Paul Soglin - Metro Transit

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin speaks about Metro Transit ridership trends Wednesday during a ceremony honoring Metro's award from the American Public Transportation Association.

Vicki France/Metro Transit

Some of the biggest wheels in public transportation were in Madison Wednesday to pass out a national prize to officials of Metro Transit, recognizing it as the best in the country for its size.

Michael Melaniphy, president of the American Public Transportation Association, dished the award in the local version of a ceremony that will be held at a national meeting in Seattle in October. The award goes to the best mid-sized transit system — between 4 million and 20 million passenger trips — in North America.

Metro Transit broke a 40-year passenger record last year, reaching 14.9 million rides, a 9.5 percent increase. That increase, along with some innovative programs, such as a third-party smartphone application, a fuel efficiency improvement gained through 19 hybrid buses, was basis for the award, that looks at efficiency and effectiveness over the previous three-year period.

General manager Chuck Kamp noted that Madison's transportation improvements are currently the topic of at least a half-dozen studies, including those looking at "bus rapid transit."

Metro Transit has actually been celebrating the award since June, with punch and cookies served at various bus transfer points. A year's worth of fixed-route bus rides was awarded in a drawing Wednesday to Madison resident Pam Campbell.

Included in the Metro recognition specifics were implementation of a small-business and low-income bus programs, new surveillance technology on buses and transfer points, cooperative initiatives with the Madison School District, "green" initiatives, reduced printing costs and an expanded employee training program.

The honor was won in 2011 by the Sun Metro bus system in El Paso, Texas.

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