Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

23 December, 2014

Thoughts on Madison Metro Transit


(Photo by J. Mc.)

No one wants to hear that Madison Metro is looking to increase fares again. But times are hard for public transit and a slight increase in fares for better service seems a reasonable trade-off. Even better is that the fare increase is only $0.05 and only for unlimited passes which affects UW employees, students, city employees, etc. This doesn't seem like a big deal except the fare increase is to pay for making wi-fi service available on buses.

Madison Metro Transit riders using unlimited passes could see an increase in rates next year in exchange for the addition of wireless internet access.

The city’s operating budget for next year includes $96,300 for implementing Wi-Fi on Metro buses, contingent on an increase of $0.05 per ride for unlimited pass holders. The capital budget also includes $150,000 for wireless network upgrades.

Metro Transit will hold a public hearing on the rate increase on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at the Madison Municipal Building to discuss the possible changes.


Five or six years ago adding wi-fi to buses would have been a very nice amenity. Today, however, everyone's smartphone has a data plan as do many tablets. Who comprises the ridership that this wi-fi is targeting? This just seems like a fairly useless lagniappe.

Madison Metro does some things very well. For example, if you work downtown or on campus on weekdays from, say 6:00-18:00, Metro can probably get you to and from work rather well. Work second or third shift? Work on weekends? Metro will likely be less successful.



When I first read the article about the fare increase, I immediately thought of route 6. Route 6 goes from the west transfer point out to East Towne Mall via the Square and East Washington. East Washington is home to the new 14-story Constellation whose 200 or so residential units were all rented out/sold by the time the building opened. This past September the Constellation's sister building next door, the 15-story Galaxie broke ground. It will have 205 residential units plus office space and a grocery store. The Creamery, a mixed use development on the 1000 block of East Washington may go ahead without the planned concert venue. Across the street on the same block there's a proposal for a 10-12 story tower featuring a music venue. Breese Stevens Field was recently renovated and you can bet the city didn't do it for fun. It is looking at bringing back the state high school soccer championships to Madison as well as having the stadium host concerts and other entertainment events.

We also have the latest iteration of Archipelago Village which would consume most of the south side of the 900 block of East Washington. Further east there's a proposal for a 70-80 unit apartment building with a brewpub on the ground floor. Union Corners is finally coming to fruition at East Wash and Milwaukee. East Wash and First Street is the preferred location for our public market.

Whew! That's a lot of development.

Yet outside of morning and afternoon rush hours, route 6 provides service only about every half an hour. On weekends route 6 runs once an hour which borders on the useless. (Ditto for another major route, route 4 on weekends and others.)

A similar situation also exists on Cottage Grove Road. A lot of housing and commercial space is about to go up there in the form of Royster Corners yet bus service on Cottage Grove Road is minimal during the week and barely there on weekends. Buses travel on Cottage Grove Road very far so riders are basically limited to buses that traverse Atwood Avenue and Acewood Boulevard.

I can't help but think of the motto of public transit consultant Jarrett Walker: "Frequency is freedom." Walker was here in Madison back in 2011.) Is a bus running once an hour very useful or appealing to people who can drive? Frequency is freedom. I highly recommend listening to an interview with Walker up at the Community Transit podcast. In it he says:

If you really want ridership, the best indicator we have found for what drives high ridership is just a high quantity of service.

He goes on to note the experiment happening with our neighbors to the north. Canadian cities generally offer more service than their American counterparts and have ridership that is about double that here in the States.



It's frustrating to read that Metro wants to raise fares to install wi-fi when much bus service is almost useless and very unattractive to new and choice riders. It's frustrating to read about the city pouring money into a public market when Metro's maintenance facility is at capacity with no plans for expansion. It's frustrating to read that Madison is moving forward with Bus Rapid Transit while the normal bus service is sub-par. How about whipping the current system into shape before adding bling and BRT?

Madison Metro needs more buses that run more frequently. I think this is the #1 outstanding issue with Metro service. Frequency is freedom.

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