May 07--Southridge Mall officials Wednesday agreed to discuss a compromise with county officials over the controversial decision in November to move a bus stop 1,000 feet away from a store entrance.
That shift prompted protests and a threatened mall boycott from advocates for elderly and disabled bus riders. They said the path from the bus stop near S. 74th St. and W. Edgerton Ave. to the closest mall entrance was hazardous and difficult to maneuver, particularly in winter.
The olive branch was offered just as a proposed county ordinance change was slated to come up for consideration. It would allow disorderly conduct citations to be issued against Southridge if it tried to interfere with where bus passengers are picked up and dropped off.
Mall general manager Mary Mokwa told county supervisors Wednesday she wanted to work with them to reach common ground on the issue, after the County Board's Transportation, Public Works & Transit Committee voted 7-0 to delay action on the disorderly conduct legislation.
Mokwa and other Southridge officials have said little publicly about the complaints and until now have refused to talk about making any change.
She said the bus stop was moved over safety concerns prompted by heavier customer traffic and more than 150 buses a day at Southridge. Mokwa also said some buses were driving too fast in the mall parking lot.
Mokwa denied that moving bus stops to mall parking lot perimeters was a corporate policy of Simon Property Group, which owns Southridge and dozens of other shopping malls.
Supervisor Patricia Jursik said she was pleased Southridge offered to compromise and said there were many potential areas to consider. That includes possibly shifting some bus access to a stop near S. 76th St.; consolidation of some bus routes near Southridge; or relocating the bus stop closer to a mall entrance, though not necessarily adjacent to a door.
Jursik said if little progress on the issue comes from meetings with mall officials, the disorderly conduct ordinance will be brought back for action by the County Board.
Advocates for elderly and disabled riders said they were encouraged by Southridge's willingness to discuss a compromise, though still skeptical.
"I hope they can get back to the status quo" of having the bus stop at the mall entrance, said Bob Haase, a member of the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging.
Southridge threatened to move the bus stop in 2012, but reversed course after a similar outcry. The bus stop was moved in November.
The board's transportation committee also approved, on a 4-3 vote, modifying the county's policy on future transit service. The panel voted to have the county study and seek federal approval for switching management of the Milwaukee County Transit System to in-house management or an entity considered "an instrumentality" of the county.
That's a change from the transit policy included in the 2014 budget, which says the county will move the transit system to an entirely in-house operation. Some supervisors favor a modified version in which top transit managers would be county employees but other MCTS workers would be employed by a separate corporation controlled by the county.
County Executive Chris Abele and some other supervisors favor soliciting a new round of bids for having the transit service managed and operated by an outside firm. An earlier bidding resulted in awarding the transit contract to Dallas-based MV Transportation, but that decision was reversed on administrative appeal.
Supervisor Mark Borkowski opposed the change. He said the county should move more quickly on rebidding the transit operation.
James Macon, president of the local transit union, said he favors retaining the current system.
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