Report: Public transit lacking

A new report from the Public Policy Forum says there are numerous obstacles to connecting workers from Milwaukee’s central city to jobs in the suburbs.

“Our research confirms the long-held notion that public transportation services are limited or non-existent in many suburban job centers in the four-county Milwaukee area,” says Forum researcher Joe Peterangelo, the report’s lead author. “In examining why that is, we find it is not only a matter of dollars and cents, but that the isolated nature of many suburban job centers creates operational barriers that hamper the effectiveness of fixed-route bus service.”

Click here to view the full report.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Using fixed-route bus service to improve workers’ access to suburban jobs will require corollary strategies to address the “last mile” problem. In order to make fixed-route bus service viable in many suburban areas, specialized services that directly connect riders to their jobsites may be needed.
  • Land use policies that foster higher-density, mixed-used development patterns, are the optimal solution. It is often very difficult to serve job centers in outer suburbs with fixed bus routes because of the lack of both development density and mixed land uses along potential routes, which are needed to produce ridership throughout the day. 
  • Policymakers may need to create flexible criteria, such as effectiveness in meeting workforce and economic development objectives, when it comes to evaluating suburban bus routes. Suburban routes often struggle to meet MCTS’ productivity standard of 22 passengers per bus hour.
  • Suburban routes may need to be accompanied by multi-year funding commitments to allow time to ride out cyclical economic fluctuations and establish ridership.
  • New approaches for funding public transit will need to be considered. Reduced federal and state transit funding has made it extremely difficult to maintain existing transit services, let alone finance new bus route extensions to suburbs. Creation of a regional transit authority would help, not only by creating the opportunity for a new source of regional funding, but also by reducing contentiousness over funding for multi-county routes.

“With MCTS struggling to maintain existing bus services, and federal and state funding for public transit and other employment-focused transportation services in the Milwaukee area down from previous years, improving the ability of those who choose or depend upon transit to access suburban jobs in the region is no easy task,” said Peterangelo. “We hope this report will help policymakers as they deliberate potential ways of doing so.” 

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