While Milwaukee County officials and other local dignitaries made their way to 27th and Wisconsin on Monday morning for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially launch Milwaukee’s first bus rapid transit route – called CONNECT 1 – I was out giving the route a little test run.
The route, which actually began service Sunday morning, runs between the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa and Van Buren and Wisconsin on the east end of Downtown.
Thanks to MCTS’ fare technology partner Umo Mobility, rides on the CONNECT 1 route are free through September.
The buses on the route are electric and are charged on the western end of the route. It takes only a few minutes to top up one of the new buses, which are charged for two hours overnight. The battery-electric buses can operate up to 247 miles on a single charge.
According to MCTS, nearly 23,000 people live within a quarter-mile of the nine-mile route and there are 27,400 jobs in the same zone. Just over 20 percent of households within .25 miles of the route are car-free.
The covered stations have tickers showing the name of the route, the date, time and temperature and the wait times for the buses due in the next 90 minutes.
They are ramped for accessibility, and there is a ticket machine, bench seating and a trash can at each one. A tall sign makes the stop visible from a distance.
On Monday morning during the 9 o’clock hour, there were buses galore and at 9:22, a westbound station ticker said buses were due in 4 minutes, 6 minutes, 12 minutes, 26 minutes and 29 minutes. That’s pretty good headway.
One eastbound bus I boarded a little after 9 – headed toward Downtown – was fairly crowded, though with still a few open seats. A westbound one a few minutes later only had five or six passengers, which isn't surprising at the end of the morning commute.
Drivers on both buses greeted boarding riders with a cheery, “good morning, welcome aboard,” and offered a “thanks for riding” at departure.
The buses, unsurprisingly since they’re new, were spic and span, and because they’re electric, pretty quiet, too. The ride was pretty smooth, too, when the road surfaces didn't interrupt the calm.
Buses travel about half of the route in dedicated bus lanes, which means they should be quicker and more efficient for riders. Back in 2017, MCTS estimated that the route could save riders as much as a 100 hours of commuting time each year.
A second route, running north/south along the heavily traveled 27th Street corridor, is currently being discussed.
Based on social media posts Sunday and early Monday, riders – including those with bikes – seemed satisfied with the new route and its vehicles, and my experience, which was admittedly brief, was a positive one.
Despite its copious efforts to spread the word, however, MCTS still faces some hurdles in getting the word out about the new line.
Waiting at one stop, a rider told me he didn’t know what the stations were for until this morning, when he went looking for his usual Gold Line stop and saw the sign was gone and learned that most of the line was replaced with this new service.
Fortunately, he found his way to the nearby CONNECT 1 stop.
While we talked, another rider went over to the ticket machine to buy a ticket, clearly unaware that rides are free for the next four months. The screen of the machine, however, makes this clear.
Now that the route is up and running, word about the changes will surely move as smoothly as the new buses.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.