FAQs

Bus in Milwaukee

How Is MCTS Funded?

MCTS receives funding for its operations from four sources – passengers (also advertising and other related income) account for 35 percent. The State of Wisconsin provides 43 percent, the federal government provides 11 percent, and Milwaukee County property taxes contribute about 11 percent. An additional .5 percent comes from additional state and federal funding sources.

How Much Passenger Revenue Does MCTS Collect?

MCTS collects roughly $56.5 million from its passengers and other sources, such as the sale of advertising.

What Is MCTS’s Average Daily Ridership?

According to 2011 ridership counts taken during the school year, MCTS has an average daily/weekday ridership of approximately 151,000. Ridership refers to the number of transit passenger trips made in a defined period of time. Think of it as a count of how many times a person boards a bus.

How Does MCTS Compare on Costs and Spending?

MCTS is a national leader in controlling costs and getting the most out of every dollar invested in transit. In a recent study, MCTS was compared to 13 other transit systems of similar size. The results showed that MCTS ranked first or second in many categories:

  • The lowest cost per rider.
  • The lowest administrative expense.
  • The most passengers carried per hour of operation.
  • The most passengers carried as a ratio of per capita population.
  • The second highest percentage of operating costs paid by passengers.
  • The second most riders per employee.

Who Approves Service and Fare Changes for MCTS?

The MCTS budget, fares, routing and service levels are approved by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. On matters of policy, transit management reports directly to the Board's Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee. Click the link to learn more about this committee, when it meets and to see its agendas. During the budget process, the MCTS budget is considered by the Board's Finance and Audit Committee.

Who Rides MCTS?

A recent survey of adult riders, age 18 and older, provided this profile of riders:

  • Over 49 percent are 18 to 44.
  • Females outnumber males, 59 percent to 41 percent.
  • About 48 percent are African-American, 41 percent white, 7 percent Hispanic and 2 percent claim other ethnic status.
  • 87 percent have a high school education, and 53 percent have taken college level courses or are graduates.
  • About 26 percent have household incomes of $28,000 or more.
  • Through the U-PASS program, over 50,000 college students are eligible for unlimited rides on MCTS.

How Do People Use MCTS?

About 42 percent of adult riders primarily use the bus for their work commute or for job searching, about 11 percent for shopping, 12 percent use it to go to school, 15 percent for medical appointments, and 6 percent for other reasons. While these represent the primary reasons people ride, often riders cite one or more additional reasons.

How Many Routes Does MCTS Operate?

During the school year, MCTS operates a total of 59 routes. Of that, 32 are local including three limited stop MetroEXpress routes, seven are Freeway Flyers, four are UBUS services for UWM,and MATC and 15 operate with limited morning and afternoon service, serving either schools or industrial parks. In addition, MCTS operates the Ozaukee County Express under contract to Ozaukee County.

How Many Buses Does MCTS Own and Operate?

Currently MCTS operates 415 buses. Four hundred and seven buses are 40' long, full size buses and 8 are 30' long buses. The average age of the MCTS fleet is 7 years old. About 325 buses are used at the peak of weekday morning service and about 313 at the peak of evening service. 

How Many Miles a Year Does the Average Bus Travel?

In total, MCTS buses travel an amazing 17.1 million miles a year throughout their 241 square mile service area. That's over 41,000 miles per bus. 

Why Not Use Smaller Buses?

Smaller 30' buses seat 25 passengers. While they could be used on several routes where that capacity is rarely exceeded, on most routes, it is more cost-effective to pull a bus out from the garage and leave it out all day for drivers to change shifts on the road. Also, passenger loads often meet or exceed the seating capacity of the larger buses. If buses had to pull in and out several times (or even once) a day based solely on maximum passenger loads, MCTS would require more buses. Although smaller buses may cost less initially, they have all the same operating and maintenance costs as a standard 40' bus.

Why Do Buses Run Empty?

Passenger bus loads are continually monitored to make sure buses are as productive as possible. So, why does someone see an empty bus? This is easy to answer - because there is always a beginning and always an end. Our buses do not run in a loop.

For example, Route 27 carries 11,038 passengers on one average weekday. It travels from 27th and Sycamore to Green Bay and Hampton for the majority of the trips. As the bus starts out on its run, it might only have a couple people on board, but as it travels along the route, it picks up additional people and lets others off, as a bus should do. But, by the end of the trip, all people will be off the bus.

To further clarify this picture, on Route 27 because more than 11,000 ride the bus on just ONE week day, we need to make roughly 90 bus trips. Of course, the bus begins and ends its trip empty, so each weekday that bus is empty 180 times. That is just one route. MCTS has more than 50 routes and provides roughly 140,000 rides each weekday. If we estimate how many passengers that would be it is more than 45,000- they couldn’t all fit in Miller Park.

Sure, throughout the day, it is going to vary how many people ride – that is why we not only monitor how many people ride the bus, we also look at how many bus hours serve that route and maximum loads on the bus. Because half of our customers use the bus to get to work, we are obviously going to have more riders during rush hours. You will also notice freeways and other roads are used more during this time also.

How Can I Make a Request or Suggestion Regarding Transit Service?

We take customers’ comments on bus service very seriously and will look into all requests. The first step would be to contact Customer Service. They refer requests for service changes to the Planning Division of MCTS. They will consider how a change fits in with transit service policies, examine the operational aspects of the proposed routing, and consider the impact the change might have on current riders. Finally, they will determine if there will be a cost to the requested change and if there are funds to implement the new service.

Why Do You Cut Service?

MCTS budget resources are limited and there is always more demand for service than there are resources. MCTS always looks at other ways to reduce costs first, before cutting service. In fact, a recent DOT audit showed MCTS had the lowest administrative costs amongst its peer systems. Budget strains often call for a reduction in service and unfortunately, there are customers who are affected. In other cases, service is reduced if a financial grant from the federal or state government, that provided the funds for a route, expires. When a decision to reduce service is made, MCTS looks for service that is duplicated with other routes and/or is used by a lower number of customers to reduce the impact.

How Does New Service Begin?

Most new service has been started through funding available through financial grants from the federal or state government or from private contributions from corporations. It is sometimes possible for an existing route to be extended or for the frequency of service to be improved without increasing costs by reallocating bus service on the route.

Why Does the Schedule Change so Often?

MCTS schedules can change up to four times per year: December, March, June and September. It is required by the MCTS union so drivers have an opportunity to change their work schedule at the time of the schedule change. The schedule change also gives MCTS an opportunity to update service based on the needs of customers or to accommodate road work and street closures. 

How Fuel Efficient Are Buses?

An average MCTS bus gets 4.5 miles per gallon of diesel fuel. Yet, with just six passengers, a bus can be significantly more fuel efficient than a car. If a car averaged 25 miles per gallon and traveled five miles with a single occupant, it would still average 25 passenger miles per gallon. If a bus traveled the same five miles, it would need 1.06 gallons of fuel. But once a bus had six passengers traveling the same distance, its fuel economy changes to 28.3 passenger miles per gallon. All MCTS buses run on diesel fuel and require over 4 million gallons of fuel annually.

Are MCTS Employees Part of Milwaukee County?

MCTS employees are not employees of Milwaukee County. They are employed by a private, not-for-profit company called Milwaukee Transport Services, Inc. (MTS) which is under contract to operate the transit system for Milwaukee County. All the assets of the transit system such as buses, buildings and other equipment, are the property of Milwaukee County. MTS employees do not participate in any Milwaukee County benefit plan.

For more information on MCTS, please see our Annual Report.