In Madison, you can bet that if you propose a bus fare increase you’ll have a fight on your hands.

“It’s going to be a tough sell,” says Ald. Chris Schmidt, a member of the Transit and Parking Commission. "It has an impact on people who are using the routes. It has an impact on people who are low-income.”

In his executive budget unveiled Tuesday, Mayor Paul Soglin included a fare increase of 25 cents, which would mean riders would have to dig in their pockets for a quarter in addition to the $2 they pay now. Multi-ride bus passes would go up as well, ranging from a $2.50, or 17-percent, increase for an adult 10-ride card to a $12.50 increase for a senior/disabled 31-day pass, a 45-percent hike.

A complete list of price increases can been viewed here.

As happened three years ago, the last time the city raised bus fares, the proposal will likely generate heated debate.

"That was pretty brutal," says Gary Poulson, chairman of the Transit and Parking Commission, of the battle over the fare increases in 2009.

Soglin's proposal would raise $686,600 in 2013. Of that, $258,000 would be used to expand service. Madison Metro plans to extend service to the Owl Creek neighborhood, a recently developed, largely low-income outlying neighborhood on the city’s southeast side. Metro would also increase service on the popular Route 18 from the south to west transfer points, and Route 2 between the west transfer point and the Capitol Square. The cost of the service improvements, when fully implemented in 2014, would be $435,000.

According to Madison Metro spokesman Mick Rusch, Metro General Manager Chuck Kamp made the request for the hike after Soglin requested budget proposals with 5 percent cuts to help the city weather a drop in state aid and a state-imposed property tax cap.

“Our way of meeting that was this proposed increase in fares,” Rusch says.

Susan De Vos, president of the Madison Area Bus Advocates, spends a lot of time with city transportation officials trying to keep up on things. But she didn’t see this coming.

“This thing came totally out of the blue,” she says.

De Vos says she’s mystified by the proposed hike by a mayor who has made a priority of helping the city’s growing poor population. The increase would most burden hit low-income riders.

“The mayor is doing all these things to try to create neighborhood centers and deal with the fact that Madison is changing, yet doing this is a step backward,” she says. “I just don’t understand it.”

Attempts to get a comment out of the mayor's officer were unsuccessful. 

Three years ago, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz proposed a hotly debated 50-cent hike, which was rejected by the Transit and Parking Commission. By state law, the city needs the commission’s blessing for a fare hike, except under "exceptional circumstances." An exceptional circumstance was provided by citizen, now alder, Lisa Subeck, who crafted a plan to use the fare increase to fund a plan for reduced fares for low-income riders. Subeck appealed the commission's decision and the City Council eventually overrode it and adopted the fare increase, handing Cieslewicz a victory.

Subeck, who did not return calls seeking comment, is now on the Transit and Parking Commission.

The low-income program now provides 300 monthly passes at half-price to people making less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which falls short of the demand, Rusch says.

“We sell out the first week of the month,” he says.

How do riders feel about the proposed fare increase?

“Twenty-five cents isn’t a lot for the service we get,” says Lasha Shaffer, who gets around by bus and approves of boosting service.

“They need as much service as it necessary for the public,” she says.

Ken Thompson recently rode the bus exclusively. Although he now has a car, he still often takes Metro.

“It’s no problem, unless I don’t have that quarter,” he says. “It probably wouldn’t bother me if it would be used to expand the service.”

But not everyone agrees.

Brandon Herrmann is disabled, and while he would still ride, he says, the extra expense would be a burden.

“It would be more expensive for people with disabilities like me,” he says.

Linda Turner would see her senior 31-day pass price rise, which she says she can probably handle. But she isn’t crazy about the fare increase proposal.

“I have income,” she says. “A lot of people out there don’t. It’s not fair to them.”

John Hendrick, a County Board supervisor who also works with the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, says the increase will disproportionally affect seniors on fixed incomes who depend on buses to get around.  

"If you’re taking a bus to work and making a good salary, then 25 cents isn’t much." he says. "But 50 cents round trip -- $180 a year if you take the bus once a day -- it’s a significant amount of money for somebody whose only income is $750 or $1,000 a month."

At this early stage, it’s difficult to say what kind of support the proposal will get from the Transit and Parking Commission.

“My initial reaction to a fare increase is to be very cautious and want to see very strong justification for it,” says Schmidt. “And since we haven’t had the discussion yet I can’t say either way that I’ve seen justification or not.

Poulson, the commission chairman, says bus fare increases are inevitably an emotional issue.

