Milwaukee’s New Bus System
MCTS is adding express service to more routes.
The Milwaukee County Transit System is planning to unveil new express bus service in January 2015. The new express routes would run from UWM to Brookfield Square Mall via the East Side and Downtown (a variation of today’s Route 10), UWM to N. Sherman Blvd.-W. Florist Ave. via the East Side and Downtown (today’s Route 30), and along 27th Street from W. Hampton Ave. to the Wal-Mart at W. Sycamore Ave (today’s Route 27). The new routes would offer complementary service to existing routes, with a few exceptions for route adjustments.
The new routes would see speed gains primarily by stopping once every quarter mile where there is no underlying service (such as the western end of Wisconsin – UWM Express route where Route 10 service would be eliminated), and once every half mile where there is underlying service (such as the 27th Street Express with the existing Route 27). Today’s bus service generally stops once every eighth of a mile, or approximately every two blocks.
Sherman – Wisconsin Express
The proposed Sherman – Wisconsin Express would add express service to the most heavily used route in the MCTS system. Route 30 currently has an annual ridership of 4,195,000 with branches on each end of the route (Downer/Maryland on the East, Florist/Keefe on the West). The new service would run on the existing Route 30 route, but only serve the N. Maryland Ave. branch on the East end of the route and the N. Sherman Blvd. – W. Florist Ave. branch on the West end.
The new express service would run every day but Sunday with service from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Rush hour service would be every 15 minutes, with off-peak headways of 20-30 minutes.
The existing Route 30 would continue to operate under the proposed changes, with service everyday from 5 a.m. until 2 a.m. It would however, eliminate the Downer Ave. branch (to be served by Route 21 and the new Wisconsin – UWM Express) and the Keefe Ave. branch (to be served by a new Keefe – Locust local route).
According to MCTS, the “changes will improve efficiency by providing more service where the demand is the highest.”
Wisconsin – UWM Express
The Wisconsin – UWM Express is proposed to serve Downtown, the Regional Medical Center, Marquette University, UWM and Brookfield Square Mall. It would primarily run in the footprint of Route 10, which would be retired as a route number. The express route isn’t the only route that would replace Route 10 though, Route 14 would be extended from Downtown to Bayshore Town Center on the current Route 10 route. Route 14 currently terminates at the Downtown Transit Center, which might be redeveloped into The Couture. Route 10 today provides 1,832,000 annual rides.
West of 35th Street, the route is proposed to continue on W. Wisconsin Ave in the footprint of today’s 10, but riders could potentially have to walk further to stops. The new stops would be spaced every quarter mile instead of every eighth mile. This change is intended to speed up service in the corridor.
The new express route would run to the East end of Wisconsin Ave. following Prospect Ave. north until it becomes a two-way street at E. Ogden Ave. From there it would follow the Route 30 route to UWM, taking the N. Downer Ave. branch of the service. During this stretch it would overlap the expanded Route 14 and the existing Route 30 (which would have its Downer Ave. leg eliminated).
The new service would run seven days a week, from 5 a.m. until 2 a.m. Rush hour frequencies would have buses arriving every 10-15 minutes, with off-peak headways of 15-20 minutes. Weekend headways would have buses arriving every 20-30 minutes.
27th Street Express
This proposed route is easily the most straight forward of the proposed express routes, it’s also the straightest route. Running from nearly the northern county line to the southern, it would run entirely within the footprint of the existing Route 27. The Route 27, the second highest trafficked in the system with 3,686,000 annual rides, would continue to operate with a slightly reduced schedule as new service is added via the express route. The Route 27 would continue to serve the Glendale Business Park at the north end of the route and the extension over to 35th Street on the south end, while the new route would run only straight north and south on 27th Street.
The new service would run seven days a week from 5 a.m. until 1 a.m., with rush hour frequencies between 15 and 20 minutes and off-peak frequencies of 25-30 minutes. This arrangement would be very similar to today’s Blue Line and Route 23, which overlap for almost all of their routes.
New Keefe – Locust Route
A new route, introduced because of proposed modifications to Route 30, would connect N. 76th St. and W. Appleton Ave. with UWM. It would operate via W. Appleton Ave., W. Keefe Ave., N. Sherman Blvd. W. Capitol Drive., W. Hopkins St. and Locust Ave. The new route would provide connections to a number of routes that run north-south through the area.
The new route would run from 6 am. until 1 .a.m. seven days a week, with service every 35 minutes.
Devil in the Details
These routes are made possible by a grant MCTS received in March of this year, but it’s not all good news. The grant comes the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant program, which has funded a number of things in the Milwaukee area from streetscaping on Wisconsin Ave to new bus purchases. The most recent grant will fund service on the new routes for three years, but was needed as a way to avoid potential service cuts caused by a 10% reduction in state operating support.
This isn’t a new problem for Milwaukee County though. MCTS has been using a CMAQ grant to fund new express service since 2012 and avoid service cuts, but that grant expires at the end of this year. The state aid cuts came in the first budget passed by Governor Scott Walker in 2011 and weren’t restored in the latest budget, despite a budget surplus. In 2013, state aid made up 43% of the transit system’s revenue.
The previous grant funded the creation and operation of the Blue, Green and Red lines which serve corridors formerly served by the 15, 23, and 62 routes (all of those routes continue to exist with modifications). Those routes appear to have been a success, although they’re clearly less about express service and more about a creative way to avoid a service reduction.
How many more times can Milwaukee County pull off a short-term trick to avoid a long-term funding problem?
The system still needs to find a sustainable funding source. While CMAQ grants have enabled the system to avoid serious service cuts, they’re just kicking the can down the road. Fares have already been raised 67% since 2000 ($1.35 to $2.25) and ridership has fallen 29% (58 million rides in 2000, 37 million rides in 2012). Will legislators pull the system out of the death spiral its clearly entered?
While we would love to hear what you have to say in the comments, you only have through September 17th to submit official feedback to the transit system. In addition, a public meeting is being held tonight at the Milwaukee Public Library’s Central Library from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. to solicit feedback on the proposed changes.