How do we reduce car use in Madison?


An ordinance to study car use data in Madison passed the Common Council last night.

But it was stripped of those threatening goals, or perhaps dreams would be the more appropriate term. Originally the ordinance was going to set a goal to reduce car use in the city by 25 percent by 2020. The Chamber of Commerce opposed that measure, but finally came around and supported the gesture towards environmentalism. Unsurprisingly, there was practically no opposition in the Council.

Nevertheless, Ald. Brian Solomon expressed optimism in an email he sent me before the vote was taken. He listed a variety of methods worthy of exploration in the battle against fuel emissions, including “improved conditions for public transit, biking and pedestrians.”

Moreover, he cited a goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as being relevant in city planning. That means that the goal would not necessarily be aimed at altering people’s personal behavior, but perhaps in prioritizing public transportation over cars in future development plans for the city. Nevertheless, that’s not to say the goals would exclude stuff meant to piss off Republicans, such as a potential “commuter tax or wheel tax.”

I understand the value of the commuter tax in raising revenue but I don’t see it as a practical environmental policy. What would that kind of tax realistically stimulate? Employees to move into Madison? Employers to leave Madison? I see the tax as useful in raising funds for road maintenance, which Solomon cited as “dwarfing the capital budget every year.”


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4 Responses to “How do we reduce car use in Madison?”

  1. Paul Axel Says:

    It’s a give and take, Sconz. I think if we want to raise a commuter tax, we’d have to prevent a loss of business by reducing their taxes. But then you have to make sure that city income increases nonetheless. Philadelphia has a commuter tax, and NYC did as well. We should look at their programs, to get a sense of how to work it all out.

    Part of the solution might have to do with the high prices of renting in this city. Looking at the two cities with the closest population to Madison (Norfolk and Orlando), it appears that both cities have 3bed/2bath apartments at rent prices that are at minimum 200 less than here in Madison. Quite simply, it’s expensive to live in this city. But, a good majority of the jobs are downtown. So families move outside the city, where the rent is lower. Find a way to reduce the cost of living in the city, and the need for a commuter tax goes down, along with the amount of driving that goes on.

  2. Irish Frog Says:

    I think it would be nice to improve the bus system. There used to be a “limited stops” bus that ran through my neighborhood which worked great for me, but was cut. Our bus system is great, but the infrequent-ness of the buses makes using them inconvenient, so people drive. I really do think that if we reduced the cost of bus fare and increased the number of buses (hey, we could cut plenty of stops too, some are far too close together) we could do something about the number of cars.

    • The Sconz Says:

      I agree with you to a certain extent. I thought the decision to raise the bus fare was wrong. It is ironic that a mayor who was so aggressive about a radical public transportation system early on, and who still expresses support for plans like “car light neighborhoods” didn’t find some other way to fund the bus system than a fare hike.

  3. Dave Reid Says:

    Without getting into taxes and such to reduce auto use one can look to Copenhagen. They set a goal of reducing parking by 2% a year, and replace it with pedestrian and biking infrastructure.

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