A five-year plan for the future of Madison Metro Transit was presented to Madison’s City Council Tuesday evening, including potential changes to the current bus system in the downtown area.
Bill Schaefer, transportation planning manager of the Madison urban area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, presented the plan, which finds long-term solutions to improve the buses.
He said Madison Metro will receive more than 30 recommendations for the plan, ranging from fares to marketing to service improvements.
One problem is the overcrowding of buses, which regularly contain an average of 40 passengers. This problem is greatest around the University of Wisconsin campus area, Schaefer said.
“One of the key issues is the overcrowding occurring on a number of routes, particularly through the campus area,” Schaefer said. “We wanted to look for ways to address that.”
He said one recommendation is for larger buses instead of simply more frequent buses. He said this is because many people on campus routinely board buses without paying attention to their exact routes, just to get to the other side of campus.
He said another recommendation focuses on the amount of space between bus stops. He said bus stops are currently spaced at a tenth of a mile apart, or eight stops per mile. The plan recommends about five or six stops per mile.
He said five or six stops per mile is ideal because it balances travel speed and bus accessibility.
Schaefer said the plan also recommends Madison Metro focus on consolidating bus stops in three problem corridors on the downtown isthmus: Monroe Street, Johnson and Gorham Streets and Jenifer Street. He said the bus stops need to be updated, considering they date back to when Madison used a streetcar system.
Another weakness of Madison Metro includes the lack of express buses, he said. This makes travel time longer, Schaefer said.
He said the bus stop consolidation program would reduce travel time, improve reliability of buses, improve bus amenities such as bus shelters, reduce bus wear and tear and reduce fuel use and emissions.
He said concerns about the program include the increased walking distance, loss of service coverage and the impact fewer stops would have on people with disabilities.
Since 2005, Schaefer said ridership of the buses in Madison has grown 4.5 percent per year while services Madison Metro provided have grown minimally.
“This isn’t sustainable, unless we can increase the capacity of the system,” he said.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said although some aspects of the recommendations will be controversial, the big issue will be how the city will pay for the improvements suggested by the five-year plan.
“It’s extremely comprehensive,” Verveer said. “The big question is: How do we pay for it? It’s a five-year plan that is very ambitious in terms of its breadth.”
Verveer said it has been many years since there was a comprehensive look at the bus system, because a regional transportation system set in place to help with recommendations for Madison Metro was cut by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.
Verveer said he thinks City Council will vote unanimously to accept the five-year plan during their next session March 19.