County hopes downsizing will save bus service

Faced with declining ridership, county searching for new vendor to run smaller, less expensive program
Ozaukee Press staff

Ozaukee County officials are seeking a new contractor to ensure it can continue offering a commuter bus to Milwaukee County, but even if they find a vendor, the service will undergo some changes next year.

Milwaukee County Transit has notified the county it will not renew its contract after this year, and Ozaukee County has put out a request for proposals from other vendors to continue the service next year, Ozaukee County Transit Supt. Joy Neilson-Loomis said.

Three firms have expressed interest in picking up the contract, she said.

Neilson-Loomis said the county wasn’t surprised that MCT wasn’t going to renew its contract.

“We know it’s very costly for them,” she said. “We were a secondary market for them, and they have to focus on the needs of Milwaukee County first.”

Although ridership has declined in recent years, the county sees the bus service as valuable to residents, particularly as they return to the office as the pandemic subsides, so officials want to retain the program, Neilson-Loomis said.

“The county is looking for ways to keep the service, but it’s going to look different,” she said.

The county is looking to slash the number of bus routes and also to operate the service with smaller buses — two ways to trim costs while keeping the service, Neilson-Loomis said.

Reducing the number of routes was the top recommendation during a public hearing held this summer, she said.

Currently, the buses run seven times a  day, and Neilson-Loomis said the county is looking to cut that number in half.

She noted that in a survey of riders, it was found that most people don’t work from the office five days a week.

“It’s a hybrid schedule they’re working,” Neilson-Loomis said.

Most riders, 83%, said they go to the office on Tuesdays, she said, and a “pretty high” number also go in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays,

On Fridays, ridership drops by half, she said.

Right now, Neilson-Loomis said, the bus averages just more than 1,000 riders a month.

“It keeps increasing every month,” she said. “But I don’t think we are going to get back to full buses and seven runs a day.”

Buses today are averaging three people per bus, Neilson-Loomis said, and at peak times there are at least 12 riders.

“That means there are some (buses) that have zero passengers,” she said.

Despite that, Neilson-Loomis said, the county believes the service is needed.

“A lot of people said the bus existing was a factor in them moving to Ozaukee County or taking an opportunity in Milwaukee County,” she said. “It makes Ozaukee County a more attractive place for people to live.”

Along with cutting the number of runs each day, the county is seeking to use smaller buses, given the smaller number of passengers, Neilson-Loomis said.

“We think we would definitely have enough people to fill a 15 to 20-seat passenger bus,” she said, noting the current service uses 50-person buses.

Neilson-Loomis said proposals for the service are due at the end of October, and the county’s Public Works Board will consider and possibly act on them in November.

If the county doesn’t get any proposals, she said, it will likely rebid the contract “but we won’t be able to move forward with the service in January.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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