The Bus Stops Here: Public Transit, Good Government and Citizen Engagement

Do you think that an interested “adult city resident” should be able to contact another “adult city resident” who sits on a city government oversight committee advisory to the Common Council? Do you think a Dane County citizen has the right to know who is on a county government office’s “working group” tasked with making policy recommendations for adoption by the larger council? Are you suspicious when someone has special access to governmental decision making (and its purse) but does not have to provide basic contact or naming information in return for that access? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then welcome to the idea of good governance. Welcome too to the reality that our current government is less transparent.

The Bus Stops Here: For Bus Buddies

One of the pleasant features of public transit is that it can provide riders a sense of community even as each passenger may be going to a different destination for a different reason. Some talk while others acknowledge another’s presence with a nod, eye contact or some other form of nonverbal communication. The poem, Express Route Madison, written by Catherine Young reinforces the communal nature of public transit. “This bus is bound for Community. It’s around the next bend.

Madison Metro Transit launches equity survey

The City of Madison’s Metro Transit agency launched an online survey on September 28 asking passengers to report on equity in their bus service. According to the Metro Transit web page, the survey was launched to “reflect the goals and values” of Madison’s Racial and Social Justice Initiative. The survey asks passengers to report how frequently they use Metro Transit services, which routes and transfers they use most, and more questions about each individual’s personal profile and how accessible Madison’s bus services are to them. Madison’s bus services were at the center of a racial equity complaint in January when the Wisconsin Department of Transportation closed two DMV locations on Madison’s west side and opened a new DMV office that is more difficult to access by public transit. In response, Madison’s Department of Civil Rights filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, with Mayor Paul Soglin rebuking the decision to open the more isolated DMV office.

The Bus Stops Here: For A Smart Move

New technology provides access and challenges to Madison’s bus system that must be adopted if Metro Transit is to be a viable transportation option moving forward. A major reason ride share companies such as Lyft are popular is that they made early use of smartphone technology, which enables riders to solicit a ride from/to anywhere at any time and pay via a credit card or similar cashless electronic transfer. Public transit has the competitive advantage however, IF it used smartphone technology as adeptly. After all, most people would prefer to pay $2 instead of $10 for the same ride. Before the era of smartphones, transit riders had been pining for years for Metro Transit smart cards.

FreeWheel Bikes aims to provide the basic human right of transportation to Madison

FreeWheel Bikes was founded in 2003 by a group of local cyclists who wanted to establish an affordable community workshop space and promote cycling. In the 15 years that it has existed, the non-profit has given away more than 10,000 bikes. “Half of these are locally and the other half are through our work with international organizations that ship bikes to developing countries,” said Elijah McCloskey, president of FreeWheel. McCloskey, 30, said the goal of the organization is to ensure transportation as a fundamental human right, to reduce waste and increase education. The non-profit does this through giving away over 1,200 bikes a year, diverting over 35 tons of waste a year and teaching free classes to over 800 students a year.

The Bus Stops Here: UW Student Busing

One of the experiences of attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison is that students have access to unlimited Metro Transit bus rides paid with segregated fees by their Associated Students of Madison governance body (ASM). Students get an unlimited ride bus pass good for both fixed route and paratransit rides throughout much of the city of Madison and parts of Middleton, Fitchburg, Verona and Shorewood Hills. That bus service can be frequent around campus, and can take students to many major employment, shopping, health and recreation centers. Students can additionally use a no-fare #80 campus shuttle, the #81 and #82 late night routes, and a no-fare #84 shuttle to/from Eagle Heights. Those additional routes are paid for by a combination of funds from student seg fees, the UW’s division of Transportation Services for faculty and staff, and the division of University Housing.

The Bus Stops Here: For an Electrifying Experience

The city of Madison wants to run completely on renewable energy. As Metro Transit currently accounts for almost a fifth of the city government’s energy use according to a recent study, electrifying the bus fleet could play a significant part in reaching that goal. It helped that Metro was recently awarded a grant enabling it to purchase three electric buses, a first for Wisconsin. The buses are expected to start operating in 2019. Beside emitting less noxious exhaust fumes, electric buses can be much quieter than diesel-powered buses.

The Bus Stop Here: Living on TIPs

A good indication of Madison’s current view of its bus system is how transit rates relative to other transportation items in the TIP, otherwise known as the Madison Area Transportation Board’s Transportation Improvement Plan. A Spring ritual in the transportation world is to quietly start the process of updating the next year’s TIP, which gets finalized in the Fall. The TIP is a compiled listing of planned short-range projects. By May, Madison’s engineers responsible for road/street and pedestrian/bicycle projects have already presented drafts of the TIP to oversight bodies, such as the Board of Public Works, the Long Range Transportation Planning Committee and the Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Commission. Unfortunately, neither Metro Transit nor the Parking Utility has exposed their oversight committees to that level of public scrutiny, nor do they appear to intend to do so.

Deregulation of Wisconsin taxi companies fails to pass State Assembly

A bill that would take the regulation of taxicabs from local governments and give it to the state failed to pass during legislative session after receiving strong backlash from cities and cab companies. The bill, AB 918, would remove the authority of local governments to license and regulate taxicab operators and businesses. Instead, the state agency the Department of Safety and Professional Services would handle all licenses and regulations. The legislation is similar to a bill passed in the previous session that banned municipal legislation for companies like Uber and Lyft, which are referred to in the bill as Transportation Network Companies. According to a statement from the bill's author, Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), this legislation is needed to create a statewide regulation and ensure that taxicabs can compete with TNCs.

The Bus Stops Here: A Tiff About TIFs

In an era in which the state has been strangling public transit agencies financially while prohibiting local areas from establishing regional transport authorities, there is a little-known existing state tax policy that could offer limited help called Tax Incremental Financing districts or TIFs. However, TIFs are most often used to further the car-centric urban sprawl that has been bleeding cities financially rather than bolstering them with socially and environmentally sustainable transit-oriented development. Instead of using TIFs to draw residents into Madison from nearby, it is being used to drive people away and to further weaken its tax base. That is not the intent of course, but it is what it is going on. Madison and other municipalities around Wisconsin are using TIF money to build expensive infrastructure – including parking lots and wide roads – that it cannot afford.