The Wisconsin Economic Development Commission launched a $1 million campaign earlier this year to attract Chicago’s Millennial transit commuters to the state, hoping to combat its growing labor shortage. Since 2010, outmigration has outpaced natural births and new arrivals, reports CityLab writer Laura Bliss.
The ads focus on housing, comparing Chicago’s cramped walk-up flats to Wisconsin’s affordable three-bedroom homes, but much of the campaign makes hay of Wisconsin’s average commute time—a mere 22 minutes. According to the logic of the ads, driving a short distance beats taking transit as a Chicago resident would, since your longer commute on the El could presumably be better spent enjoying Wisconsin’s distinctly suburban pleasures, says Bliss.
That seems to leave little room for people who take public transportation because they like it, as many Chicagoans do, based on the indignant response in local media outlets earlier this year. Nor does it leave room for the many riders for whom transit is the only option. That seems to be a fair description, too, of how Wisconsin has approached public transportation for people who already live there: Transit ridership in Milwaukee County, where the vast majority of the state’s impoverished population lives, has steadily declined since 2001, counter to national trends. That has tracked closely with dramatic cuts to service. Milwaukee also saw the greatest dip in ridership between 2016 and 2017 out of 35 major U.S. metros, according to a TransitCenter analysis.
Transportation gaps run deep in a city where roughly 18 percent of the population does not own a car and, crucially, where regional connections are nonexistent. Famously, one of Scott Walker’s first moves upon taking the governor’s office in 2011 was to return $810 million from the federal government that would have gone to building a high-speed rail connection between Milwaukee and Madison. His aversion to transit goes way back: Serving as the executive of Milwaukee County, Walker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 2007 that “he wanted to grow the economy so much that poor people would be able to buy cars and leave the bus behind,” according to Streetsblog.Read More