Madison Metro won't raise bus fares

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

From an article by Kristin Czubkowski in The Capital Times:

In a somewhat surprising move, the city's Transit and Parking Commission voted 7-2 to reject a bus fare increase for Madison Metro Wednesday night, citing a lack of information on what a 50-cent increase would do to ridership as well as fears about the long-term health of the Metro system.

The fare increase, which would have raised adult cash fares from $1.50 to $2 and other discount and multiride fares proportionally, was championed by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and accounted for in the 2009 operating budget passed by the City Council last month.

Transit and Parking Commission members questioned in particular the $682,000 projected revenue Metro budget analysts said would result from a fare increase. Metro uses its own formula for analyzing the effect of fare increases on ridership but has not until recently been able to separate the unlimited ride passes, such as those given to University of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison Area Technical College students, from single and multiride passes.

Unlimited ride passes have consistently increased Metro bus ridership in recent years but have also been criticized for masking declines in other forms of ridership. Metro has begun to track the different forms of ridership in the last three years, but there has not been a fare increase since to study the effects of an increase on ridership.

Ald. Brian Solomon, who led the move to reject the fare increase, cited in particular numbers from a four-year American Public Transportation Association study of more than 50 bus systems that suggested revenues might not be as high as predicted by Madison Metro employees. Using the APTA formula, he said revenues could be about half of what Metro projected, leaving the system to deal with service cuts even with the fare increase.

"My point here is not to say that Metro's numbers are wrong," Solomon said. "My point is to show that we have a very highly regarded study that shows a different conclusion, and we have other current studies that show other different conclusions, some of which are even less conservative than this. I took the most conservative one I could find."

Metro manager Chuck Kamp and proponents of the bus fare increase questioned the applicability of the APTA study to Madison Metro, however, which consistently performed differently from metro systems in cities close to Madison's size.