Dallas Company Could Soon Run Milwaukee Transit

Sep 18, 2013

Milwaukee County buses on Wisconsin Avenue
Credit d76/Flickr

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will soon take up a proposed contract with MV Transportation to run the county’s transit system. 

The Dallas-based company emerged as the winning bidder, though little has been publicly disclosed about the process.

If the deal is finalized, the for-profit company would replace the non-profit Milwaukee Transport Services, which has operated the transit system since 1975.

"With us you would see a much cleaner, a safer and a lot more service," says MV Transportation CEO Carter Pate.

But he knows his company will have to "over-deliver" on what it promises to satisfy Milwaukeeans.

"This is all about the passengers and the citizens here; they want the biggest bang for their taxpayer bucks," he says. "In the free market, you have to be best of class in order to continue winning, and you don't get to stay if you're not delivering tremendous service."

Pate says his company is already studying the existing system, riding the buses, measuring weight times and looking for deficiencies in the current routes and schedules.

"We've got to have more hours in the evenings," Pate says. "Not everybody works a first shift or a 9-5 job, and I think we have to take a long, hard look, 'Is this service really delivering the power to the people that need it the most to get the work or go home or going to events?'"

Matching up bus routes with other forms of transportation, like rail into Chicago, is another goal. He says it also wants to ensure people know Milwaukee's transit system is safe.

"Safety is huge with us, not only for the passengers as well as the drivers. We think that actually helps increase ridership when people view that as a safe haven to get to work, come home from work."

The company will also be looking into applying apps to the route system, so riders can get real-time information from their phones or tablets.

Pate says MV Transportation has worked in Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City, and is currently fixing Detroit's transit system. In Orange County, where it runs 720 buses compared with Milwaukee's about 400, Pate says the company found $40 million in savings.

"Milwaukee is a tremendous city to be fortunate enough to try to have them consider us, but I'm optimistic we can do a terrific job here," he says.

Of course, the Milwaukee County board of supervisors will have to approve the bid first. Pate says it will be up to the county to release details about the contract.

"This seems to be a case in which they wanted to try to negotiate with us in private on the contract without having stones through in from the outside, or perhaps a losing bidder saying, 'We were willing to do this,'" he says.

While Pate acknowledges people are skeptical of change, he says he will be listening to the community, the riders and the drivers and be "straight up" about what may change.