MCTS introduces a new way to collect bus fare, it'll save riders money too
The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is changing how they collect bus fare. They’re introducing fare-capping, which limits how much a ride has to pay each trip. Passengers will be able to save money, but they'll need to download an app or switch over their M-Card to a WisGo card.
Tom Winter is director for the service development department at MCTS. He thinks the new program will benefit the entire county.
Winter explains the new system by saying, "It counts the number of rides that you take, and the reason it does that is that as you're paying cash fare, then you will, as you ride throughout the week or the month, you will earn the value of that pass earlier than you would have otherwise."
In this new system, the fare structure will cost $2 per ride for regular fare riders that caps at $4 per day. Riders will not need to pay for any additional rides once they hit that fare cap. Fares will be $1 per ride for reduced fare riders (seniors, kids ages 6-11, and those with a qualifying disability) with a cap of $2 per day. For more information on fare structures, visit RideMCTS.com/WisGo to learn more about the weekly and monthly fare caps.
The UMO app will also be getting an update. Bonnie Crawford is general manager of UMO mobility, which is the app that many MCTS riders use to pay their bus fare. Starting in early March 2023, the app will include an option to add money to use for bus fare.
Crawford details how the fare-capping system has been implemented in other larger cities around the world such as London and New York with favorable results.
"Fare capping naturally simplifies the fare experience for riders ... it's an easy fare that I can access with my mobile phone or with my smart card," she explains. In the 70 cities that have implemented the system, Crawford also details that general public transit use has consistently increased by around 50% across North America.
WUWM reporter Maayan Silver and WUWM's community engagement coordinator Rafa Munoz Echavarria rode an MCTS Blue Line one April afternoon to see how the rollout was going. It's still in its early stages.
They caught up with Shavita Hayden, who was headed downtown. She doesn't have a smartphone. When she found out about the impending changes, she said she'll be switching her M-Card to a WisGo card.
"I don't know if it's gonna be an easy switch or something difficult," pondered Hayden. "It's not gonna be that hard, you know, just going to the transit system to work it out."
Hayden has the right idea. It's free to switch out M-Cards to WisGo cards through June 30. After that it will cost riders $2. And WisGo cards are available at more than 65 locations citywide, and riders can reload them at more than 150 locations.
Riders, like Hayden, can also get information or swap out their M-Cards at the city’s three bus stations: at Kinnickinnic Avenue, Fond du Lac Avenue and the administration building at 1942 N. 17th Street.
Some riders on the Blue Line were already well into using the UMO smartphone app. Tekeon Brewer was headed home from a dental appointment. He says he learned about the app from a bus driver and that it works well. He said his favorite thing about it is that you can "Just scan and go. Just scan and go."
With the old system, people could pre-pay a weekly or monthly bus pass up front through the M-Card, which would give them a discounted amount per ride. If they could pay up front, they wouldn't pay more than $19.50 per week or $72 per month as a regular rider.
The new system will create that cap for riders as they go along, as long as they’re always using the same card or the same app.
We asked Heloise Lewis how this will impact her. She said the maximum payment of $4 per day for unlimited rides was enticing. "Okay, well, that doesn't sound too bad when you put it that way," said Lewis. "Yeah, it doesn’t."
With the upcoming transition, Winter encourages anyone with further questions about the new system to visit the MCTS website. He also explains the new system has officially launched on April 1, 2023. M-cards will still be accepted by the buses for a transitional period of four months and will be officially discontinued starting on September 1, 2023.
Buses and bus shelters have a window decal with the QRC code that everyone with a smart phone can scan for information. Each bus also has an info center with informational WisGo brochures.
Winter says, "But we certainly do encourage people to make the switch because the real benefit, as we're pointing out, is you have a financial incentive to do so. And the quicker you can [switch], the more you'll benefit."