FlexRide Milwaukee strives to break down barriers to transportation

By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories about fifteen neighborhoods in the city of Milwaukee. To visit milwaukeenns.org.

“Transport insecurity is a huge problem,” says Dave Steele. “If you don’t have a car in Milwaukee, that means the majority of jobs, including the higher paying ones, are out of your reach.” (Photo courtesy of FlexRide Milwaukee)

To go from point A to point B, the simplest path is a straight line. But the straight line is not always possible, especially when the main mode of transport is the bus.

A new pilot program, FlexRide Milwaukee, hopes to bridge the transportation gap between employees and their workplaces. FlexRide Milwaukee is a transportation service that provides rides for people who work for employers located in Menomonee Falls and Butler. It was launched in early February.

“It’s like Uber or Lyft, but more efficient and less expensive,” Lingqian Hu said. “We want to fill the transportation gap in our region. FlexRide Milwaukee will serve people crossing borders from Milwaukee County to Waukesha County.

Hu is a faculty member in the Department of Urban Planning at UW-Milwaukee. She is part of the research team that helped plan and implement FlexRide Milwaukee.

UW-Milwaukee and the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission received a $50,000 planning grant from the National Science Foundation in January 2021. Through this grant, the research team conducted surveys on the transportation gap with potential users of the service and with employers.

In the fall of 2021, the team received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation through its Civic Innovation Challenge grant program.

“It’s totally driven by the potential users of our services,” Hu said. “I believe we got funding because we embraced a transformative planning process. »

FlexRide has five locations in Milwaukee, Menomonee Falls and Butler where users can request rides. Many of them are on the main bus lines. (Photo courtesy of FlexRide Milwaukee)

Closing the transportation gap

“Transport insecurity is a huge problem,” said Dave Steele, executive director of MobiliSE. “If you don’t have a car in Milwaukee, that means the majority of jobs, including the higher paying ones, are out of your reach.”

mobilize was formed in 2015 through the Regional Transit Leadership Council. He advocates for improved transportation options in southeastern Wisconsin.

Steele added: “The goal is to reduce the time spent moving around; increase the level of comfort; (and) the level of security. Because it’s basically at the front door of the business, it means the cyclist won’t have to travel long distances.

Safety is the No. 1 concern, he said.

Chytania Brown is President and CEO of Employment Milwaukee. The association is a partner in the project; he helped lead the investigation and now connects employees to the service.

Brown explained that the buses only go so far, but Jobs can be about a mile away. In the summer it’s not that bad, but in the winter it can be brutal, she said, especially when it’s dark outside and the neighborhood lacks sidewalks.

She noted that employees can be scared, especially people of color if they work in a predominantly white area.

“Some of the bullying and stuff you can go through sometimes isn’t even worth the work,” she said. “Work couldn’t pay enough to endure these challenges when you have the last mile.”

If people don’t live it, they might not understand it, she said. FlexRide provides a safer option as employees are driven directly to or near the door.

Milwaukee is going off the beaten path with FlexRide, Brown said. She sees the service as an additional resource for people looking for opportunities.

Most FlexRide vehicles are personal vehicles such as minivans, but a shuttle is currently in use, Steele said. The service is similar to Uber, but the biggest difference is that drivers are paid by the hour and on call during certain hours, he said.

Kevin Muhs, executive director of the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, said that in speaking with potential users of the app, the research team learned that travel time is more important than the service cost. Users wanted to make sure they got to work or home quickly and on time, he said. The commission helped UW-Milwaukee conduct investigations.

This information influenced the location of three pick-up points located around the city and caused the points to be located at bus stops on the Milwaukee County Transit System.

“Much of the job growth that has occurred in our region over the past 20 or so years has occurred in suburbs outside of Milwaukee,” Muhs said. “This service aims to extend the same kind of access that people get with the bus system to business parks.”

In the initial planning phase, potential users and employers helped design the service. (Photo courtesy of FlexRide Milwaukee

Continuous research

For the duration of the pilot program, Hu and his team will continue to conduct surveys. They will examine how this can improve the employment status and retention rate of businesses located in Menomonee Falls and Butler and assess environmental outcomes and social equity aspects.

“We want to see if our approach can solve the institutional barriers,” she said, explaining that while many counties have transit systems, they lack the capacity to provide transit services. at the regional level.

“The long-term goal is to provide equal access to opportunities for people who live in segregated neighborhoods,” Hu said. “I believe that equal access to these opportunities is essential for people to realize their potential.”

Ultimately, the organizers want to secure funding to sustain and grow the project, Hu said.

“Owning a car is a huge hurdle for people in Milwaukee,” Hu said. “More transportation options in the region are good for economic growth and community development. Reducing this barrier to participation in the economy is huge.

How it works?

FlexRide Milwaukee is a smartphone application. Those interested in FlexRide must register to use the app. Once approved, they will receive an access code.

The application is available for download on the App Store or Google Play Store. Individuals can download the app and create an account. To order a ride, the user must enter the pick-up and drop-off locations and the app will take care of the rest.

If a user does not have a smartphone, he can dial 414-667-7433 to request a ride.

Rides are available from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. Individuals can request a ride from any of five stops: Sherman Phoenix, 3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave.; Midtown Center, 5700 W. Capitol Drive; Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, 5460 N. 64th St.; and Silver Spring Drive/Lovers Lane and Woodman’s/Sam’s Club, Hwy 145.

Rides to and from the Woodman/Sam’s Club and Silver Spring/Lovers Lane stops are currently free. Other stops cost $1.50 one way. This price will eventually increase to $3.

Employers interested in joining the pilot can email Eric Lynde at [email protected]

More information about FlexRide Milwaukee can be found online. Click here or visit www.flexridemke.com.

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