Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Abele Steers The Bus Straight For The Cliff

For nearly 40 years, Milwaukee Transit System (MTS) has been the non-profit agency that has been contracted to run the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS), including the paratransit program.  During that time, MTS has received rewards for their performance and was held as a standard for other mass transit programs around the country.

Due to reductions in federal and state funding as well as poor budgeting by former County Executive Scott Walker, MCTS has seen fare hikes and more than 20% cut in services over the past ten years.  To address the dwindling funding, there was a referendum in the fall of 2008 on whether there should be a 1% sales tax dedicated to the transit system, the parks system and the emergency medical system..

Despite Walker's vehement opposition to the sales tax, the referendum passed.  Unfortunately, then Governor Jim Doyle and his fellow Democrats couldn't get their act together to follow the will of the people and the dedicated funding source did not come to be.

It doesn't look like the dedicated funding source will come to be any time soon either. Milwaukee County Emperor Chris Abele has expressed that he is opposed to any such sales tax.  (Although he is all for one to build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.  Yes, Abele things poor people don't need ways to work, but he is willing to spend our tax money on a multimillion dollar arena for a team of multimillionaire players on a team owned by a multimillionaire so that Abele, a multimillionaire himself, can watch the games.  Do you think he might be just a tad out of touch with the people?)

In March 2013, it was reported that the county would be on the hook for nearly $9 million due to a clerical error regarding the bidding process for the paratransit services.  Abele immediately blamed MTS and said that the was going to put their contract out for bid as well.  What Abele didn't want people to know is that MTS has a pretty solid paper trail of all the attempts to contact Abele's staff about this pending issue.  Unfortunately for all involved, the staff that MTS was trying to contact, including DPW Director Frank Busalacchi, were busy being fired by Abele in the midst of one of his frequent temper tantrums.

It is fairly apparent that Abele wanted to make sure that MTS did not get the contract, so that they could renegotiate the paratransit contracts and cut the cost of his temper tantrum.

On Monday - in a story broken by Lisa Kaiser of the Shepherd Express - we learned that MTS, despite their decades of excellence, did not get the contract.  Instead, Abele announced that the contract was going to MV Transportation, a for profit company based in Dallas, Texas.

As one might expect from anything Abele does, there are problems with both the procedure that he used to chose the company as well as with the company itself.

When the county sends out a request for proposals (RFP), it usually consists of sending out a scope of what they are looking for and companies send in proposals for the job, quoting a price that they want to do the work.  The county then weighs the proposals on cost, reputation of the company, etc.  Once a decision is made, the information is given to the board, along with the other proposals, is offered to the Board who screens it again and approves the deal.  Once the county executive signs it, the contract is set.

Under Abele's screwed up plan, the county told the companies how much they had to spend and asked the companies to submit proposals on what they could do for that much money.  These proposals were supposedly reviewed by a "panel of experts in the industry" that are independent of the County Emperor's office.  But no one knows who these experts are and their identities are being kept secret, as are the other proposals.  Something tells me that those "experts" came from the Greater Milwaukee Committee and/or the Public Policy Forum.

It is only now that Abele is trying to strike a contract with MV Transportation.

During the negotiations, they are keeping the whole bidding process under wraps so that the public can't know if it is a legitimate deal or another one of Abele's sketchy stunts.  By using this method, Abele has put the county over a barrel.  If the contract talks fall through, the other bidders are not going to be interested in getting involved with such shadiness.  So now Abele managed to put MV Transportation with the power in the negotiations.

MV Transportation has acted as if they will be glad to take on the current drivers of ATU 998 and honor their contract, which was just entered last month.

Their track record shows that this is anything but the reality of how they operate.

A quick Google search shows a history of labor struggles in almost every community they have been involved, including Reno, Santa Clarita, New York City and Chicago.  In Fairfield, California, MV Transportation refused to pay their drivers for hours worked, prompting a federal law suit.

It's not only Labor who has had issues with MV Transportation.

In Fairfield, the city officials had to fine the company hundreds of times because they failed so miserably:
Between 2008 and 2010, the company was fined 295 times by local transit officials for poor performance, including too many accidents, missed bus runs and late buses.

