Pilot program aims to provide “last mile” transit service

MILWAUKEE, WI. JULY 6, 2021 –The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is assisting a pilot program to help workers fill in the “last mile” between public transit and their jobs in the Milwaukee area.

WEDC is providing $31,700 to the Regional Transit Leadership Council (RTLC) to develop a plan, which will be completed by the spring of 2022, to bring last mile service on a pilot basis to Brookfield/New Berlin and Franklin/Oak Creek.

“WEDC is excited to support this innovative approach to connecting workers with jobs,” said Missy Hughes, WEDC secretary and CEO. “As we work to get everyone off the sidelines and into jobs, we know that access to robust transportation is a significant factor in workers’ decisions whether to take a job and businesses’ decisions whether to locate or expand here. Last-mile solutions are one of the keys to getting workers to jobs and keeping communities thriving.”

Last mile transportation typically extends the reach of existing fixed transit routes, using small (often shared) vehicles to pick up and drop off riders at places of employment or other collection points. It is often offered on-demand, using new technologies to get employees to employers once the bus or train ride ends.

Projects are already in place in a number of metropolitan areas across the country. WEDC is partnering with Waukesha County and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee, which have each also contributed approximately $30,000 to beginning planning the “last mile” pilot. Other funding partners include Mandel Group, the City of Franklin, GRAEF, and M7.

RTLC Executive Director Dave Steele said the plan is the last step in making the pilot program a reality. “The problem is clear: We need to do a better job connecting workers with jobs. What we’re looking for is a business plan that will allow us to take real steps to launch this pilot program. We need to act quickly, and we will.”

The plan will help identify costs and funding sources, as well as governance of a solution. It will also address accessibility and equity of the service, with a likely target market of workers earning between $13 and $18 an hour – enough to warrant traveling a long distance for a job, but not enough to buy and maintain a reliable car.

A Planning Committee of public and private sector leaders will oversee the effort. The committee will include elected officials and other leaders from the City of Milwaukee, Franklin, Oak Creek, Brookfield, Wauwatosa and Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties.

Roughly half of jobs in southeast Wisconsin lie outside a 90-minute bus commute, and that figure is higher in manufacturing and retail sectors, often located in suburban areas. Close to 20% of City of Milwaukee residents lack access to cars, a figure far higher in high-poverty parts of the city. At the same time, businesses are struggling to find workers.

“One of the important focuses at United Way is our Reducing Barriers to Employment and Advancement initiative,” said Amy Lindner, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. “Transportation is one of the core pillars of this work, and this partnership will open up opportunities for so many in our community to obtain permanent employment where they can earn a livable wage at a workplace where they are treated with dignity and respect. We are excited about the possibilities.”

Waukesha County Board Chairman Paul Decker said he often hears from employers about the difficulties they have in attracting and retaining workers. “A lack of adequate transportation is a common complaint. That is why I’m proud to support the RTLC on this work as they continue to unite leaders from across the region to solve transportation problems like last mile. We need to think regionally when it comes to transportation, and we are.”

Added Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, “My district has one of the highest unemployment rates in the city, and it’s not about people not wanting to work. It’s often about people not having access to jobs — and a way to get to and from those jobs. We must do better as a region to close those gaps, connecting Central City workers with employers, no matter where those jobs are. I’m proud to support the RTLC’s work to help make this happen.”

Franklin Mayor Steve Olson noted that “businesses have suffered from a lack of transit options since we became a city 65 years ago. The Franklin Business Park has dozens of open jobs that pay in excess of $15 per hour for entry-level positions, and no easy way to connect many workers with those jobs — a problem that will only become worse as our new business parks develop over the next few years. That is why I strongly support this plan. We need last-mile solutions in Franklin now.”