Public Policy Forum Blog

Searching for solutions to the “last mile” transportation problem

An article published in the Boston Globe over the weekend discusses an ongoing challenge for many Boston residents who work in the suburbs: a lack of transportation options to make it the final distance from the nearest transit stop to their suburban job sites. A recent economic development summit in Boston’s western suburbs focused on generating ideas to address this problem, from new bus services to partnerships with ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Of course, the “last mile” problem is not unique to Boston. As we illustrated in our 2013 report, Getting to Work, it is one of several major barriers limiting the transportation options of Milwaukee workers and jobseekers attempting to access suburban jobs. The low-density development patterns in Milwaukee’s suburbs mean job sites are highly dispersed and difficult to serve efficiently with fixed-route transit services. (Other significant challenges we highlighted in Getting to Work include the limited number of bus routes that cross county borders; and the total absence of rapid transit services in the region.)

In fact, one thing that struck us from the Boston Globe article is that even metro areas with robust transit systems, like Boston, are struggling to address this problem. Anecdotally, we understand Milwaukee area leaders are beginning to engage on this issue too, including government officials in Waukesha County who are responding to concerns raised by area business leaders.

Here at the Forum, we are interested in studying the “last mile” problem more deeply and are tentatively planning to produce a report on the topic by the end of this year. That research would analyze strategies being utilized across the country and seek promising solutions for Milwaukee area leaders to consider. 

Joe Peterangelo