The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is set to join major metros around the world when it introduces riders to fare capping this spring.

MCTS’s new fare collection system, called WisGo, caps bus fares. Fare capping does the math for riders because each validator on the BRT route or on buses reads the card or app and knows immediately how many times each person has paid a fare to ride the bus. WisGo will automatically deduct the lowest amount the rider owes. Gone are the daily, weekly, or monthly passes previously required to earn that discount.

In August, Visa’s Julie Scharff wrote a piece in METRO on the benefits of fare capping, which included being ideally suited for increasingly mixed workforce needs, which include people who have shifted to hybrid working and have irregular commute schedules, those who are transitioning back to consistent commutes, and essential workers whose commutes never drastically changed.

“Fare capping offers every customer the most flexibility and value. If a rider needs to commute daily one week, fare capping means they won’t spend more than they would have with a weekly pass. Conversely, there’s no missed value on lighter travel weeks,” said Scharff.

Fare capping also bring a more equitable riding experience through an open-loop payment system that can help get all riders to their destinations without undue financial stress and relieves customers from having to commit a substantial sum upfront for a transit-specific pass.

MCTS’s new automated fare payment system is operated through Cubic, and includes the Umo mobile app. Bonnie Crawford, VP/GM of Umo, said: “Our partnership with MCTS gives riders a more equitable travel experience and we are proud to be part of the evolution of mobility in Milwaukee.”

The rollout happens in two phases: full Umo mobile app features start in March. Then, the WisGo system goes live in April. Riders will have through September to make the switch from the current M-Card system to WisGo.

“Milwaukee County deserves what transit-savvy cities around the globe offer: a flexible, easy-to-use fare collection system. With WisGo’s account-based system, riders get access to the best price through fare capping, a simpler fare structure, and the convenience of multiple ways to pay,” said Interim Managing Director Denise Wandke. “We are always looking at ways to enhance the rider experience and introducing Milwaukee to a more regional and national travel planning system is not only going to do that but make it easier for new riders to try public transit.”


A Simpler Way to Ride the Bus

The new fare structure is simple: $2 per ride for regular fare riders that caps at $4 per day; and $1 per ride for reduced fare riders (seniors, kids ages 6-11, and those with a qualifying disability) with a cap of $2 per day.

Riders will have multiple ways to pay including the Umo mobile app, which takes credit cards and debit cards along with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and WisGo cards. Riders simply scan their mobile phone screen or WisGo card and the validator will automatically deduct the correct fare amount for each rider. If a rider reaches a fare cap, the validator will not deduct a fare. It will also tell riders if their fund balance is low. 

Riders can still pay with cash across all routes, but they will not be able to have fares capped. Riders with Commuter Value Passes and U-Passes will automatically be enrolled in WisGo. The transition is set to happen behind the scenes.

Throughout the transition period, riders can still use their M-Cards on existing fare boxes but are strongly encouraged to use up their M-Card balances as soon as possible because the new BRT line, MCTS CONNECT, will not accept M-Cards.

WisGo 2023 Timeline
March: Validators are available on buses for Umo mobile app users starting in early March. The Umo app’s full functionality means that the temporary 105-minute and all-day fare options will be removed as riders can now store value on the app. All users will be able to enjoy fare capping through the app.
April: The new fare structure fully launches in April. Validators will take WisGo cards, in addition to the Umo app. Riders can purchase WisGo cards in April at nearly 100 locations or reload existing WisGo cards at over 100 local retailers — including supermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience stores such as Walgreens, Speedway, and Dollar General. Some retail locations do both. M-Card users can turn in their cards for a free WisGo card April through June. WisGo Bus Ambassadors will help riders download the app or get a WisGo card at key locales around the county. Reduced fare riders will receive their new WisGo cards via mail.
May: Riders have another month before the BRT launches, to switch to the new WisGo system. New cards are free until June 30. Afterwards, regular fare WisGo cards cost $2.
June: MCTS CONNECT BRT service starts on June 4. Riders pay their fare before boarding and then enter through either the front or back doors of the bus.    
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