Graham Kilmer

County Transit Updating Fare System

New system provides more ways to pay, with fare caps for riders.

By - Feb 9th, 2022 05:00 pm
MCTS bus on N. Van Buren St. Photo by Dave Reid.

MCTS bus on N. Van Buren St. Photo by Dave Reid.

The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is planning to implement a new fare collection system by the end of the year.

The transit system announced Wednesday it had chosen a system called the Umo Mobility Platform, built by Cubic Transportation Systems, a multinational transportation and defense company.

MCTS said the Umo platform will modernize fare collection throughout the system, providing more ways to pay bus fare and also supporting other forms of transit in the region. The system also loads payment faster and provides real-time updates of bus arrivals.

The transit system has been looking for a new fare collection provider to install along the East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line currently being constructed. Funding for the $1.5 million installation of the Umo system is coming from a $41 million federal grant supporting the BRT project, another federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Grant (CMAQ) and the transit system’s operating budget.

With the Umo platform, riders can pay with contactless credit cards, a “smart card” like the current M-Card, through a smartphone application or the old-fashioned way, with cash. The smart cards can be loaded with money online or at more than 200 retail locations that will be set up in neighborhoods throughout the county, MCTS said. These retail locations will be accessible in multiple languages and to the visually impaired.

“MCTS is working to reduce barriers to accessing public transit by introducing flexibility in transit fare collection to accommodate the needs of all potential riders,” County executive David Crowley said in a statement Wednesday.

Once the Umo platform is installed, MCTS will begin phasing out Mcards. A spokesperson for MCTS told Urban Milwaukee, “Now that we have signed the contract with Umo, we can plan the implementation and determine a date for the phase out, but we do not have that date yet. We will plan a significant community outreach in advance.”

The current fareboxes on MCTS buses, made by Scheidt & Bachmann, will remain for cash payments. But all other payment methods will be moved to the Umo platform.

The new system will also introduce fare caps for MCTS riders. Dan Boehm, MCTS executive director, said, “The ability to fare cap means riders can purchase as much or as little as they can afford, and still get the discount of a weekly or monthly pass. The new system recognizes when riders reach the equivalent of a pass, and automatically rewards them with free rides for the remainder of the period.”

The $55 million BRT project is expected to be completed by October of this year and will provide off-bus fare collection kiosks. A spokesperson for MCTS said, “Cubic will be providing BRT station fare validators as part of this project to ensure seamless riding and transferring between BRT and all other MCTS routes.”

MCTS riders will also have the ability to use the UMO platform to pay for other forms of transportation. This feature is intended to put the system in a position “to support seamless regional connectivity for commuters traveling to and from Milwaukee County and eventually throughout the southeastern Wisconsin region,” according to MCTS.

The transit system said it will roll out an “education campaign” to familiarize riders with the new system and give them time to transition.

The new fare system is the latest modernization effort by the transit system. In 2021, it implemented a systemwide update of routes called MCTS Next, making more routes high-frequency service.

One thought on “Transportation: County Transit Updating Fare System”

  1. 45 years in the City says:

    With Scheidt & Bachmann fareboxes being retained for cash fares, I hope this suggests that when they can no longer be maintained, MCTS will go cashless. Continuing to collect cash is inefficient, expensive to process, and slows boarding.

    The M-Card was a great leap forward for MCTS, but it has limitations. For value/passes added on-line, there is a 24hr or so delay before the fareboxes get this information (value/passes added at retail outlets are immediately available however). Also the planned “auto fill” feature was never activated.

    MCTS did a great public outreach with MCTS Next, and I’m confident they will do the same with the UMO system.

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