Public Policy Forum Blog

New mobile app being developed for Milwaukee County Transit System

Ride MCTS, a new mobile application expected to be made available by the end of the year, was previewed at Milwaukee County’s Transportation, Public Works, and Transit Committee last week. The free app will allow users to plan trips, access real-time bus arrival information, and purchase electronic tickets using a smart phone, which will add a convenient option for transit riders on the go.

The introduction of an official MCTS mobile app is an exciting development and is something the Public Policy Forum recommended earlier this year in our Last Mile report. Benefits provided by the new app include the following:

  • Rather than using three separate websites for trip planning (currently Google Maps), bus tracking (MCTS Real-Time), and ticket purchasing (MCard Online), users will be able to use the mobile app for all three functions.
  • Tickets will be available through the app at $2 for a single ride (with a 90-minute transfer) and $5 for a 24-hour pass, which is the same as current prices through the MCard. Users also will be able to purchase and save as many single-ride tickets as they wish for future use.
  • According to MCTS officials, the app is being designed with the potential for integration with other transit systems and ride-hailing services, though initially it will be limited to MCTS bus services. A key recommendation of our Last Mile study was to develop an app that could be integrated with Waukesha Metro Transit services, Ozaukee County’s shared-ride taxi services, the Bublr Bike Share system, and/or other complementary transportation options.

Perhaps the biggest limitations of Ride MCTS, as it is currently planned, is that it will not be connected to the MCard system and users will not be able to purchase monthly passes through the app. Rather, tickets will be activated by users and verified visually by bus drivers using the transit rider’s smart phone. Ideally, these systems (and users’ accounts) would be unified so that transit riders would be able to purchase passes through the app and pay fares using either their smart phone or MCard when boarding buses.

Judging by the range of sophisticated mobile apps that have been produced by transit systems in other U.S. cities, the future potential for Ride MCTS is vast. For example, Chicago’s Ventra app allows users to add value and passes to their electronic Ventra cards, which can be used for CTA ‘L’ trains, Metra commuter trains, bus services, and soon, the Divvy bike share system.

The introduction of an official MCTS mobile app is a welcomed, and frankly, overdue development. We look forward to seeing it roll out and urge County officials to consider ways of enhancing the app over time to make it as powerful and user-friendly as possible.

Joe Peterangelo