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Seniors, People With Disabilities to Get Free Bus Rides

The county has allocated $800,000 for the program, though officials don't know exactly what it will cost

There are a couple upcoming changes in the Milwaukee County Transit System. This week, seniors and people with disabilities can get free passes. Next week, some riders will face a new charge.

If you pay cash to ride the county bus, you pay $4.50 for a round trip. Right now, county residents who are 65 or older and people with disabilities pay half the regular fare.

But even that’s unaffordable for many, according to Milwaukee County Board Chairperson Marina Dimitrijevic.

“I was at a senior meal site and an older adult said to me, ‘I can’t wait to get my GO Pass. Right now, I can only afford to go to where I need to go, like doctor appointments and various places, and now I can go where I want to go.’ I think it’s no surprise that people with disabilities and older adults live on a fixed income,” Dimitrijevic says.

Starting Tuesday, those groups can get free GO passes for unlimited rides on county buses. To get a pass, people have to go to the transit administration building and prove eligibility in one of four ways, such as a picture ID that lists age or a doctor’s statement describing the applicant’s disability.

Dimitrijevic hopes the program increases ridership.

“It’s an overall goal to continue to invest in our public infrastructure and the more people that we are able to take out of cars and off the roads helps our environment,” she says.

The board budgeted $800,000 in taxpayer money for the program, though Dimitrijevic says how much it actually will cost will depend on how many people take part.

That uncertainty is one reason Sup. Deanna Alexander opposes the free passes.

“One estimate was for $160,000. Another estimate was for $3,000,000. And then we received a comptroller’s report just last week that said the real costs can’t validly be estimated with any real assurances,” Alexander says.

Alexander says there’s a risk that offering free passes to certain groups will lead to higher fares for others. And she’s not convinced there was demand for the program.

“The very people that it was meant to benefit objected to the program. Seniors and persons with disabilities said they haven’t been asking for this type of a government handout. They’re not requesting free fares,” Alexander says.

Alexander says some residents testified they’d rather see fares stay the same and bus routes expand to new locations.

While some riders will get the free GO pass, others will face a new fee. As part of a transition from paper to electronic ticketing, the transit system on Monday will begin charging people $2 for Smart Cards. The cards are reusable and riders can add value to them at a few dozen locations, including grocery stores. While the card will now cost a couple dollars, it makes rides a bit cheaper than paying with cash.