As a Millennial living in Lake Michigan-blue Milwaukee who grew up in the ruby red of Waukesha County, you could say my Facebook Newsfeed offers up its fair share of competing opinions. But through the last 3 divisive presidential elections, Act 10 and the attempted recall of our governor, and even the retirement/unretirement of Brett Favre, I have never “unfriended” someone because of their opinion. Well, I think I’ve found my tipping point: the Milwaukee streetcar.

You see, people can have their own opinions about politics and sports allegiances, and even whether investing in public infrastructure is a good idea (it is). But I cannot accept the willful misinformation spreading around town about the Milwaukee streetcar when there are verifiable facts to reference. So here goes: if you see a discussion raging online about the Milwaukee streetcar, please link to this article and the following facts.


Yes, it is going to be called “The Hop“. Yes, there were better options. No, you and I don’t get a direct say. No, a name doesn’t make a piece of machinery inherently a failure or success. The Empire Builder Amtrak line from Chicago to Seattle sure ain’t building no empires in Montana.

Funding Sources

Screenshot of an ill-informed Milwaukee resident taken from Facebook. All other photos by Joe Powell for The Squeaky Curd.

1. $54.9 million from the federal government

Thanks to the U.S. Congress, in the Federal Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, this complete amount cannot be used for any other purpose besides the Milwaukee streetcar. It cannot be used to fix roads, pay firefighters and police, battle the opioid epidemic, or buy more buses. It is not part of the Milwaukee budget. It is not ours to choose how to use it, only whether to use it or not. We chose to use it.

2. Sponsorships

Similar to how our buses often have Pabst signs on the side of them, the Milwaukee streetcar will have sponsorships and advertisements to offset costs. In fact, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino has already committed to a 12-year, $10 million naming rights sponsorship (The Hop, presented by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino).

3. Federal Grants

The Feds historically like giving grants to big, shiny infrastructure projects like streetcars (vs bike lanes or bus stops). The streetcar was started with one, and it’s probable we will qualify for more in the future.

4. TIF Taxes

A TIF (tax incremental financing) district has already been created around the soon-to-rise Couture, in large part because of the promised streetcar extension. This eventual TIF money cannot be used outside of that immediate district, so cannot go to schools, firefighters, or similar. It can, however, go to the streetcar that helped spur investment there in the first place.

5. Fares

Fares have already been set for the first year of operation: $0. Part of Potto’s sponsorship deal is covering all fares for year one. After that, fares will go directly to the operation of the streetcar system.


The starting route will be 2.5 miles long. Nearly every other streetcar system in the US started at or below that length before expanding further. Plans are already in place for expansion about the city, but the system must start somewhere. If people are already complaining about a $55 million 2.5 mile route, can you imagine the uproar over a $100 million 5 mile route?


Fun fact that we previously wrote about extensively: for many years, Milwaukee had a very robust and successful streetcar system. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.

Modern streetcars are not “trolleys” despite what local rabble-rousers love to say. They can operate in snow. Car drivers are capable of driving next to one without spontaneously crashing. Some 17 other major US cities have them in operation, with more in building or planning stages.


It’s unknown how many people will choose to ride the streetcar once it’s operational. City estimates state 1,850 rides per day and over 595,000 rides per year in the first full year of operations. And that’s on a starter route.

Lines have been drawn in the sand (or rather, tracks have been laid in the road); I don’t expect this article to convince any naysayers that the streetcar is a good idea. At the very least, if you complain, make sure that you’re using arguments not easily refuted by the facts in this article. I’ll see you all on The Hop come fall 2018.

10 thoughts on “Please Link to This Article When Arguing About the Milwaukee Streetcar

  1. I just want to see people leaving their warm cars at home to walk on the streets to get the street cars. I like the idea, but I don’t think the weather in Milwaukee helps/

    1. What do you mean people already do this .
      They drive to park & ride lots & hope onto a Mcts bus
      The people do this in the rain,sun,snow all the time
      So saying people won’t do this makes your comment irrelevant
      They already do it everyday

  2. So it isn’t totally clear to me. Are the 5 funding sources listed here, the only funding sources? If so then the only tax dollars being used are from the TIF district? Do you have any info on what area this district covers?

    This would really help everyone understand if their tax dollars are being spent or not. Thanks!

    1. According to the Milwaukee Streetcar’s own FAQ (linked to in the article):

      The Milwaukee Streetcar will not be funded with property taxes. Its operations will be funded through fares, sponsorships/advertising, federal grants and revenues from city-owned parking meters and lots, if needed.

      At the moment, I was unable to find any mention of using direct taxes. As with all public works projects, there is no guarantee some sort of direct tax won’t be used in the future.

    1. I would suggest you direct that question directly to Milwaukee Streetcar, as that is their quote (I am not affiliated in any way with their organization). My own limited understanding of TIFs would suggest that any future property taxes would be directed for use in the TIF district, which supposedly could include the streetcar but is not its purpose.

  3. May I just say that almost every one of the routes both under construction and proposed are already in place by our current bus system.

  4. The total cost is over 128 million according to their website. 59 million of that is coming from tax payer money. Also, what about when these things start breaking down. Just more things to repair in Milwaukee’s road ways and more tax payers money going to half fixes. Decent argument oh tried, but it only shows half the story.

  5. I’m 80 years young. I rode the streetcar everywhere I wanted to go until it’s demise. From home to a movie, or from school to the Milwaukee Museum, or over to Lake Michigan. My daddy even told me of the time he needed his tonsils removed and rode the streetcar to the hospital in West Allis. Imagine that when after the surgery he found himself spitting out blood and got off the streetcar and walked the rest of way home to South Milwaukee. This is a true story.

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