Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County’s Paratransit Service Shows Improvement

French company hired by MCTS to transport people with disabilities has improved service.

By - Mar 20th, 2024 10:39 am
Transdev Bus Driving Through Downtown. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Transdev Van Driving Through Downtown. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The system Milwaukee County uses to provide transportation for people with disabilities is improving after a disastrous end to 2023, according to the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS)

In late 2023, MCTS switched contractors for its paratransit program, Transit Plus. A French multinational called TransDev was taking over for two contractors that were on their way out. Very quickly TransDev managers realized they didn’t not have enough personnel in Milwaukee for the transition, and across the county rides were dropped and riders left stranded.

Paratransit is critical for many county residents who need to get to work, the grocery store and health care appointments, though the county system has limitations. Transit Plus uses vans to transport riders across the county, who must schedule their trips 24 hours in advance. It is not the paratransit taxi service, which provided on-demand trips and disappeared in 2023.

After the initial spike in missed trips and pickups, TransDev began to improve. Then in November service began declining and late pickups and missed trips began rising, reaching new highs in December, according to data from MCTS.

“We’re seeing some pretty significant improvement over the last couple months,” Fran Musci, director of paratransit services, told the county board’s Transportation and Transit Committee on March 11.

Transit Plus follows the federal guidelines for what is and isn’t considered an “on-time” pickup. To be considered on time, a paratransit ride must arrive at the pickup location within a 30-minute window of the scheduled time. So if a ride is scheduled at 9 a.m., it is considered on time until 9:31.

On-time pickups improved, Musci said. TransDev was on-time only 81% of the time in December. In the first weeks of March the company was arriving on-time approximately 93% of the time.

Transit Plus also began tracking how many appointments paratransit riders miss under its new contract with TransDev. The rate of missed appointments was roughly 8%, Musci said.

Another data point being monitored is “missed trips,” which are logged when a van is late and the rider does not end up taking the ride. Transit Plus is shooting for only 0.1% of rides ending in missed trips. In December, 1.8% of trips were missed, but that number has since come down below 0.4%.

The change in TransDev’s reliability is being driven entirely by the company’s efforts to staff up in Milwaukee, Musci said, with more “bodies, drivers, support staff, dispatchers.”

“The influx of resources Transdev has put into Milwaukee has really started to pay off,” Musci said, noting that MCTS brought complaints to TransDev’s corporate leadership in December.

The firm initially thought it needed approximately 108 drivers to serve Milwaukee County. It now estimates it will need at least 140, Musci said, and currently has approximately 125.

Donnell Shorter, who represents the county’s TransDev drivers as president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, said “November, December was a disaster with paratransit.”

Service has improved since then, Shorter said, and the union has seen TransDev respond to some of the complaints drivers had. Notably, the firm fixed a major error in its payroll system which was withholding as much as 30 hours of work from drivers’ checks. This had a terrible effect on morale, Shorter said.

Critics of Transit Plus have complained about the service’s reliability even before TransDev took over operations. This lack of reliability is a primary driver of efforts to bring back some form of on-demand or same-day paratransit taxi service. A task force is working on new service model to present to county policymakers.

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Categories: Health, Transportation

One thought on “MKE County: County’s Paratransit Service Shows Improvement”

  1. 818yogic says:

    Has Donnell heard that thing about stones and glass houses? It’s the drivers he represents that call in, no-show, pick up the wrong riders, leave them stranded, and treat them poorly…perhaps he can acknowledge the role all parties involved play in this mess.

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