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Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 30, 2023 with additional information related to bus fare changes.
Milwaukee County is modernizing its bus fare collection system, aiming to make transit equitable for residents.
Bus riders can pay for their fares through WisGo, a new fare collection system, starting Saturday, April 1.
Everyone with a plastic WisGo card or the Umo mobile app will ride for free after reaching daily, weekly and monthly caps. Riders currently paying with an M-card have through the end of September to transition to the new system.
Milwaukee County leaders gathered on Wednesday to announce the launch of WisGo and its partnership with Waukesha County, which is joining the fare collection system. Leaders touted a system that’s equitable for riders and predicted it would help return ridership to pre-pandemic levels.
“Historically, only those who could afford to pre-purchase discount passes to ride the bus got the best value. But with WisGo, these inequities are being addressed through fare capping. Now, everyone pays the same rates no matter how many times they ride,” County Supervisor Priscilla Coggs-Jones said in a news release.
Milwaukee County, like public transit systems across Wisconsin, has faced a years-long slide in ridership and revenue that only worsened as remote work options expanded during the pandemic. While Milwaukee County ridership is recovering from the lowest pandemic-era numbers, it’s still lagging behind its earlier status.
The new fare collection system is powered through the Umo Mobility platform and is used around the world in places such as New York and London.
The technology has made transit in those cities easier to navigate as ridership recovers from the pandemic levels, said Bonnie Crawford, Umo’s vice president and general manager.
“People expect technology. We’re used to connecting to technology in all of the ways that we engage in our neighborhoods, whether that’s paying for your coffee or buying your groceries, and this is really that next step for Milwaukee County and the region,” Crawford said.
Riders can scan their phone or WisGo card on tap-and-go validators onboard buses, which will determine how many times a rider has paid a fare and automatically deduct the lowest amount owed. The validator will also tell riders if their fund balance is low.
Riders will also be able to use WisGo cards and the Umo app on Waukesha Metro Transit buses. Waukesha County is the first to join the regional fare system.
“Transit is something that’s extremely important for a big segment of our population. It gets a lot of people to work; gets them to the doctor; it gets them to the grocery store; and without it, I don’t know how we would really function,” said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly, adding that the two counties aim to make transit efficient.
Under WisGo, riders will immediately see lower costs.
The regular fare — for ages 12 to 64 — will be $2 per ride, down from $2.25. Under WisGo, it will be capped at $4 per day, $19.50 per week and $72 per month.
The reduced fare — for ages 6 to 11, 65 and older and those with qualifying disabilities — will be $1 per ride, down from $1.10. It will cap at $2 per day, $11 per week and $32 per month under WisGo. Learn more about reduced fares here.
M-Card or cash riders will continue paying regular per-ride fares of $2.25 or reduced fares of $1.10 until the transition period ends Sept. 30. After that, the cash fare will drop to $2 per ride or $1 under the reduced fare.
“The way that you’re going to get riders on board is to ensure that no rider is left behind, and that’s really a commitment we have here in Wisconsin and throughout the world,” Crawford said.
The Umo Mobility app will replace the RideMCTS app. The app connects to other modes of transportation like Uber and provides real-time tracking of Milwaukee County and Waukesha County buses. It accepts credit and debit cards, along with Apple Pay, Google Pay and WisGo cards.
The WisGo card is an alternative to the Umo app and will replace the M-Card. The cards will be sold and available for reloading at nearly 100 locations, such as supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores.
M-Card users can exchange cards for a free WisGo card from April 1 through June 30. After that, the card will cost $2. Reduced fare riders will receive a WisGo card in the mail. Riders with Commuter Value Passes and U-Passes are automatically enrolled in WisGo.
Riders will not be able to store value on the M-Card starting Aug. 31, and the Milwaukee County Transit System will stop accepting the card on Sept. 30. MCTS CONNECT, Milwaukee County’s bus rapid transit service that launches June 4, will not accept M-Cards.
Riders can still pay with cash on all bus routes, but those paying cash will not qualify for fare caps.
Regular fare replacement for WisGo cards will cost $2, and reduced fare replacement cards will cost $5.
Ambassadors will assist riders with downloading the Umo app or getting a WisGo card.
For more information
Virtual and in-person sessions explaining the program are slated for April 6, April 22 and April 28. You can sign up at RideMCTS.com/Community.
You can also visit the following resources for information on WisGo:
RideMCTS.com/WisGo: Timeline and overview of WisGo
RideMCTS.com/UmoApp: How to download the Umo app
RideMCTS.com/WisGoLocations: Where to pick up a free WisGo card through June 30
RideMCTS.com/TopThingstoKnowAboutWisGo: Quick tips
RideMCTS.com/ReducedFare: For minors, seniors, and persons with a disability
RideMCTS.com/TPReducedFare: For Transit Plus riders who use the bus
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