UW-Madison considers bus pass fees to close transportation budget deficit

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From an article by Deborah Ziff in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Possible changes to UW-Madison's parking and transportation services — including a proposal to charge UW-Madison's 20,000 employees to ride the bus — could have far-reaching consequences for the campus and city.

About one year into the job, UW-Madison transportation director Patrick Kass announced this spring that he needs to make drastic changes or else raise parking rates considerably in order to cover an annual budget deficit of roughly $1 million.

One proposal is to begin charging UW-Madison employees between $50 and $150 per year for city bus passes, which have been free for the past seven years. That's because the university, which spends about $1.5 million per year on employee bus fare, is facing an expected 21 percent cost increase from Metro Transit.

Even with the new fee, taking the bus would still be less expensive than parking on campus. But some worry that charging for bus passes will remove the incentive to ride the bus, considered more environmentally friendly than driving.

"I think it's one of the nicer perks," said Mike Olson, who either takes the bus, bikes or drives to campus from his home on the East Side. "If I don't have to pay, it's encouraging me to take the bus...If I had to pay for the bus, maybe more often than not, I wouldn't take it."

It could also have serious implications for Metro Transit. Employees and students at UW-Madison and its affiliates make up roughly 50 percent of the city's bus ridership. If UW-Madison employees must begin paying, the city bus system could lose customers.

New buildings bring debt increase
The building boom on campus is partly to blame for the transportation department's predicament. As the university puts new buildings on surface parking lots, the transportation department must build expensive parking ramps in order to maintain its 13,000 parking spaces on campus, Kass said.