Metro Transit proposed its first increase in bus fares in three years, a measure the organization’s general manager says is necessary to fill a budget gap.
Metro Transit revealed the proposal, which would raise bus fares from $2 to $2.25 for adult one-time cash fares, at the Board of Estimates meeting Tuesday night.
Mayor Paul Soglin said the increased bus fares will help to address rising costs for the transit system, including higher fuel prices and labor costs. He stressed the decision was a hard one for city officials to make.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions that was made regarding the entire $270 million budget,” Soglin said.
Metro Transit General Manager Chuck Kamp said although an increase in fares may seemingly cause a drop in ridership, that will not be the case in Madison, as Metro is predicting a .9 percent increase in ridership despite the rise in fare costs.
Ridership on the transit system is historically the highest it has been in 40 years, Kamp said. He added records show citizens between the ages of 19 and 34 are purchasing a lower number of cars, citing increasing fuel costs as a possible reason.
Because of this record high level of ridership, Kamp said cutting services was not an option, so an increase in fares would make up for the five percent funding reduction Metro Transit is facing in Madison’s 2013 operating budget.
Soglin reiterated that the fare increase would not cause a drop in ridership, saying while studies have shown certain bus systems lose as much as 10 percent of ridership with a fare increase, this is not applicable with Metro ridership.
He said the fare increase could be beneficial in the future with regard to the implementation of a bus rapid transit system in Madison. The system would stop every four or five blocks instead of every block or two, Soglin said.
He said the system would be much faster because of the development of additional lanes exclusively for buses as well.
“To build a system like this takes a number of years,” Soglin said. “An increase in fares now allows us to start expanding services sooner, versus starting later.”
Metro Transit also proposed an increase from $55 to $62 dollars for adult 31-day passes and $27.50 to $40 for senior and disabled 31-day passes, according to Kamp.
Kamp said the larger percent increase for senior and disabled passes has been viewed as controversial.
“It’s a fairly new category and was used by more people than we initially expected,” Kamp said. “It has had a higher impact on our revenues, so we had a higher percent increase, but it’s still $22 cheaper than a regular adult 31-day pass.”
Soglin said looking into expanding the discount program for low-income riders is a possibility, alleviating some of the pressure from the fare increases.
Kamp also said Metro would be willing to consider expanding the discount program, but the expansion is currently not set in stone.
The proposal of a fare increase and its impact on Metro ridership and the citizens of Madison will be further discussed by the Transit and Parking Commission Wednesday night.