“Whenever we deal with something like a fare increase it’s really difficult for a lot of folks, especially the transit-dependent,” he says. “Twenty-five cents doesn’t sound like much, but I suspect for some folks it could be a pretty big expense if you’re on a really tight budget.”

But he says there is a need for bus service in the Owl Creek neighborhood, where some have complained of having no way to get to their jobs.

"Over the last several months, folks from the Owl Creek neighborhood tell us that they really need the transit service for employment, the kids need it for after-school activities," Poulson says. "So it's needed in that area. But to provide new service you either have to raise revenues, or switch service or reduce service somewhere else.”

He’s leaning in favor of the proposal, but he hasn’t made up his mind yet.

He expects a lively debate when the public weighs in.

“I want to see exactly what the proposal is for additional service, and I want to hear from the public,” he says.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. in Room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Blvd.

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.

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(24) comments

MadisonIke
MadisonIke

One item that has been left out of this comment thread is the fact that the city decided to cancel it's contract with it's bus advertising partner. In 2012 Adams Outdoor payed the city $450,000 for the rights to sell advertisements on the buses. Straight cash flow to the bottom line. I highly doubt the city will even make 25% of that number in 2013. This may have something to do with the increase.

smdevos
smdevos

To the contrary. Metro cancelled the contract because it wanted to receive ALL the income from the advertising rather than giving Adams the lion's share. Metro plans to use some of the extra revenue to hire its own marketing manager, at a salary that was elevated enough to be a contentious item at last month's Transit and Parking Commission meeting. Even if it ends up paying the proposed salary to the new hire, Metro would still net MORE revenue from advertising than in the past.

MadisonIke
MadisonIke

smdevos -- talk to me in 12 months and then tell me the net revenue the city made on selling it's own transit advertising. If it's even 1/2 of what AOA paid them this year it would be a miraculous achievement. You name the bet and I'll take it...I'll even give you 10 to 1 odds.

Mr LaMarr
Mr LaMarr

Hcliff1, I won't argue with you about the drivers base wage, i wouldnt win anyway in your eyes. However overtime is overtime. It is paid out because of vacations and sick call ins. If you don't pay it, the bus doesn't move. The CBA dictates that Senior drivers are offered the OT first. Hence the high yearly wage. It doesn't matter who you offer it to, the bottom line of the budget stays the same. Pick a different argument that makes sense.

PapaLorax
PapaLorax

They have shown hiring permanent replacements would be a better economical choice. Obviously the Senior drivers resist that...and the critical thing about OT isn't even the OT...it's the game that gets played all in an effort to game the pension.

Mr LaMarr
Mr LaMarr

I applaud you Mr Deeks for having extra money to spend. However after suffering many yrs of extreme liberalism such as what you suggest, I no longer have any extra money to pay for the less fortunates well being. And in fact am on the way to being one of the less fortunate if I don't get out of Dane County. I've been taxed out of my ability to remain here.

hcliff1
hcliff1

Stop paying the bus drivers 60 thousand a year or more? Stop the bus drivers from being the highest paid city workers..........free low income passes without ID? Where is the hard hitting news coverage on this? Why doesn't our papers report the b.s. that is going on in this city?

Mr_Deeks
Mr_Deeks

My opinion is a bit different than most. The poorer people in our community depend on the bus system to get to their jobs (as do those seriously concerned about our environment). In deference to those folks required by economic circumstance to use public transportation I would like to see bus fares remain as they are. If extra funds are required to maintain or expand service I would look to parking fee increases or even a small gasoline tax. I would be willing to pay a bit more for the convenience of using my car.

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

I'll say the same thing this time that I did 3 years ago. Busses and cars are in direct competition with each other for commuter business. If you're gonna make it more expensive to take the bus, that'll make it relatively more advantageous to take a car, thereby increasing pollution, congestion, and competition for parking spaces. To keep the playing field level, there should be a proportional increase in parking rates every time there's an increase in bus fares. There's a reason WHY we put both services into the purview of a single Transit and Parking Commission.

PapaLorax
PapaLorax

I am not sure this is true. I would venture a guess that most people who ride the bus to work do so because they don't have a better option.

That said, I would agree with your idea. The bus service is subsidized, why not look at all transportation revenue increases when looking to raise collections for expanding bus service.

