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On-demand commuting program launches to help Milwaukee adults get to jobs in Waukesha County

car in parking lot
Chuck Quirmbach
One of the vehicles used in the FlexRide Milwaukee program, which recently began operations.

An on-demand, job-ride program between the northwest side of Milwaukee and two Waukesha County suburbs has officially launched.

The FlexRide Milwaukee program uses vans to take Milwaukee residents from the Midtown Center, Sherman Phoenix, Silver Spring Neighborhood Center and a couple other locations to job zones in Menomonee Falls and Butler.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is one of the partners in the service.

At a news conference outside of Sherman Phoenix, Executive Director Kevin Muhs described how any Milwaukee adult can sign up: "You fill out a brief application at Enter the code you receive into the FlexRideMKE app, so you can create an account. Then you start booking rides. This can be done through the app or by calling (414)-667-7433. When someone books a ride, they're picked up, possibly with other riders nearby, and taken right to work or a job interview for $1.50 or less. At the end of their shift or interview, the same thing happens in reverse, and they can get back from Menomonee Falls or Butler to Milwaukee."

Chuck Quirmbach
Craig Armstrong, of Scan-Pac Manufacturing in Menomonee Falls, speaks at Wednesday's news conference.

Craig Armstrong is president of Scan-Pac Manufacturing in Menomonee Falls. He said he's a big supporter of FlexRide because his Milwaukee-based employees often have substantial transportation barriers, even those who ride share with another worker.

"But if that person is unable to make it to work, then they're impacted financially, but also from the job security perspective as well," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said some other workers have to show up two hours early or stay after work a couple hours because that's when they can get a ride. He said Scan-Pac occasionally pays for Ubers or taxis, but he calls FlexRide a huge step forward.

Chuck Quirmbach
UWM Vice-Chancellor Chia Vang speaks at Wednesday's formal launch of Flex Ride Milwaukee.

UW-Milwaukee is another partner in the program, which has been rolled out over the last few weeks. Vice Chancellor Chia Vang said about 130 people who need transportation help have signed up.

"Seventy-four percent are unemployed, 75% are members of our Black and African American community, 60% are women, and 56% live in very high poverty conditions, 80% do not have working vehicles," Vang shared.

Chuck Quirmbach
UWM Professor Lingqian (Ivy) Hu, Chair of the Urban Planning Department, speaks to the news media.

A $1 million National Science Foundation grant is paying for FlexRide this year. Lingqian (Ivy) Hu chairs UWM's urban planning department. She said the money is part of the foundation's Civic Innovation Challenge that aims to connect technology with community needs. Hu said the tech here is called on-demand microtransit.

"Microtransit is a new transportation mode in the United States. It's less costly than Uber or Lyft. It's more efficient in that it's on-demand. It can connect people directly to the door of their employer. It's more convenient than MCTS (Milwaukee County Transit System) buses," she said.

Hu said if the FlexRide pilot program is a success, partner agencies will be looking for other funding to keep the service going beyond this year.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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