Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Expanded City-To-Suburbs Transit Service Approved

County Board's Finance Committee approves $1.3 million for a 'last mile' transit service.

By - Mar 22nd, 2023 07:36 pm
FlexRide Milwaukee van. Photo provided by FlexRide Milwaukee.

FlexRide Milwaukee van. Photo provided by FlexRide Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee County Board’s Committee on Finance approved funding for an expansion of a new nonprofit transit service aimed at closing the distance between public transit and jobs in the Milwaukee area.

Called FlexRide, it provides on-demand taxi services from specific pickup zones to suburban employment centers. It launched in 2022 as a pilot program bringing Milwaukee residents to Waukesha County. The service is referred to as a “last-mile solution” connecting riders to jobs or destinations beyond the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) service area.

The non-profit behind the new service, MobiliSE, sought funding from Milwaukee County and the state to finance an expansion that would triple FlexRide’s footprint, according to Dave Steele, Executive Director of MobiliSE. The pickup zones within the city of Milwaukee would be increased and the service would also begin taking riders to job centers in Franklin and New Berlin. The organization is also working with Employ Milwaukee to use childcare centers as pickup hubs for FlexRide and to use state funds to subsidize the cost of childcare for some FlexRide passengers.

The county is on track to give FlexRide $1.3 million in funds from its allocation of federal stimulus funds through the American Rescue Plan Act. The state has already awarded the project a $4.2 million grant.

Another partner on the FlexRide project is the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC). Eric Lynde, the chief special projects planner for SEWRPC, previously said that the service outperformed expectations during the pilot phase. With the exception of a slowdown around the holidays, Lynde said the service was adding new riders every month.

During the pilot phase, the service provided approximately 500 rides a week. It’s expected it will provide at least 750 a week after expansion, but that is a conservative estimate, according to Steele.

The funds from the county and the state would be used to not only expand the service but operate it for the next two years beginning April 1. Steele did not respond to a request for comment Thursday on how fast FlexRide could be scaled up once it received funding from the county.

FlexRide is a new approach to connecting city residents to suburban jobs, as it more resembles a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft than a traditional fixed-route bus line. The Milwaukee County Transit System used to operate bus routes out to job centers in Waukesha County, called “Job Lines.” The last “Job Line” ended in 2020 when funding ran out. The funding came out of a 2014 settlement with the state after the American Civil Liberties Union, Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin sued over the Zoo interchange project, arguing that the public spending for this disregarded the needs of unemployed and disadvantaged residents in Milwaukee’s central city.

Urban Milwaukee president Jeramey Jannene is a volunteer board member of MobiliSE. He was not involved in the assignment or editing of this article.

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One thought on “MKE County: Expanded City-To-Suburbs Transit Service Approved”

  1. BigRed81 says:

    Flex Ride is the correct solution.

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