Mr LaMarr
Mr LaMarr

Stop giving overture money and leave the bus fares alone. Or better yet, keep the quarter increase and give a little tax relief to the homeowners. EVERYBODY needs to pay their fair share. Not just homeowners. With all the various tax increases I'm seeing yet again, they're twice what my raise was this yr. I'm going to have to sell and move. I can't afford the far lefts spending sprees any longer!

smdevos
smdevos

Renters pay property taxes as well as homeowners. Those taxes are part of their rent. Check out the rent of the comparable units inside and outside Madison.

Patton
Patton

The low income bus pass program was pushed past its monthly enrollment limit after Common Council president, and mayor wannabe, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff extended the program specifically for illegal immigrants. Now, it is not necessary to provide any ID or documentation that you are low-income to get a reduced fare pass.

As a consequence, U.S. citizens with low-incomes can't a pass once they are all given out for the month

So that illegal immigrants wouldn't feel "uncomfortable" asking for a low-fare pass, Bidar-Sielaff made the program operate on the "honor" system. A person only has to self'-certify (say) that their income is sufficiently low to get the pass. The city doesn't ask for ID or verify income. Anyone that wants to scam the system can do so with impunity.

But seniors and students are required to show ID to verify their eligibility for low fare passes.

http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/change-will-make-half-price-bus-passes-easier-to-get/article_524a7de6-232d-11df-87e0-001cc4c002e0.html

ET
ET

Unfortunate, but true. Madison can treat citizens like dirt while courting illegals. Next thing you know illegals will get a discount to go to UW while the rest of us pay their bills.

ET
ET

Those who ride the bus should pay the cost of the bus. Those who don't ride shouldn't subsidize those who do.

PapaLorax
PapaLorax

That is as silly as proposing that someone who doesn't drive a car shouldn't pay the enormous cost of road construction/maintenance.

It is a government service and is subsidized by taxes. They should do a much better job at lowing the cost of running the program...but buses will always be subsidized.

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

This is a test. Please ignore it.

smdevos
smdevos

Automobile drivers do not pay the full cost of their driving either. That's why we have local, state and federal Departments of Transportation that cover all modes of transportation. It is possible to read about the economics of transportation in many places. Here, a good summary statement can be seen at http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=34897.

ObbieZ
ObbieZ

"...Soglin requested budget proposals with 5 percent cuts to help the city weather a drop in state aid and a state-imposed property tax cap."

In other words, the fare hike can be blamed on the policies of Scooter and the right-wing clowns in the legislature. They scream that the rich can't pay more taxes, so instead we hafta charge higher bus fares to the people who can least afford it.

madcitydude
madcitydude

bus service is heavily subsidized - why don't you check the numbers on how much gas is subsidized - via tax credits to large oil companies; why don't you check how much roads are subsidized by the federal & state government. Mass transit has to fight for all it's money. If drivers had to pay the full cost of gas & roads, mass transit service would have tons of riders. I like the idea of a 50 cent increase and increasing the low income passes. I also agree with the comment about the low income having smart phones, how do they afford those? I question the costs on mine every month, but I'm hooked. I also agree the service needs to be better on the eastside; more park & ride lots; more bus shelters to wait in

smdevos
smdevos

All transportation modes are subsidized but the most heavily subsidized is the automobile. Check out http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=34897. And we're not even talking about the high cost of free parking.

doubt-It
doubt-It

It wouldn't be bad to pay the extra quarter if the bus service on the east side was decent. I can stand at my bus stop and see my place of employment - the capital square and it takes me either an hour to make it to the square or I get to walk a quarter of a mile up hill to get there while the remaining six passengers whiz along John Nolen drive without any stops to the UW. The hour long "direct" is no picnic either with so many people crammed in the aisle I can't get out at my stop located on a corner where I get to step out between 2 trees in a snow bank. Oh, but they do add an extra bus but it comes AFTER the already crowded bus. Then you look at the bus service from the westside - same distance from the downtown and it is a total different experience with buses every 30 minutes straight to the square...really???? I would pay a quarter every ride but you need to get rid of the person setting up these routes because it used to be easy to take the bus but not in the last 5 years.

JREwing78
JREwing78

I'm curious how the numbers would pencil out if a 50 cent hike was made to $2.50 a ride, but expanding the pool of half-price passes available so that many more low-income users could take advantage of them. Even on its face, only making 300 available seems a bit absurd.

Mitt4pres
Mitt4pres

The bus service is already heavily subsidized. It is fair to make fares the responsibility of the users. People with their own cars are certainly paying much more due to fuel costs and other operating expenses such as downtown parking. The poor can often find money for smart phones, satellite flat screen tv, $5 packs of cigarettes and other middle class trappings so why not charge for reduced cost transportation?

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