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Milwaukee Transport Services chooses Denise Wandke as president, managing director

Denise Wandke.

Milwaukee County Department of Transportation Director Donna Martin-Brown announced Friday the appointment of Denise Wandke as president and managing director of Milwaukee Transport Services Inc., which operates the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS).

“Denise Wandke has risen to the many challenges facing public transit. She successfully led negotiations for a new bus operator contract, has effectively collaborated with the County Board and is currently navigating the fiscal budget crisis. I am pleased that Denise has accepted this opportunity because she is the best person to be at the helm in this moment,” Brown-Martin said in a statement.

Wandke oversaw close to 16 million rides across 18 municipalities throughout Milwaukee County in her former role as president and interim managing director of MCTS last year, MCTS officials said. In her 30-year career at MCTS, she’s held leadership positions in nearly every mission-critical part of operations, rising from bus operator to instructor, route supervisor, dispatcher, and station manager. As the director of transportation at MCTS, she led a team that included more than 800 bus operators, route supervisors, transit security officers, dispatchers, trainers, and station supervisors and support staff. She became the first woman to serve as deputy director of MCTS in the 50-year history of the organization, officials added.

Wandke will collaborate with Milwaukee County leadership such as the county executive, county Board of Supervisors and the director of the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation and local and state elected officials, MCTS officials said. She will oversee public transit go through modernization with a new regional fair collection system called WisGO and the launch of MCTS, Wisconsin’s first Bus Rapid Transit line. She is advocating for a long-term funding solution to public transit’s fiscal cliff, a $26.5 million budget shortfall in 2025, a cut that could reduce service for half of all routes in the system, MCTS officials added.

“I have the utmost confidence in the appointment of Denise Wandke as president and managing director of MCTS. Denise’s experience and leadership within MCTS spans three decades, and she’s worked in some of the most important positions related to transit operations. Her experience comes with an innate ability to understand how to lead a public transit organization to meet the needs of a diverse, ever-changing community while directing and inspiring an engaged workforce. Milwaukee County is lucky to have her on our team,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said in a statement.

Wandke first joined the company as a bus operator in 1994. Throughout her career, her focus has always been on MCTS Excellence – how bus operators go above and beyond to take care of riders, MCTS officials said. She is recognized for initiating new programs that boost the well-being of bus drivers, starting with the Operator Reconnect Program, the Operator Mentoring Program, and her efforts to earn a $1 million grant for the Red Kite Program, all designed to help drivers cope with the mental health, poverty and crime issues they observe in their vital role as the eyes and ears of the Milwaukee County community, MCTS officials noted.

Wandke is a member of the American Public Transportation Association and Wisconsin Public Transportation Association, MCTS officials said. She is a lifelong resident of Milwaukee County.

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