backwards there already.
In a metropolitan area that large, public transit is doomed to underachieve as long as buses are the backbone of the system. And if leaders can't find a way to do comprehensive rail, please, just stop bothering everyone. Accept the fact that people need a car to get around in the Milwaukee area, and work to target transit services to those for whom that reality poses a major difficulty, like the poor and elderly.
Even their own estimates, which should be rosy, aren't fantastic. They've penciled in 1.72 million riders annually on a system that runs weekdays only. That's about 6,700 passengers a day. Let's say they're all commuters. That means everyone who takes one train in the morning takes another train in the afternoon. So in reality, cut the number of riders in half, and then add a little to compensate for the overestimation. Still, we're talking about what, 4,000 riders a day? $200M to build and $10.2M annually to operate a system that gets a couple thousand cars off the road?
The consultants say the rail line would help generate 71,000 jobs, 23,000 housing units and 12.3 million square feet of stores and offices. But are we really talking about new jobs and new construction, or are we just rearranging the deck chairs? A business with 100 employees that relocates by five miles to be in a new office building by a rail station is neither creating jobs nor office space. A person who moves into a new housing unit by a station is likely leaving an old housing unit behind.
And all of these people still need cars, because somebody's not running the trains on weekends. Brilliant.