MCTS BusWhile greater-Milwaukeeland argues over a streetcar, the city’s most successful (only) public transportation option is overlooked. Has anyone ever actually taken a Milwaukee County Transit System bus?

I’ve been spoiled with great public transportation options in Europe and many large US cities, including Madison. So when I moved to downtown MKE I figured Wisconsin’s largest transit system would have me covered. I’ve found it to be a mixed-bag.

The Good:
Cost = $2.25 per ride in cash, or $1.75 for a 10-pack. The new M-Card also offers many choices, including 1-Day and 1-Week unlimited rides ($1.75 and $17.50) which was sorely needed for tourists. These prices make the bus cheapest in comparison to the awful rates found in cabs and even the low-ball Lyfts and Ubers.

Google Maps has shown the set-schedules for years, but MCTS just recently came out with real-time tracking of a number of popular routes. There’s even a few Android applications out there that compile this real-time data (Milwaukee Bus).

Milwaukee County is completely covered by routes, with freeway flyers out to the suburban extensions. MCTS recently added visual and announced stops on each bus to help make sure you get exactly where you’re going.

The Bad:
Buses are notoriously-late. I once waited nearly an hour for a route that was supposed to come every 20 minutes (I left before one ever showed). But the real-time tracking has made that a better, and now you can just show up when the bus actually will.

While the buses go most places you’d want to go, it’s not always direct nor the fastest. That’s the nature of public transportation, though.

Service ends before 3AM (often much earlier). For most people 3AM is more than late enough. But in a city known for imbibing hard and long, stopping a safe way to get home before bar-close is idiotic?

The Verdict:
The biggest negative to the bus system in MKE was the horrendous on-time arrivals. This has been acceptably-remedied by the real-time tracking. I’ve heard from many people that they think the bus is unsafe or are dirty. They’re not as clean as your own car, but certainly no worse than a cab (or some of those sticky Lyfts). And I’ve never personally felt unsafe on a bus; there’s often a large group of people on board, and there’s always the bus driver. It’s impossible to beat the price for city transit.

I honestly do consider the Milwaukee bus my other set of wheels.