As of July 1, 2018, Madison has revived at least two aspects of its public transportation system that it had between 1968 and the early 1990s, which is both good and bad. The good is that the city once more has a functioning Department of Transportation with a director. The bad is that citizen participation is being overly limited at a time when alders need more, not less, input from constituents. Let's begin with a little bit of history. The City of Madison established a transportation department (MDOT) back in 1968.
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.
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.
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.
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.
JUST Bikes, formerly known as the Madison Bicycle Equity Group, unveiled four self-fix bicycle station, new bike racks, and recognized graduates of the Mobile Bike Repair internship program on Wednesday at Centro Hispano. The projects were made possible by Madison Community Foundation’s 75th Anniversary Year of Giving grant “Mad About Bikes.” Mad About Bikes provides access for all riders, regardless of economic status, and helps them take advantage of Madison’s Platinum-level status as a Bicycle Friendly Community. The $84,200 grant included a 1,100-bicycle giveaway in March, the installment of public fix-it stations, bike repair internships for community youth, starter bicycles for beginning riders, safety education and repair training for riders of all ages, and an electric-assist bicycle outfitted as a repair vehicle that travels throughout the city. Just Bikes’ Fix-it Bicycle Stations are equipped with various tools needed to keep bikes in working shape. The other fix-it stations were installed during the summer, and are located at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center, Bayiew Community Center, and Lussier Community Education Center.
Mayor Paul Soglin’s Neighborhood Resource Teams are working to tune into Madison residents in order to address their needs by introducing neighborhood-based improvement projects to the city budgets and planning. Soglin created the Neighborhood Resource Teams in 1991 during his second term as mayor after noticing the division between government departments, where the topic-style organization of agencies prevented cohesive collaboration. “It became obvious that we needed a better approach in terms of the needs of specific neighborhoods,” Soglin said. “It was also obvious that the services provided should be in response to the neighborhood identifying priorities rather than the city making those decisions.”
The Mayor’s office identified neighborhoods it felt would benefit and formed teams comprised of city employees across government agencies. The teams focused on small pockets of the city until 1997, when Soglin left office.
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.
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.
Paul Soglin will propose a $17 vehicle-registration fee to help close budget shortfalls and maintain community service programs for low-income residents. Chris Rickert, Wisconsin State Journal, 6/15. Community
The Dane County Immigration and Refugee Task Force, created last summer, announced its recommendations, including a call for a universal drivers' card. Madison 365, 6/15. The James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Church on Madison's eastside is renovating its building to serve as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.