“The core issue is having adequate funding needed to provide service that is vital to so many.”
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development has done a number of studies looking at transit service and access to jobs in the Milwaukee area and a 2011 report looking at the impact of the then-proposed 2012 service reductions. It stated that with the 10 percent reduction in state operating assistance for public transportation, the reduction amounted to about $6.9 million for MCTS. It also pointed out that a provision in the budget limits increases in the property tax levy for counties and municipalities to make up the difference.
One of the advantages other systems have is a dedicated funding source for planning long-term, says Grant. “You can plan for projects and businesses can build around those projects because they know that the funding is there to support transit.
“In our case, where we don’t have that long-term funding source, we tend to operate on budget-to-budget, as well as any unexpected changes that may occur in funding at the state and federal level.”
Grant says it’s important to look at a long-term funding source with the federal government tightening its belt and the states are tightening their belts.
Technology Coming to the System
There are a number of projects MCTS has been working on, including, real-time information, new vehicles and new farecard technology.
With the real-time information, customers will be able to use their smartphones, as well as computers at home, to determine what the next arrival time of the bus is. “I think that will be an added benefit to the rider,” says Grant. “Less waiting time at stops and it makes the services easier for customer use.”
In 2011 35 new New Flyer Ind., buses were added to the fleet through $19.6 million in CMAQ funding. In the last three years, Grant says they’ve replaced 180 of their buses and this year will be adding 55 New Flyer buses. “We’re very excited that it goes toward our goal of providing our customers with quality service and we’re reducing our maintenance costs as well, ensuring that the service continues to be very reliable for our customers,” Grant says. “About half of the fleet will have been replaced in the last four years by the time we receive these new buses later this summer.”
A major undertaking that has been in the works is a fare collection system update. “Our current fareboxes are 27 years old and so we have awarded a contract to Scheidt & Bachmann to replace our entire fare collection system,” says Grant. The installation will be in late 2013.
“As a result, we think this will lead to faster boarding for customers and also make payment of their fares much, much easier, so we’re pretty excited about this new system coming on board,” Grant says.
He says they’ve been in contact with a number of agencies. “Just about every city in the nation has a major transit system; we’re a very small family. Why try to recreate the wheel? We’re learning from our friends in transit.
“It’s really helpful to learn [from other systems],” he continues, “but you have to build it toward your customers.
“Our fare system is totally different than any other fare structure at any other transit system, so the system is literally being built and designed from the ground up for the Milwaukee County Transit System,” Grant says. “It’s not the same as going to the local store and buying something off the shelf. It’s literally being built to your specifications to mirror what you have and to offer amenities and improvements to your service.
“We’re talking about a system we expect to have for the next two to three decades.”
Scheidt & Bachmann Vice President of Sales Simon Talbot says they are extremely honored to work with MCTS. The system will include a fully integrated Web portal and autoload student ID features and this systems’ value to the region is underscored not only by the features and data collected, but also by the low total cost of ownership through a integratable and flexible system.