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Supporters Promote Bus Routes that Take Workers from Central Milwaukee to Suburban Jobs

Ann-Elise Henzl Reporter Milwaukee Public Radio
You may soon see MCTS buses wrapped with ads for JobLines, the new name for the two bus routes that take Milwaukee central city residents to jobs in the suburbs

Hundreds of Milwaukeeans ride the bus every day to jobs in Waukesha County. But the funding that helps pay for the routes will dry up in a couple of years. So leaders are spreading the word about the routes' successes in hopes the service will continue -- and even grow.

Milwaukee leaders often call for businesses to create more jobs in the central city. Yet until that dream comes to fruition, hundreds of residents are finding work miles from home and using Milwaukee County buses to get there.

"Route 6 starts around Port Washington Road and Capitol. Just down Capitol, south on Mayfair, Bluemound to Brookfield Square Mall, and then south on Moorland," says Brendan Conway of the Milwaukee County Transit System. He says route 6 carries workers to industrial parks in New Berlin, while a second line -- route 61 -- heads from the central city to Menomonee Falls.

"It's just a regular fare. So it's per ride it's $2.25 cash, or $1.75 with our M•CARD, the smart card. Most people buy a monthly pass, which is $64," Conway says.

"I would actually really spend a lot of money, I think, if I had to pay people gas to get here," says Antonishia Davis, a young Milwaukee mother who works at FedEx. She doesn't have a car and says asking people for a ride to her job in New Berlin isn't a viable option.

"Especially with our peak season being the end of the year, it's pretty cold. A lot of people don't have good running cars in the wintertime, so it's even better in the wintertime to have a dependable ride that's always going to run regardless, to get to work," Davis says.

Davis says another plus to the route she takes is that it makes limited stops.

"Any other bus route, I think, that stops at every stop would be two to two-and-a-half hours to get here, and they kind of sum it up into an hour, hour-and-a-half, at most," Davis says.

What helps pay for lines 6 and 61 is a legal settlement a couple of organizations won. MICAH -- Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope -- was among the groups that sued the Wisconsin Department of Transportation as it launched its huge Zoo Interchange project. They successfully argued that it discriminated against people without cars, by not including improvements to public transit. The Rev. Willie Brisco of MICAH says the two bus lines have proven to be a success, by transporting about 1,000 people a day to jobs at 150 businesses. Yet Brisco warns the service could be at risk after the settlement money dries up.

"I can't implore to you more that we are going to try has hard as we can to make these bus routes go beyond the next two years. That is needed, if we're going to grow as a state, we're going to grow as a community, and if we're going to end the disparities that exist," Brisco says.

Brisco says if riders and their employers prove the bus lines are indispensable, supporters could make a powerful case to the state to help fund the service. He's hopeful that the routes could lead to something even bigger.

"We need a compressive transit authority somewhere in this state. When you go to New York, DC and all those areas, you've got trains, buses, subway and people use them to go to work, shopping, school. That's what we need in Wisconsin, and this could be the beginning of that," Brisco says.

Brisco and officials from Milwaukee and Waukesha counties met Tuesday to announce a marketing effort, which is designed to spread the word about the bus routes linking city neighborhoods with industrial parks. The plan includes changing the names from the mundane route 6 and 61 to "JobLines." The county will also wrap some buses with colorful ads promoting the service, and feature signage in bus shelters.

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