Peak Oil Group opposes Madison bus fare increase

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A statement from the Madison Peak Oil Group delivered to the City of Madison Parking and Transportation Commission on January 13, 2009:

Madison Peak Oil Group
222 S. Hamilton St., Madison, WI 53703


The Madison Peak Oil group opposes the proposed Madison bus fare increase based on considerations of national energy policy and our community viability. Seemingly small issues like bus fares could well prove crucial in shaping our future locally and nationally.

The Madison Peak Oil Group was formed to educate the public about the limits of fossil fuel resources and the implications of this limitation for our society. It is well established that oil production in the U.S. has been inexorably declining since its peak in 1974. A consensus of responsible experts expects that world oil production will peak somewhere between the present moment and no later than the 2020s. The spike in gas prices last summer gave us a vision of the world to come. The sharpest economic collapse since the 1930s has only postponed this reality. It is inevitable that prices will soar again as the world's insatiable appetite oil-based transportation fuels collides with the difficulties of expanding world oil production. Without substantial energy conservation, we are guaranteed punishingly high fuel prices, the risk of supply shortages—not to mention the potentially disastrous effects of global warming.

Here in the Madison area, what President Bush called our "addiction to oil" manifests itself in our ingrained preference for car driving, and development patterns structured for oil-dependent, inefficient, environmentally-destructive cars. The bus fare issue is the key to ensuring full utilization of transportation alternatives and receiving full economic benefit from the investment.

Transit riders should be considered a valued resource to avoid added demand for roadway capacity and parking. Since the vehicle occupancy rate for people commuting to jobs is only 1.1 persons per car, every person riding the bus reduces road congestion and parking demand by 0.9 vehicles. Without a thriving transit system, automobile congestion would overwhelm the grid. Moreover, reducing traffic through increased bus ridership could help Madison end its current violation of air pollution standards. Everyone--particularly motorists--benefits from mass transit, and it should be supported as a key public service like police, fire, and sanitation.

In this context, we oppose the fare increase to $2.00 not only for its negative effect on low and moderate income people, but for the threat it poses to current ridership. In fact, we need stronger incentives for the economic and environmentally desirable behavior of using the bus. Most of us have become accustomed to the comforts of riding in our warm private cars. Current low gas prices and stagnant parking fees do not diminish the attraction. Neither has the quality of bus service been a draw since it has not significantly improved in the last decade, while patrons have absorbed several rounds of fare increases and route cuts.

Many other medium-sized cities have grasped the importance of affordable bus fares. Of eleven comparable cities which we surveyed, ten had a base fare of $1.50 and one had a fare of $1.75. We understand that Charlotte, North Carolina has adopted a zero-option fare to realize all the benefits of capacity utilization. The proposed fare increase would put Madison ahead or behind these cities depending on your point of view.

Avoiding a fare increase, discouraging car use, and promoting more bus and bike riding are vital objectives for the city. Unfortunately, our outmoded tax system has put the burden of alternative transportation on our city's hard-pressed tax base. This is not a reason to follow the dangerous path of greater dependence on cars and less conservation. We must now set sound local priorities and aggressively pursue more appropriate sources of long term financing such as the state highway fund or the Federal economic stimulus package.

Prepared by David Knuti, Barabara Smith, and Hans Noeldner. January 12, 2009