Connecting workers in Milwaukee with the many jobs that exist beyond city boundaries has long been a problem, and a new report examines the challenges of closing that gap using mass transit services.
In "Getting to Work," researchers at the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum identified hot spots for jobs that had little or no accessibility via bus, and they teamed up with the Milwaukee County Transit System to model potential bus routes to see what the obstacles were.
The report identified several difficulties, including costs, getting workers the "last mile" to their workplace and long commute times.
"When you really look at it, you see that between MCTS' financial challenges and the needs of a route to make it successful, it's only possible in certain places," said Joe Peterangelo, an author of the report. "A lot of the suburban job centers just don't have what it takes" to support bus routes for reverse commuters.
One of the more successful of the hypothetical routes discussed in the report would be an express bus from Mequon to Oak Creek through downtown Milwaukee. It would create better access to Northbranch Industrial Park in Oak Creek, but it wasn't viable to use such a route to get workers to other unwalkable business areas nearby, including Southbranch Industrial Park and Mequon Industrial Park.
All three hypothetical routes in the study would require additional funding, and the other two model routes, to Brookfield and New Berlin, had even more difficulties.
"For many, many years, there's been discussion in this community about the fact that there is a spatial mismatch that appears to be a factor or an impediment in terms of allowing central city job seekers to access jobs in suburban areas by mass transit," Public Policy Forum's president Rob Henken said. "In some people's minds, the solution is to extend bus service. We certainly sense the situation is more complicated than that."
The report suggests looking at land-use policies that would produce a better mix of businesses and residential areas as well as higher density along existing transit routes, which is needed for ridership.
It also recommends longer-term funding commitments, as ridership can drop when the economy is down, leading to the elimination of a bus route.
Better approaches to funding are needed as state and federal resources are lagging, and creating a regional transportation authority could also help ease tensions about the responsibility for various costs, according to the report.
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