The rise of smart phones, mobile applications, and new private transportation service providers has ushered in a highly experimental period in which transit systems are testing new ways of providing services. Is it time for similar experimentation in metro Milwaukee?
That’s one of the questions we address in a new report that analyzes options for reducing “last mile” transportation problems in the Milwaukee area, which can arise when fixed-route transit services stop short of bringing commuters all the way to their job sites. The last mile problem is particularly common in lower-density areas of the suburbs and city, where jobs are more dispersed and difficult for transit systems to serve efficiently.
Our analysis identifies a number of innovative solutions that local elected officials and transit system leaders should consider that could offer last mile transportation solutions while also improving general transit access, coverage, and quality in the Milwaukee area.
In particular, we cite two last mile strategies that have several unique strengths that merit a closer look for metro Milwaukee. One is flexible transit, which typically involves utilizing 14-passenger buses or vans that are allowed to make diversions from set routes to serve dispersed businesses in suburban areas by request. The other is ride-hailing, which offers on-demand, point-to-point transportation to and from transit stops through partnerships with taxi companies and transportation network companies, such as Lyft and Uber.
While no last mile strategy would be a perfect, comprehensive solution in all areas of the region, these and other strategies examined in the report may be effective in certain contexts and/or in combination with other services.
Our recommendations include the following:
We acknowledge that implementing some of these recommendations would require new sources of funding and/or collaborative financing strategies — a prospect that is extremely daunting given that local governments can hardly afford to maintain the transportation services they currently provide. Yet, we also would argue that constant modernization of transit services is essential to attracting and retaining riders and must be part of the equation as local leaders seek to secure ongoing fiscal sustainability for their transit systems.
It is our hope that the strategies explored in this report will provide viable possibilities for regional transit system leaders, policymakers, and businesses to consider as they seek to improve workforce mobility in the Milwaukee metropolitan area.