First of all, we love Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS). Taking the bus instead of driving is the best. More people should do it! Still, it’s hard to be an MCTS cheerleader these days. First there was the bizarre mask requirement flip-flop. Then there was the unceremonious ejection of the dedicated Brewers line to American Family Field. And then there’s the new app.

Oh god, the new app.

For years, MCTS riders enjoyed a slick little app called Ride MCTS. The app allowed you to track buses in real time, and buy tickets using Apple Pay. Wait for your bus, activate your ticket, and hold your phone up to the driver so they could see a little animation proving you payed your fare. That was it. It was great.

Then, in February 2022, MCTS announced it would be “modernizing” its fare collection system by switching to a new app called WisGo, powered by a national app called Umo. Things like “seamless regional connectivity,” “improved transportation equity,” and fare-capping were promised. Oh, and the thing would work with Bublr bikes and those darn scooters (if they ever return). The switch, MCTS said, would happen this fall.

But the switch happened a few months early. Just last week, MCTS discontinued its Ride MCTS app and announced the Umo app was the only way to go. The new service…hasn’t been great. Beyond a cluttered, confusing, and clearly “one-size-fits-all” approach, the new app apparently doesn’t have real-time bus tracking. Tickets activate immediately, meaning you can’t buy them ahead of time and save them for future use. Apple Pay integration is gone. The thing wants to send you notifications and track your location every 10 seconds. Frankly, it sucks. And MCTS knows it.

On Tuesday (at 5 p.m., lol), MCTS issued a “message to our riders about the Umo app.” Half apology and half explanation, the message goes into detail about the new app’s rushed rollout. (Long story short: the old app was being discontinued sooner than expected.) It also addresses the app’s missing features, and promises that many (but not all) of them will be back in the fall. Here’s the full message:

Dear Riders,

With projects like MCTS NEXT and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), MCTS has been working hard to bring a new focus on the value of transit in our community and welcome a new generation of transit riders to the ease and convenience of taking the bus. Our hope for our passengers with the BRT is an improved transit service thanks to the utilization of all-electric buses. And with the new BRT comes the need to modernize MCTS’s fare collection system.

The search for a new fare collection system began in May 2021. After meeting with several transportation solutions companies during our RFP process, a dedicated panel of MCTS and County staff reviewed RFP submissions, listened to presentations, and participated in technology demonstrations to select the best value for you, our riders. We announced that we selected the Umo Mobility Platform by Cubic Systems in February 2022. Next, we named our entire new system WisGo – a comprehensive mobility platform. Our vision is that WisGo will be the singular mobility travel platform for Milwaukee County and the region. While an app is the first step in a long journey, we are excited the complete WisGo fare collection system will go live later this year.

So, why did we launch the Umo App™ so early? In late February, we were informed that our current app vendor, the creator of the Ride MCTS app, was leaving the market and the RideMCTS app would no longer be supported. This was nine months before the Umo App would be tested and ready for our riders.

Rather than wait until the full rollout in fall, and with no app for riders in the meantime, we decided to provide our riders with a temporary solution and did so within a matter of weeks! The result was that we launched a scaled-down version of the Umo App. We want you to know that a partial version was never our intent, and we apologize for any inconvenience it has caused, but it was important to us to provide our riders with a mobile solution because we know many of you rely on the app to plan your trips, track your bus, and pay your fare.

As of today, all of the key features are functioning properly (yes, you can track your bus live now!). We know the app rollout was rushed, and it certainly wasn’t perfect. We truly value all the feedback you’ve given us because the Umo development team was able to incorporate some of your suggestions right away such as the live bus tracking map. With the full rollout of the new fare collection coming this fall, MCTS will add even more great features including digital touchless on-bus validators, more in-app payment options, and connections to all the ways our riders travel our region: bus, bike, streetcar, and rideshare services.

For now, please note these changes to fares purchased via the app:

• The 105-minute pass and 24-hour pass will activate immediately. (Note the previous 90-minute pass was extended to 105-minutes to allow for immediate activation.) So please wait to purchase your fare until you are ready to board the bus. Many of you have asked about this, and please note that stored value will return to the app in the fall with the full rollout.

• There will be more ways to pay in the fall. For now, pay your fare with the Umo App by loading a credit card or debit card to your account.

• If you have an unused balance on the previous app, contact MCTS Customer Service at 414-937-3218 (Voice) or 711 (TRS) to transfer the remaining balance to an M-Card.

Leading up to the full rollout in the fall, we’ll have lots of advertising, communications, and events to educate riders about what’s next with account-based SMART cards that will eventually replace the M-Card. For now, riders can still use their M-Cards and pay by cash. There will be plenty of transition time built into the timeline, so riders are comfortable with the new system before any big changes take place.

To conclude this long explanation, we want to thank you for your patience. And thank you for the 13,000 app downloads to date! We value your continued support of public transit. We want you to know that these temporary inconveniences will get resolved with the rollout of WisGo this fall.

Your MCTS Team

The Umo app is currently enjoying a 1.6 star rating on the App Store. The clearly fake five-star reviews are hilarious. Here’s one of them:

Adjusting But Great App, Very Intuitive!

Great developers, I can tell this was a collaboration of great minds coming together. I love and rely on Public Transportation. It has been a part of my Transformation as a Human Being, it is important to slow down and connect with people of all races, creeds, and religions in different ways.

And what better way than crossing paths in our journey to our destination. The Joy is not getting there it is who you meet along the way!

Great Job to Everyone Involved in this Apps Conception, Development, Implementation and Deployment!

We still can’t figure out how to track our bus. We still love MCTS.

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No more mask requirement for MCTS buses (UPDATE: Oops, masks are required again)