Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed two-year budget will cut the funding of public transit systems around the state, including Madison Metro Transit, if it is passed unchanged.
General Manager of Madison Metro, Chuck Kamp, said the proposed budget will restrict Madison Metro’s ability to keep up with the demand of the public transport service’s riders.
Such downsizing, Kamp said, would be a new concept for Madison Metro, which has been growing steadily for 20 years, and has seen a large increase in ridership over the last five years.
Madison Metro is experiencing severe overcrowding and many standees on buses throughout the isthmus and especially around campus, Kamp said. Metro would like to buy larger buses and more buses, but this will be difficult to implement if Walker’s budget passes, Kamp said.
Kamp cited bus services to Epic, one of the Madison area’s largest employers, as an example of the impact the state budget will have.
“It is a 35-minute ride to Epic,” he said. “If I have to stand the whole way, am I going to ride the bus?”
Greg Seubert, the chair of the Wisconsin Urban and Rural Transit Association, said the state budget proposes a freeze of transit systems funding. He said under the proposed budget, transportation will no longer have its own budget, it will be part of a general budget.
“This is a problem in terms of consistency and predictability of funding,” Seubert said. “We think [the proposed budget] will inject a great deal of uncertainty into the budget system.”
He said the new budget will make it more difficult to maintain existing services. Public transit systems have certain costs that cannot be lowered, such as fuel, which makes it even more difficult to deal with budget cuts, Seubert said.
Seubert is hopeful there will be some discussion about modifying the budget. He said he would like to engage in that discussion.
“If [the budget] stands it will be devastating for the public transit system,” Seubert said. “We don’t have a whole lot to cut anymore. It’s hard to maintain a sustainable service to the community when you’re diminishing the resources and making them unpredictable.”
The last state budget cut public transit by 10 percent, which will not be reinstated this budget cycle, he said.
Seubert said because of limits on how how much a municipality is allowed to raise in property taxes, the methods public transit systems have to respond to budget cuts are limited. He said public transit systems throughout the state will likely respond to the cuts by reducing the services they provide and increasing passenger fares.
Metro will look into all of its options, Kamp said. He said funding challenges happen every year, but the possibility of increasing fares cannot be ruled out.
Kamp said Metro will first look at options that do not involve raising bus fares because Madison Metro is aware its fare is already higher than average and they want to keep it as low as possible.
“Public transit builds healthier, more competitive and attractive communities for workers,” Seubert said. “This budget moves us in the opposite direction.”