By Mrinal Gokhale
In September 2014, Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) launched three bus routes going from Milwaukee to Menomonee Falls, New Berlin, and Germantown.
This past Tuesday, Versant Communications held a “Moving Forward” breakfast for the “New Routes. New Moves.” campaign promoting these routes.
MICAH Empowers and Black Health Coalition sued the state in 2013 for implementing zoo interchange construction which impeded inner city routes.
These three routes are a result of the settlement. Versant Communications and Maldonado & Morgan marketing firms started the New Routes.
New Moves. campaign this past March, encouraging inner city residents to take these buses and apply for jobs in those areas.
“More than 60 full time jobs have been filled in those suburbs in the last year along with hundreds of seasonal positions,” said Jeff Sponcia, transit planner of MCTS.
Sponcia added that many good jobs are in Milwaukee’s suburbs and that the 61 bus route going to Menomonee Falls has the most ridership of the three.
“The 61 operates on Appleton Avenue in the inner city, which had no buses previously,” he said.
Lester Williams, a MICAH Empowers member and a model who posed on the campaign advertising graphic, spoke at the breakfast, saying he benefits from the New Berlin route.
“I got a job in New Berlin because I wanted to make more money. And since I don’t have a car, the bus helps me get from home in Milwaukee to work,” he said.
County Executive Chris Abele also spoke at the breakfast held at the Black Health Coalition office, explaining why he feels public transit is important.
“Sixty percent of bus rides daily are people getting to work but it’s only helpful to add new routes if people know they exist,” he said.
“The state has cut back on transit funding, and the county is trying to make up for it although it’s hard.”
Patricia McManus, PhD., president and CEO of Black Health Coalition is proud of what has been accomplished with the new routes, but feels there is still a long way to go.
She hopes to increase door to door marketing and work with staffing agencies for the campaign in the future.
“Some people, especially folks of color, don’t want to go to suburbs due to fear of discrimination,” she said.
“We need a multi-commitment with Waukesha County where either employers or the government puts in money towards the campaign.”
Dr. McManus added that the budget reduction on transit is another barrier that challenges whether the bus routes will stay and whether more routes can be added.
“The referendum in the transit budget stated that money for transit cannot be used for buses.” Reverend Willie Brisco of MICAH Empowers was one of the last to speak before the event ended.
“These bus routes must go beyond four years. They must increase bus routes and go to industrial parks in more suburbs,” he said.
“When you leave today, think about what you’ve seen and heard and get involved, because Milwaukee is on life support.”