The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is introducing a new payment system that will allow it to cap fares for riders — helping improve social equity in the county, researchers say.
Essentially, everyone who has a bus card or downloads the app will ride for free after hitting the fare cap. The caps in Milwaukee will be $4 for the day, $19.50 for the week and $72 for the month.
“The systems that were historically built were the least advantageous to lower income and minorities, so this system really treats everyone equally, which is what we’re after,” said Tim Hosch, chief financial officer for MCTS.
Prior to fare capping, those who had enough money to do so would purchase long term passes, which require a bigger up-front payment but are the best value overall. Those who couldn’t afford to purchase a long-term ticket for the month or quarter would be paying the worst value.
According to a 2022 MCTS survey, roughly 45 percent of riders make $50,000 or less, while 32 percent made $50,000 or more. Roughly 23 percent did not answer.
Nearly half — 46 percent — of riders said they have little or no choice but to use the bus. About 20 percent said they did not have access to a private vehicle and would be forced to use expensive rideshares like Uber and Lyft without the bus system.
“A lot of non-choice riders, this is their only access to their jobs, to doctor’s appointments, to friends, and there’s a growing body of research, which shows that transportation insecurity is a significant factor in persistent poverty,” said Karen Philbrick, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San José State University. Fare capping ensures “black and brown community members and riders are not disproportionately affected by the high cost of transit,” Philbrick said.
Fare capping is part of a wider MCTS change
New tap-and-go validators were installed on buses in February, and pilot testing began on March 1, 2023. The validators can be used by those who have the Umo Mobility app or a new WisGo card. The temporary 105-minute and all-day fare options were removed as riders can now store value on the app. All users will be able to enjoy fare capping through the app.