Introducing the Bayshore – Airport Express Bus Service
Due in large part to a reduction in state aid starting in 2012, the Milwaukee County Transit System had planned for a massive reduction in service. Thanks to some last minute creative planning by those at MCTS, the vast majority of those cuts are on track to be avoided thanks to the use of CMAQ funds. The CMAQ funds, allocated out of a competitive bidding process, will provide funding to institute “express service” for two years along a number of key corridors which will replace segments of a number of routes. A public meeting, hosted by Supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic, Jason Haas, and Patricia Jursik, on the proposed Bayshore – Airport Express service was recently held to present the service to the community and answer any questions on the upcoming questions.
The meeting, held at the Bay View Library, was focused primarily on the changes that would occur to existing south side service (Routes 11 and 15) as a result of the new service. The meeting was led primarily by Thomas Winter, Director of Schedule and Planning at MCTS, who guided the audience through the key points of the proposed Bayshore – Airport Express route, as well as changes to existing routes within the corridor. Winter did not focus on the other proposed express service routes, but they will include a Fondy – National Express and a Capitol Drive Express (a 27th Street Express was applied for, but not awarded).
MCTS will be utilizing CMAQ funds from two different sources, the cancelled Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail service (which died when the latest state budget pulled the plug on the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority) and the never implemented bus rapid transit service along Fond du Lac, Greenfield, and National Avenues.
The short explanation, the Bayshore – Airport Express will connect Bayshore, UWM, Downtown, and Bay View with stops roughly every 1/4 of a mile, seven days a week, with headways of 10-15 minutes during the rush hours, and 15-20 minutes during off-peak times. The fare for the express service will be the same as standard service. It is intended to achieve between 20-25% time savings running the same route as traditional MCTS service.
Details – South Side
- Route 11 will be eliminated, but vast majority of service area will continue to have service via the express and other new or adjusted services. Some areas will actually see an increase as a result of the change.
- In some cases, riders will need to about one block further to get to a stop. Current MCTS service spaces stops at 1/8 mile, but express plans call for 1/4 mile spaced spots.
- Route 52 will be introduced to service one branch of the former 15 route on Clement, Pennsylvania, and 15th (pictured in map). It will terminate at Lincoln and Kinnickinnic.
- Route 56 will be introduced to service Greenfield Avenue from 2nd Street to 124th Street. This will replace an area formerly serviced by Routes 11 (to Miller Park Way) and 18 (70th to 124th). Service along Miller Park Way, previously provided by Route 11, will be eliminated.
- New Route 15 will still run unmodified on 1st Street, Kinnickinnic Avenue, Chicago Avenue, and Packard Avenue to Columbia Avenue.
- New Route 15 will run down Pittsburgh Avenue to Milwaukee Street through downtown. This will replace the service lost from the elimination of Route 11. The Bayshore – Airport Express will service Water Street.
- The Bayshore – Airport Express will divert from the current Route 15 at Lincoln and proceed south towards the airport on Howell. This will replace Route 11 service on Howell and Chase. Route 11 service on Boliver, Pine, and Layton will be discontinued. This new service supports the Aerotropolis concept.
Details – North Side
- Route 11 is being eliminated, but the stops on the north side of its route, Milwaukee Street, Ogden Avenue, Van Buren Street and Holton Street, will be serviced by new route 15.
- The new route 15, replacing the northern portion of Route 11, will continue north to Bayshore Mall instead of terminating at Capitol Drive. It will use Port Washington Road to get to Bayshore.
- The Bayshore – Airport Express will replace Route 15 service from Bayshore to downtown, running the same route to downtown as the 15 currently runs. Because of the express service, this will result in the elimination of some stops (from 1/8 mile spacing to 1/4 mile spacing), but stops will still be placed at all major destinations and transfer points.
- Route 68 is being eliminated. Limited 68 service on Green Tree, Lake Drive, and Brown Deer Road will be eliminated entirely. Route 68 service on Port Washington Road north of Bayshore will be replaced with Route 63, which currently terminates at Bayshore. Route 68 service south of Bayshore will be replaced by the new Route 15 to Capitol Drive. South of Capitol Drive to Keefe Avenue will no longer have service.
Following the introduction of the service changes by Thomas Winter, and brief comments in support by the Milwaukee County Supervisors in attendance, Supervisor Dimitrijevic led the question and answer session.
Questions from Audience
This is by no means a complete digest of the questions asked, but an attempt by myself to identify the most important and/or interesting questions and statements.
- When would the proposed changes go into effect? MCTS Manager Director, in attendance for the meeting, jumped in to note that the proposed changes would go into effect January 29th.
- One Howell Avenue resident noted that he liked the connection to the airport.
