City Council OKs bus fare increase

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From a story by Kristin Czubkowski in The Capital Times:

The Madison City Council finished the entire city budget a day ahead of schedule, passing its 2009 operating budget -- which included funding for a Madison Metro bus fare increase -- just after 2 a.m. Thursday. . . .

The council debated 45 amendments put forth by council members Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the most controversial being an effort to keep Madison Metro bus fares at their same prices that received widespread support at Wednesday's public hearing on the budget.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz included plans for a fare increase in his operating budget that would translate to $2 instead of $1.50 for cash fares, with other multi-ride and discounted fares adjusted proportionally. These increases were paired with service enhancements for Metro, including route expansions, transfer point security, a new marketing position for Metro, and doubling the funding in the city's Transfer for Jobs program for low-income bus riders.

While the city's quasi-independent Transit and Parking Commission will make the final decision on whether fares are changed in coming weeks, the city budgeting for an increase in fare revenues -- estimated at $682,000 -- was controversial among City Council members.

The council eventually voted 12-8 in favor of the mayor's plan for Metro, with one amendment that would move funds from the free bus ride program on Clean Air Action days to the Metro reserves, request a report on how the fare increase has affected ridership and work to find additional ways beyond Transit for Jobs to help low-income riders.

Two critics of the potential fare increase, Ald. Brian Solomon and Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, drafted an amendment that was never voted on. It would have kept fares the same while maintaining many of the service enhancements proposed by the mayor, resulting in a $242,000 impact on the tax levy.

Solomon criticized the process for determining how much money a fare increase would result in, saying the decreased ridership from riders either choosing not to or being no longer able to afford the bus could completely offset any revenue enhancements.