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Milwaukee's Transit Decrease in Context
Our estimate puts 2013 as the worst year in the last 25 years of Milwaukee's bus system.

Yesterday, the American Public Transportation Association revealed that public transportation usage was up – at 10.7 billion trips in 2013, it reached its highest level in 57 years.

That is, of course, unless you live in Milwaukee.

In 2012, the system registered 44 million trips. In 2013, only 43 million. That decrease of 2.36 percent puts Milwaukee on par with cities like Denver, Dallas and Pittsburgh, which also saw decreased bus ridership. But in those cities, other forms of transit – such as commuter and light rail – can make up for some of the decrease. In Dallas, the city’s light rail was up more than 1 percent. In Pittsburgh, light rail was up more than 7 percent. In Denver, light rail use increased almost 15 percent.

Nationwide, bus ridership was down 0.1 percent, while transit as a whole was up more than 1 percent.

The decrease in bus ridership from 2012 to 2013 becomes even more stark when taken as part of a larger trend. Historically, the county has used the system’s revenue passenger figure (the number of passengers who pay while boarding, which excludes transfers) in county budgets. Applying the same 2.36 decrease to 2012’s revenue passengers, we estimate the 2013 revenue passengers to be 36,490,346 – down more than 800,000 from 2012. (You can see the estimated figure in context in the graph below.)

UPDATE: Jackie Janz, the chief marketing and communications officer for Milwaukee County Transit System, confirms that the number of revenue passengers on MCTS in 2013 was 36,451,283 – about 40,000 less than our estimate.

MCTS reached its highest point in 1990 with more than 56 million revenue passengers. In 1999, the system peaked again at 54 million. Funding cuts began the next year, and the system has lost nearly 20 million revenue passengers since that point. You can read more about the history of public transit in Milwaukee in our “End of the Line” feature story from November 2013.

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