The use of private contractors has grown dramatically in California. Contractors ran 223 million miles of bus and train service in the state in 2011, a 42 percent increase in a decade, according to the National Transit Database. Last year, they picked up 166 million riders in California, up 29 percent. Government-run public transit systems still carried far more riders last year with 1.2 billion, a slight dip from a decade ago.
The article goes on to describe not only labor struggles, but poor performance with buses running late, buses not making stops at all, and unsafe driving. The article also notes that they have a high rate of accidents including one fatal accident when the bus driver failed to yield the right away.

The article also reports that there has been a lot of pay for play and alleges that MV Transportation has tried to influence local elections, then going straight to those elected officials to complain about getting fined instead of through the proper channels. This kind of manipulation and corruption is what probably appealed most to Abele. He recognized a common soul in their method of operation.

Most telling is this part of the article, a sentiment shared by Milwaukee County SupervisorJohn Weishan on numerous occasions:
“If you had a contractor that wanted to run the business and not maximize their profit at every turn, then it would be fine,” Fink said. “As it tends to work out, you’re spending 85 percent of the time making sure that they’re doing everything in the contract instead of doing the things you need to be doing, like getting grant money doing transit planning.”
In summary, Emperor Abele has a tantrum and fires the top four people in DPW, which leads to a bungling of paratransit contracts which could cost taxpayers up to $9 million. To cover up and correct his error, Abele decides to go from a local, nonprofit company with a stellar record to an out of state, for profit company with a long history of screwing over workers, strikes and poor performance.

And Abele thinks that this is a good thing. And he expects the County Board to just approve what he puts in front of them without knowing whether this is the best bid or even if it was done legally. It sure seems to me that the county is being exposed to another costly lawsuit, thanks to Abele.

Gee, isn't it great that the state granted Abele's power grab. Imagine how nuts things would be if we had adults running the county instead of Abele.


  1. Capper, thanks.

  2. Why would Abele risk wrecking the county bus system? It can't just be to cover up other mistakes or because he wants to screw over the transit workers union. I think it's all part and parcel of a horrific mindset among Republicans, closet Republicans, "new" Democrats and the business elite, namely: Creative destruction is good for the country, and disaster capitalism is the means for justifying that destruction. We're in a crisis! We must act! MWHA-HA-HA-HAAA!

  3. I've been riding the bus to and from work and to and from a lot of other places for 3 or 4 years now. Despite all of the budget cuts, service continues to be pretty decent.

    What's got to be demoralizing for everyone working for MTC is that ever since Walker got into office, every time the bus company over-performs, and there is money left over or income exceeds projections, that surplus is always transferred to meet some other county budget need. Every other county exec, before Walker and Abele, allowed the bus company to spend the extra funds on maintenance, or whatever internal needs were there. I think I was told that MTC "earned" about 5 or 6 million last year, for the county's general fund.

    ...You'd probably be able to confirm that with a few phone calls, or records requests.

    It's in keeping with what's going on now with the bidding process.

    A double standard.

    The new TX private company will be able to pay workers $12/hr so some CEO and private stock shareholders can get fat -- but that's OK, the folks earning those bonuses and dividends will be sitting at the same tables as the ones rigging the bidding.

    Screw the best interests of the residents of Milw. County, or people actually using the service.

    1. Your comments about the workers wages and the CEO are very true. All you have to do is Google MV Transportation and you can find numerous instances where they did exactly what you said...reduce wages and benefits, provide poor service and maximize their profits.

      MTS returned $5 million dollars back to Milwaukee County last year BECAUSE of changes in the paratransit system that MTS recommended to the County Budget office more than three years ago. Those dollars went back to Milwaukee County, not to some private shareholders. Just because MTS is not for profit, doesn't mean that they don't know how to run things efficiently and effectively. Numerous audits commissioned by the State of Wisconsin over the years have shown this to be true.

  4. Capper:

    Thank you for writing this article. You obviously know a lot about the situation and your conclusions are right on. The Milwaukee County Board should not a approve this recommendation.

  5. So now we know why the Milwaukee streetcar had to be stopped in Madison so this private transit company didn't have the competition. What a joke!