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Getting to Work: Opportunities and obstacles to improving transit service to suburban Milwaukee job hubs

In recent years, the divergence between where workers live in the Milwaukee area and where jobs are located – also known as the “spatial mismatch” – has been well documented, particularly in the context of declining public transportation services in the region. It is difficult or impossible to get to jobs in many suburban areas without an automobile, a problem that has been exacerbated over the past decade as the severe fiscal challenges facing the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) have produced a series of cuts in service. In fact, those cuts have resulted in a 22% decline in total annual bus miles between 2000 and 2012 and have caused tens of thousands of jobs to become inaccessible via public transportation.
This report takes a fresh look at workforce mobility in metro Milwaukee by reconsidering the options that may exist to improve access to suburban job centers for those who cannot afford an automobile, or who otherwise cannot or opt not to use one. Our focus is on the four-county Milwaukee metropolitan statistical area, defined as Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Waukesha, and Washington counties. In exploring this topic, we acknowledge that the relocation of jobs to Milwaukee’s suburbs that has occurred during the past several decades is problematic on many levels, and that an ideal solution would be to encourage job growth in areas that already are well-served by transit. That is a long-term solution, however, and in the meantime there is merit in re-exploring potential transportation strategies that will better connect those seeking employment with areas where jobs currently are available.

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