- Will the Bayshore – Airport Express run as late as other service? Yes
- Wifi in buses? Lloyd Grant – we are working with a local firm on in-bus advertising, this could happen. (My perspective – I don’t see it as likely, and I don’t believe that the new version of Transit TV proposed by Troy Shaw will produce the millions in revenue that has been projected, but I hope to be proven wrong.)
- Same commenter as wifi comment – Bus tickets should be handed out with tax receipts
- Same commenter as wifi comment – There should be park and ride areas on south side.
- Supervisor Jursik requested that Grant speak about the potential new farebox system. Grant mentioned that three years ago they received federal funding to help implement a new farebox system, and that he expected RFP responses this week. Supervisor Dimitrijevic noted that she hoped that a new system would utilize “smart cards” similar to those seen in other cities, which drew applause from the audience. Grant discussed a number of potential outcomes of the process, but noted that 40% of current fares are paid in cash.
- One commenter noted that park and rides should be installed across the south side to alleviate congestion at UWM and listed a number of potential locations including the airport. Supervisor Jursik noted that she didn’t think the airport would be likely, given its potential for abuse.
- How is service impacted from Brady and Farwell to downtown? Lloyd Grant noted that service would actually improve because of the switch from the 15 bus to express service.
- Will bike racks be on express route? Yes (drew applause from audience)
- MCTS driver – 1. Freeway Flyers being favored over local routes, not good. 2. The farebox is a trouble spot with the union, specifically the transfers. 3. How does it connect with streetcar? – Kris Martinsek, of Martinsek & Associates who is involved in the creation of the Milwaukee Streetcar, noted that streetcar project is in preliminary engineering and is being designed to have seamless connections with existing transit service.
- One life-long non-driver asked about smaller buses or vans to preserve service. Lloyd Grant responded that MCTS has retired their smaller vehicles over time as they aren’t as cost efficient given that they can’t be used on many routes.
- Express part of existing fare structure (following a comment thanking MCTS for their hard)? Lloyd Grant noted that this is the first time he has been asked, and that yes it would cost the same as a standard fare.
- Will Freeway Flyers stay the same? Yes.
- Multiple people noted the challenges in getting home from the airport to Bay View, that taxis frequently refused to give rides because of the airport fee structure. Where will the stop be at the airport? Where the Route 80 currently stops, at the south end of the Baggage Claim.
- Any change to Route 51? No changes at this time. This question was offered apparently in response to a neighborhood issue with bus noise, with people in attendance on both sides of the issue. Supervisor Haas remarked he was happy they have now met and could sit down to talk about it, which drew a laugh from the audience.
- What is the possibility that the CMAQ funds are not approved? Lloyd Grant said that rejection is not expected for any reason, and that it is up to Secretary of Transportation Gottleib to approve now.
- Samuel Jensen, representing the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union offered perhaps the most amusing remarks of the evening. He remarked that he was happy about the new service, but not happy to learn about it so late and that it was done in secret. He remarked that “we are not living in the Soviet Union or a third-world dictatorship.” During his comments he repeatedly said “this is absurd,” asking what other cuts were hidden (claiming the audience first learned of the Route 68 cuts today). He noted the lack of a real long-term funding solution for transit in Milwaukee, and asked when the Milwaukee County Board is going to do something about this? Supervisor Jursik downplayed his remarks, noting that he was attacking local politicians for an issue created by the state. She noted that she wasn’t pleased with being in the dark on the proposals before they were submitted. Her response ended with applause from the audience. Lloyd Grant noted that there were no unpublished cuts. Jensen responded by noting that Jacqueline Janz, MCTS Marketing Director, would do the USSR (Soviet Union) a service with her PR skills.
- After a few more questions, the meeting ended at 8 promptly because the Bay View Library closed.
Milwaukee County and MCTS have clearly been dealt a tough hand with the funding cuts to transit coming from the state budget. Despite the fact that the CMAQ funds at this point are only a two-year solution, and will result in some areas losing service, the solution is a creative one to stave off major cuts including the elimination of all Freeway Flyers, special event service (Summerfest, State Fair, Miller Park, etc, etc), and service reductions on many routes. In an ideal world, existing service would be maintained and new express service would be added on top, but given the circumstances this is a great solution to a terrible problem.
9 thoughts on “Introducing the Bayshore – Airport Express Bus Service”
This will be great for people living along the new express route, but I wish it had even fewer stops. Every 1/4 mile still seems to frequent for express. But this is a good start. And finally a decent route to the airport!
I’m definitely happy about this, but the number one thing that MCTS could do to improve their current service is to install GPS locators on their busses so that anyone with a smart phone can track where they are and it would eliminate the guessing game. I realize it would be very expensive, so I’m not counting on it any time soon, but it would be such a massive improvement. Also, it could help improve efficiency because MCTS could more accurately see where and how often a given route is behind schedule, and then they could allocate an additional bus on the route if needed.
