City of Racine might take over management of bus system

13 Jan 2022 3:52 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

RACINE — The city’s bus service has long been under the management of a private firm, but that may change in the near future as the city considers folding the organization into its governmental operations.

The Finance and Personnel Committee voted on Monday to recommend the City Council transition the transit system from private management to a standalone department within the city. The City Council will take up the matter on Jan. 18 and may take a final vote then.

The city’s contract with First Transit, which has managed the RYDE Racine system since 2010, was about to expire. The company signaled last year it would not be renewing. Further, no company responded to the city’s request for bids.

Trevor Jung, the city’s transit manager, said the proposal to move the transit system to the management of the city would keep the buses running.

“It is critical to the social health and the economic well-being of our community that we continue to provide reliable, sustainable, safe and affordable public transportation to our residents,” Jung said. “This proposal does just that.”

RYDE Racine is a public system, operated by the city, and as such was already included in the budget. That included $200,000 the city paid to have a private firm manage the system.

Folding the operation into the city’s operation is expected to be budget neutral and could represent some savings for the taxpayers.

Jung told the Committee of the Whole on Monday that having an outside management firm made Racine something of an outlier as most of the public transit systems in the state are managed by the municipalities where they operate, with the exception of Waukesha.

The RYDE system runs through the City of Racine as well as in Sturtevant, Caledonia, North Bay and Mount Pleasant.

Employees unionized

RYDE Racine, formerly The Belle Urban System, has 59 full-time employees, 32 part-time employees and a general manager. If the proposal is adopted, Human Resources would begin the process of transitioning the transit employees into the city system.

That includes the general manager, Willie McDonald, who has indicated he would be leaving First Transit and joining the City of Racine.

As with the Racine Police Department and Fire Department, RYDE Racine employees are unionized.

The city will recognize both the current union-negotiated contract and the rights of the employees of the transit system to continue with union representation if they so choose.

Alderman John Tate, president of the city council, said he sometimes sees in the news resistance to union organizing, but that would not be the case with the transit employees.

“What we have before us is the opportunity to say there is a unit before us that wants to collectively bargain,” he said. “As an employer, we’re not going to stand in the way of that process.”

He continued, “Instead, we’re going to invite and embrace that process and say yes if that’s what you want to do. We’re not going to stand in the way.”

Tom Bennett, who is on the executive board of the Teamsters Local 200 which represents the RYDE Racine employees, praised the efforts of the city to keep the buses running and the many employees who make that possible.

“Transit workers are good people, hard-working people,” he said.

Bennett continued and noted that the transit system employees were a diverse group, local citizens, who know the city, and its citizens.

He concluded by saying the union looked forward to the future relationship with the city.


The contract with First Transit is due to expire Jan. 31.

According to Jung, the parent company of First Transit, which was located in the United Kingdom, was sold and the new company did not want to purchase some of its contracts.

Racine was one of those contracts, which the city was aware of as early as last summer.

The city both published a request for bids and reached out to management firms, to no avail.

Jung said one of the primary issues was the concern about secondary pension liabilities.

He noted the city held the first position of responsibility for pension liability.

The market forces, Jung explained, dissuaded private sector firms from assuming the arrangement long practiced in Racine.

In actuality, for the city to assume the responsibility of managing the transit system would really bring it in line with the other public transit systems in Wisconsin, such as Green Bay and Sheboygan.

“We have the wherewithal and capacity to operate a transit system by hiring the RYDE Racine staff — including the general manager,” Jung said.

The proposal “keeps the buses running,” he later added.

He said there may also be some savings to taxpayers over time due to the lower insurance costs for municipalities, which have caps in place that limit the amount of damages an entity could be subject to if there was an accident.

Wisconsin Public Transportation Association

1502 W Broadway, Suite 102

Madison, WI 53713

(224) 357-6748

Proud Members of:

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software