Graham Kilmer

Route 88 A Transit Success Story

Bus route with less frequency grows riders. But this is a cautionary tale, too, transit officials say.

By - Mar 8th, 2023 10:10 am
New Route 88. Map from MCTS.

New Route 88. Map from MCTS.

The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) experienced a $4 million budget cut in 2023, but at least one good thing happened as a result of those cuts.

The cuts largely took the form of reductions in the frequency of buses along a handful of routes. And in an unlikely turn of events, one of those routes actually saw its ridership increase after going from one bus every 20 minutes to one bus every 30 to 40 minutes.

Now this is where it’s, it’s, it’s a unique situation,” said Jesus Ochoa, planning manager at MCTS. “Because normally when you reduce frequencies” ridership declines, he noted, “and when you increase frequency, you see more ridership.”

The uptick in ridership, Ochoa said, could be due to a “bounce back” in ridership that was lost during the pandemic. This return in riders is being observed across the system. But importantly, when Route 88 was identified for a frequency reduction, planners went to some of the nearby residents to listen to their transit needs. And based on that community outreach MCTS redrew a section of Route 88 to better serve the residents.

The new routing preserves access for residents of the Westridge Apartments, 7901 W. Glenbrook Rd., most of whom are seniors or persons with mobility issues and disabilities. It also makes a wider detour north of Brown Deer Rd. and passes a number of other multi-family housing units.

Jeff Sponcia, transportation program planning manager with the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), said the corridor along Route 88 and W. Brown Deer Rd. is “extremely critical” for many of these residents, as it connects them to pharmacies and grocery stores.

The story of Route 88 is currently one of unexpected success, “but it’s a cautionary tale,” Sponcia said.

Milwaukee’s transit system is facing a fiscal cliff in 2025 when the millions in federal stimulus funds used to plug holes in the transit budget runs out. It’s estimated that the transit system will have to absorb $20 million or more in cuts by 2025. Bus routes like 88 on the city’s northwest side are still being propped up on this funding. When it runs out, they will disappear, Sponcia explained.

“So without proper planning in the budget,” Sponcia said, “major disruptions to transit could occur.”

The elimination of routes has already begun. It started with temporary services to events like Summerfest, Milwaukee Brewers games and ethnic festivals among the first to go. The county’s Freeway Flyers have also been eliminated.

Many residents on the far northwest side need transit, Sponcia said, adding, “So as of now, it’s there. In two years, we’ll see.”

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