Rank-and-file union of Milwaukee County bus drivers approves 'bus ranger' proposal

NOW: Rank-and-file union of Milwaukee County bus drivers approves ’bus ranger’ proposal

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee County Transit System buses could get new security, so-called "bus rangers" to keep an eye on passengers for bus drivers.

The union representing rank-and-file transit workers supports the idea.

Members of ATU Local 998 say when they head out on these buses, they never know what's going to happen.

That's why they say if, and when, something does happen, they want fast and reliable protection.

"As I was getting off the bus for my break, he pulled an axe on me!" said ATU Local 998 Vice President Michael Brown.

Brown says when that happened, he called the security company the county currently contracts with, and he waited and waited some more.

"Thirty-five minutes seemed like an hour," said Brown, recalling the wait.

Eventually, police were on the scene to help.

"Allied Security still wasn't there. They got there when they were taking him off to jail, and then security arrives," said Brown.

Brown says this proposal comes at a time when there have been more attacks and harassment on buses than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why they've put their support behind this proposal.

The County Board Safety and Security Task Force's proposal would establish unarmed bus rangers, similar to park rangers, who could respond to these calls quickly with de-escalation tactics.

They could even write citations and tickets, something current security can't do.

Brown says that means he can keep his mind on his job and be safer.

"When you're driving that bus, you're sitting behind a seat, and now you've got to worry about safety out here," said Brown.

He says it could also stop the bleed of bus drivers quitting because of conditions.

"Right there, when we get better security, we can retain people," said Brown. "So we're trying to up the security for the passengers and for the bus operators."

Connell Shorter, ATU Local 998 president, says something needs to change, which is why they're asking for 50 bus rangers in the first year.

"If we keep doing the same things over and over, we're gonna get the same results over and over," said Shorter.

In a statement to CBS 58 News, MCTS officials said:

“As a member of the Security Task Force, it’s important that MCTS consider all recommendations. It’s far too early in the process to weigh in on any one suggestion. We look forward to hearing additional ideas.”

Shorter says as MCTS faces a $26.5 million budget shortfall in 2025 that could lead to a 20% cut in services, if they get better security, it could mean more people might want to ride, and they'll be able to crack down on people not paying their fare.

"If there's better security on the bus, we believe the farebox will have better revenue. I think the two are tied together," said Shorter.

The County Board Safety and Security Task Force's proposal will have another public hearing in June, then this proposal will go to the full county board in July.

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