Bus fare hikes: success or failure?


That’s the way the question is being posed on the blogosphere. But like most political issues, the bus fare increase that Mayor Dave pushed through this spring presents a mixed bag of successes and disappointments, of overestimates and underestimates.

Last week Joe Tarr wrote an article for the Isthmus detailing the preliminary results of the 50 cent fare hike. The part that Brenda Konkel, an opponent of the plan, is focusing on, is the $440,000 the city fell short of its projected revenue from bus tickets. Konkel also points out that ridership is down this summer from last summer, before the fare hike. However, the mayor’s office contends that the stats can be explained not by a drop in ridership but a drop in “transfers and non-revenue rides.”

People with monthly passes don’t need to purchase transfers — and each trip is calculated as a separate revenue ride. Non-revenue rides include children under 4 and school or children’s groups that ride with free passes.

I still don’t understand what that means. Am I alone here?

Neverthless, here’s what’s most amusing about the story: the mayor advocated the fare increase to cover rising bus costs, but then apparently costs dropped drastically this year. The revenue shortfall was more than made up for by massive cuts in salaries, benefits and the cost of gas. Of course, the mayor contends that the revenue, albeit much lower than expected, was still almost half a million dollars higher than in 2008, which begs the question: how much would the city have had to cut without the fare increase?

I was always a skeptic of the mayor’s fare plan. I thought the money would be better raised elsewhere, however, I think as long as there are affordable options for regular riders, such as the $55 month passes, it’s humane to charge $2 for a bus ride. It’s encouraging to see the monthly bus pass succeed – it’s the kind of thing people should be encouraged to buy. When people buy monthly passes they are not only saving themselves money, but they are likely committing to their city’s system of public transportation. They are investing in what will hopefully become a major selling point for Madison in the future, as evidenced by the federal grant the city has just won for 15 new hybrid buses.

As of “posting time,” the mayor’s office had not responded to my questions about the budget cuts. Hopefully they’ll get back to me by tomorrow.


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3 Responses to “Bus fare hikes: success or failure?”

  1. Paul Axel Says:

    Apparently there’s a lot of complaints as to the location of bus stops and the routes. Of course, there’s always room for improvement.

    Take, for example, the reduced bus runs during “UW Recess.” From where I was, there was a 5:45 bus and a 6:41 bus along the same route. I missed the 5:45 bus by 5 or so minutes. So I figured I’d walk back to my apartment. My walk took me 40 minutes. That’s right; it was better for me to walk back to the apartment than wait an hour for another bus. Draw your own conclusions.

    I think we also have to keep in mind that most bus routes don’t expand out to the suburbs, when they could and should. Lower revenue may also have something to do with unemployment. Why would I ride a bus downtown if I no longer have a job there?

  2. The Sconz Says:

    Good point about the unemployment.

  3. Jason Says:

    Gas prices are down so ridership is down. When gas goes up again and people are dismayed about filling up their brand new SUVs (Hey gas is cheap again time to buy a big truck afterall) ridership will increase.

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