Lloyd Grant’s comment about 40% of fares being paid in cash may be accurate, but it doesn’t really serve as an argument against implementing a smart card system. Not that he’s necessarily arguing against that, but still…
As it currently stands, cash is the only accepted payment method unless your employer purchases your transit pass. It seems like common sense, but giving people alternative methods to pay — and storing that value on a reusable card — would probably increase ridership. Throw in GPS location and MCTS is almost in the 21st century.
I agree about the GPS, if the rail does not go through, it would be interesting to see if that money could be used to upgrade the GPS and bus stops, do other cities have a indicator somewhere when the bus would arrive if a person does not have smart phone?
As far as GPS goes, that was previously announced to be arriving in the summer of 2012. Anxiously looking forward to writing applications using the open data.
@Rob – Cash is not the only non-employer option. You can buy from many retailers,see RideMCTS.com for a listing, ten-packs of fares, weekly passes, and monthly passes. In addition, there are all the riders that take advantage of the U-PASS program.
In addition, Grant wasn’t using it as a reason not to use a “smart card” system, just as an issue that will need to be addressed with any new system.
Unless I’m mistaken, you can only purchase those passes from sales outlets in cash. Maybe that’s just been my experience at the downtown US Bank branch and various places in Bayview, but allowing people to pay via credit/debit is the low-hanging fruit when it comes to improving the system.
I appreciate the clarification on Grant’s comments. Did heindicate if they expected the new farebox system to be compatible with smartcards?
If you want less people to pay in cash, raise the cash price & lower the bus pass/tickets cost. I don’t think they should try to eliminate cash fares, just make it much easier/cheaper to use other options.
I like the changes they’re making and believe this will improve service. Does anyone know if they’ll just use the standard buses or will they purchase an articulated, high capacity buses? Some of these routes are standing room only during rush-hour and could draw more riders if there is more space/seats.
@Rob – It’s hit or miss. Pick ‘N’ Save and Koppa’s allow you to use credit, I know a few other places do not. But, that is outside of what I interpret that he meant, I believe he meant that 40% of riders pay cash on the bus.
He did seem to indicate that the new system would use a smart card type payment mechanism, but that the existing paper transfers would need to be incorporated in the short run because of the challenges in converting the physical box on every box in such a short amount of time.
@Jesse – They will be the same buses, likely with colored or named routes (not numbers). Because this is done to mitigate the drastic cuts in state aid, there isn’t likely to be a big movement to commit more money to buy new buses. It’s a good thought though, and one that I would guess would be explored if the service is successful.
Milwaukee tried the articulated buses in the 80s with poor results from what I’ve been told. Their original intent was for Freeway Flyer use, but from what a long-timer driver told me, the articulated buses were used most on school routes due to increased capacity. She also told me the aticulated buses were more of a challenge to drive in late winter weather as the back end could tend to not always align with the front. Articulated and full size (30, 35 or 40-feet long) transit buses are rear engine/rear wheel drive. Ultimately, the MCTS articulated buses were sold to be cut up for scrap metal.
I didn’t live in the area at the time of the articulated buses, but I rode them many times on the Summerfest Freeway Flyers and they were standing room only, especially return trips. Real treat having to stand in the center part that would turn while holding on what looked like a stripper pole.
I was recently reading about Albuquerque’s highly successful express bus routes. They started with one route and are up to three now with a fourth being studied. Albuqurque’s transit system utilizes 60-feet-long versions of the New Flyer buses MCTS uses. The fare on all Albuqueque routes remains unchanged at $1 with the exception of the no-fare downtown loop.
Also, the State of New Mexico has a commuter rail service connecting Albuquerque with Santa Fe. The commuter train has low fares to attract ridership and is designed to connect in several places with Albuquerque’s transit system. In addition, in the event of major delays, Albuqueque’s bus system sends buses to a train station to bring back stranded riders.
Ultimately MCTS needs to be funded by a half percent countywide sales tax. Sales taxes are regressive, but in this case those who are hardest hit by sales taxes also are the ones who tend to ride the bus the most. Thus, I do not have a problem with funding transit via a sales tax. If the express routes meet expectations, MCTS may very well have to purchase some articulated buses for at least one or two of the routes. MCTS also needs to consider specially made smaller buses like Fond du Lac uses for the routes with lower ridership. There are some routes which never fill up, but still serve a need. These smaller buses are engine in front, but stil have a bike rack, and are fully ADA accessible. They not only cost less to purchase, but also undoubtably get somewhat better fuel economy. One size does not fill all routes in a system as large as MCTS.
Speaking of GPS bus tracking,first it allows supervisors and dispatchers to know where a bus is at all times. That’s great when the driver has to call for help or push the panic button to alert security/police. Madison, Wis. has a GPS system that works with all phones –landline, cellular, and smart phones. It tells not only when the next bus is scheduled to reach the individual stop you will be at, but also the approximate time it will actually arrive.