Milwaukee County Transit System announced changes to service approved by Milwaukee County in the 2023 annual budget on November 21. The changes are due to a combination of several factors, including a projected 2025 transit funding gap, and a COVID-19-induced transition to hybrid work schedules downtown which led to reduced ridership on Freeway Flyer routes.

According to a Milwaukee County Comptroller report released earlier this year, federal stimulus funds used by MCTS to maintain transit service will no longer be available in 2025.

“The result will be a need to increase funding to MCTS by approximately $30 million simply to maintain service. As such, MCTS has been directed to begin to reduce service to chip away at the future fiscal gap,” said MCTS in a statement.

Like many transit agencies across the country, MCTS faces a smaller bus operator workforce despite an ongoing approach to recruiting and retaining bus drivers.

MCTS detailed the list of service changes and when they occur, which include the elimination of six express lines.

Freeway Flyer Routes 40, 43, 44, 46, 48, and 49, which have been suspended since January 2022, will be eliminated due to previously low levels of ridership. Many downtown employers have moved to hybrid work models due to COVID-19 and reduced the demand for this service.

MCTS presented these changes in a public hearing at the County Board’s Committee on Transportation and Transit earlier this year. U-Bus Routes 40U, 44U, and 49U are not affected and will continue as scheduled.

MCTS previously announced it would end its contract after December 31, 2022 to Waukesha County and Ozaukee County with Route 79 and Route 143. Ozaukee County will be continuing the Ozaukee Express (143) with GoRiteway as the provider. Waukesha County is holding public hearings to consider future options for its Freeway Flyer Routes.

Service will be eliminated for Route 137 due to previously low levels of ridership. Service has been suspended since March 2020. Special bus services to Wisconsin State Fair and Brewers Games: The Cream Puff line and Brewers line will also be eliminated. Riders can take local routes to the locations.

Routes 34, 88, 92 will be adjusted. Changes to the routes will begin December 4, 2022. Route 34 service frequency will be reduced to every 30 minutes (previously 20 minutes). Service frequency on Routes 88 and 92 will be reduced to approximately every 40 minutes (previously 30 minutes).

Service for Route 52 will be modified in March 2023 due to very low ridership. Additional information will be provided next year.

Under Consideration are the Summerfest and Festival Services. Transportation to these events has been suspended since 2020, mostly due to COVID-19 induced workforce shortages. In addition, the projected 2025 funding gap has required MCTS to eliminate expenses to special events. The County Board’s Committee on Transportation and Transit shared these changes in a public hearing earlier this year.

The winter service changes take place December 4. Seasonal changes continue on a quarterly basis to improve the schedule.

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Lee Matz