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Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Issue of the Week: End of the Road for Live Bus Information Agents

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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A notable but overlooked casualty of the 2010 Milwaukee County budget is the live phone operator service provided to the community by the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS), which will cut all of its 16 phone agents by the end of the year. As of Jan. 1, 2010, the agents will be replaced by an automated call-in line and an online Google Transit Trip Planner on RideMCTS.com.

When the news broke, some scoffed at the service provided by the live information agents—we’re talking to you, WTMJ’s Vince Vitrano, who, in a blog about the layoffs, stated “self-reliance is in” and “don’t ask taxpayers to keep funding luxuries for a relatively small number of users.” But in reality the operators handled 357,000 calls a year and provided a necessary service. Many of the callers were elderly, physically or cognitively disabled, or the working poor. The information provided by these agents was not a “luxury.” It helped riders get to work or job interviews, to the doctor, and to stay connected to their friends and families.

The new 24-hour automated line sounds good in theory, but it won’t replace the personal touch provided by the agents at the call center. Riders will need to know which route they’re going to take if they want to navigate the phone system. The online map won’t help you if you can’t access the Internet. Paper route maps and schedules will be key—along with help from friends and neighbors. MCTS serves a vital role in our community. It’s important to recognize its efforts and find a way to support the system in the long run.

Hero of the Week

Colleen Shoop of Grand Avenue Club

Mental illness affects large swaths of the American population in varying degrees, regardless of socioeconomic status. Watch prime-time television at almost any hour and you will inevitably see ads for antidepressants.

Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue Club (GAC) is a community for adults who have experienced mental illness. The GAC helps members with general education classes, vocational training, housing assistance and recreational and cultural opportunities. The GAC relies on dedicated volunteers to fulfill its mission. Colleen Shoop is one such outstanding individual. Shoop originally worked with the GAC as a student 12 years ago, and now volunteers with members to develop their sense of artistic expression. Her efforts have been so successful that the GAC is now a regular participant in the quarterly Gallery Night and Day. The Shepherd thanks Shoop and her fellow GAC volunteers for their efforts to help those coping with mental illness. Anyone, especially prospective employers, wishing to help is urged to call the GAC at 414-276-6474.

Jerk of the Week

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is again trying to discredit 15 years of scientific evidence on man-made contributions to global warming by distorting the content of some stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia that dealt with the issue of climate change. Essentially, the e-mails showed that some scientists can be quite petty and egotistical, but the e-mails in no way disproved any of the data that unequivocally prove that man-made global warming is seriously heating up the planet. But Congressman Sensenbrenner, who is completely in the pocket of big oil and big coal, never lets the facts get in his way. He is trying to undermine the science and sow doubt in order to slow down the progress of curbing greenhouse gases. It is clear that Wisconsin Congressman Sensenbrenner is willing to compromise our grandchildren’s future for some campaign contributions and European junkets. There are many well-educated scientists in Sensenbrenner’s district who must be thoroughly embarrassed being represented on the national level by a person of Sensenbrenner’s character.