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Chris Abele
stated on October 29, 2015 in a TV interview:
Since he took office as Milwaukee County executive, "we have never raised" bus fares and "this year there’ll be a million route-miles more than there were five years ago."
true mostly-true
By Sarah Hauer November 23, 2015

Chris Abele says since he took office, county hasn't raised bus fares, yet added route miles

With Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson entering the 2016 race for Milwaukee County Executive, incumbent Chris Abele is trying to show residents he has been -- per his campaign tagline -- "working for us for a change."

In an Oct. 29, 2015 interview on WisconsinEye, Abele was asked about the impact borrowing $200 million for state highway funding would have in Milwaukee County. At the time, Scott Walker had just asked the Legislature to approve the borrowing to keep road projects on track.

"Decisions like that necessitate related decisions that lead to the county right now, for instance,  getting less in transit funding still than we did five years ago," Abele said. "But what I can tell you (public transit is) a priority to me."

Then Abele shared this accomplishment:  

"This year there’ll be a million route miles more than there were five years ago and we have never raised fares."

He echoed the claim in a TV ad released Nov. 17, 2015 by his re-election campaign, which declared: "Chris Abele expanded the (bus) lines without increasing the fares."

Is Abele right that, thanks to his actions, fares have been kept flat and route miles increased since he took office?

Background on fares and routes

Abele was elected in April 2011 and is up for reelection in April 2016. It’s the county executive’s job to propose the transit budget.

In the 10 years before Abele took office, a period that includes Gov. Scott Walker’s time in the job and the last of Tom Ament’s tenure, fares increased and routes were cut nearly every year.

Fares rose from $1.50 in 2001 to $2.25 by 2011. The total number of miles traveled by county buses fell from nearly 22 million in 2001 to about 17.1 million in 2011, a drop of 22 percent.

In 2011, soon after Abele took office, the state made a 10 percent cut in transit aid. Abele obtained federal funds to keep fares flat and routes running

Where do things stand now?

His team sent us budget documents from the Milwaukee County Transit System that showed fares at $2.25 in 2011 and the proposed fare for 2016 still at $2.25.

We double checked and fares did not go up and then back down in that time frame.

So, fares stayed the same for the last five years.

The same documents backed up Abele’s route miles claim.

In 2015, Milwaukee County buses are projected to travel 18,313,725 miles, that’s over a million more than five years ago. The 2016 budget estimates route miles will increase again, to 18,416,499.

The transit system calculates the route miles by multiplying the length of each route by the number of times the route runs in a day, multiplied by the days in the year, taking into account weekends and other days when busses run fewer trips.

Most of the additional miles were added in the last year:


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Route miles

Mile increase from 2011

















The large increase mostly attributed to the addition of three new routes that go from the central city to the suburbs. But they were not Abele’s doing.

These routes were created as part of a 2014 settlement between the state and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Inc. and Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope.

The lawsuit originally sought to block reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange, saying transportation officials discriminated against urban minorities by not including improvements to public transit in $1.7 billion project.

Route miles are expected to increase another 100,000 miles in 2016, due to increased funds in the transit budget from Abele and the Milwaukee County Board.

Our rating

Abele said since he has been Milwaukee County executive, "we have never raised" bus fares and "this year there’ll be a million route-miles more than there were five years ago."

He backed up the claim with transit system budget reports that showed constant fare prices and a million mile increase in route miles. But in stating the claim, he gives himself too much credit for the new routes that largely generated the extra miles. Those were the result of a lawsuit against the state.

We rate Abele’s claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Email exchange with Melissa Baldauff, director of communications, Office of the Milwaukee County Executive.

Public Policy Forum, Budget Brief: Milwaukee County 2016 executive budget, October 2015.

WisconsinEye, Newsmakers interview, Oct. 29, 2015.

Email exchange with Joe Peterangelo, senior researcher, Public Policy Forum.

Email exchange with Brendan Conway, chief marketing and communications officer, Milwaukee County Transit System.

Milwaukee County Transit System, 2014 MCTS annual ridership statistics book, September 2015.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Transit troubles,

Milwaukee County Transit System, 2016 budget summary.

Abele campaign, Chris Abele campaign - "Ride", Nov. 17, 2015.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, State to spend $13.5 million on transit to settle Zoo Interchange suit, May 19, 2014.

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Chris Abele says since he took office, county hasn't raised bus fares, yet added route miles

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