MILWAUKEE — Every week day on the corner of 52nd and Capitol, Richard Ellis waits for his ride to work.
Ellis just moved to Milwaukee about a month ago from Chicago and he said initially, he was a little concerned about getting to his new job in Butler, Wis.
"It came at a very timely time. I just received an offer letter from Cargill Meat and I was inquiring about a ride to work, since Butler is out of the bus range of Milwaukee," said Ellis.
But Ellis doesn’t have to worry about a ride since he started using FlexRide - a new program that launched in Milwaukee about a few months ago, connecting residents to job opportunities in Menomonee Falls and Butler.
"Menomonee Falls and Butler were previously served by bus routes. Those were temporarily funded, and when the funding went out, the bus routes went away," explained Eric Lynde of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. "They were job lines routes and because of that, a lot of employees lost their jobs when they weren't able to get to their jobs anymore. So we are trying to fill that. We know that serving some of these areas with a bus is inefficient."
The pilot program is backed by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission conducting research into how different modes of transportation can create new employment opportunities.
"As we have seen from several of our riders from the beginning, they have been able to get jobs and keep jobs and be arriving on time. And that’s one of the things through the research we are going to be investigating, how many people do take advantage of this system and do they ultimately have a better experience for transportation because of it," said Robert Schneider with UW-Milwaukee.
For Ellis, the bus service stops about a mile before his job.
"The bus stops at 24th and Hampton, and you have to walk 8-10 blocks," said Ellis.
However, through FlexRide, he's dropped off right at the door. It’s essentially very similar to ordering an Uber or Lyft. Residents can get picked up at any corner in designated zones. A ride to Zone 1 is free and Zone 2 cost $1.50 per one way.
The goal is to connect people with new opportunities, and for Ellis, he credits FlexRide as the reason why he was able to save up money and recently purchase a new vehicle.
"Without FlexRide, I wouldn't have been able to access the job. Without the job, I wouldn't have been able to access the check and I wouldn't be able to buy a new car," he said.
The study runs until November, and based on the findings from UW-Milwaukee, they will report to other communities to see if flexible transportation is a viable option.
Schneider said if this program is successful, they are looking to expand it to other areas.
As of right now, FlexRide is trying to get its ridership up to about 150 users. Right now about 30 people are using the app.