Free bus passes are one of the many benefits University of Wisconsin students receive. However, since these passes are issued separately from Wiscards, there’s an opportunity for students to try to game the system. Specifically, a student who never rides the bus could get his or her free bus pass then fraudulently sell it to a non-student who rides the bus regularly. While this obviously benefits the two people buying and selling the pass, there is no free lunch, and ultimately the university is stuck with the bill. To combat this, Madison Metro has, for some time, officially required students (and others) with unlimited ride passes to show an ID from whatever institution issued the pass. In reality, this requirement hasn’t been enforced until recently.
The news that a Madison bus driver was punched in the face Saturday morning by a young man who was unhappy about having to show his ID, while unfortunate, shows this enforcement is needed. After all, it seems unlikely that a person with a valid ID and with his or her legally-obtained student pass would choose to punch a bus driver and then flee, missing out on the bus ride in the first place rather than just show an ID.
Of course, the easiest way to stop this sort of bus pass fraud would be to stop issuing free bus passes in the first place. If the university didn’t issue bus passes and instead required students to pay for fares/passes on their own, the problem would immediately disappear, and students who don’t use the bus wouldn’t have to help pay for those who do. While this is an option, it brings up a host of different issues as well. I’ll avoid opening that can of worms for the time being.
For the near future, Madison Metro’s current policy of enforcing the ID rule is probably for the best. While it certainly will cause some inconveniences for both drivers and passengers, like longer loading times, it’s ultimately what’s needed. If Madison Metro doesn’t start to enforce the rule, it risks losing the business of schools and other institutions that purchase the passes.
A better solution, but one that would take some time, would be for Metro buses to have some sort of system that integrates Wiscards and bus passes. For example, a bus pass could be tied to a person’s Wiscard account, and buses could be installed with Wiscard readers, thus eliminating the need for redundant bus passes and IDs. Of course, this solution would only work on campus, but similar programs could be implemented for the different organizations that purchase bus passes. It would likely be fairly costly and take a significant amount of time to implement, but it would likely be worth it in the long-run.
I am by no means an expert in the logistics of public transportation. However, requiring bus pass owners to verify that they are, indeed, the rightful owners of their pass seems to be common sense. For the time being, asking bus riders to show an ID is a workable, if not ideal, solution. Hopefully, though, in the long-term, Madison Metro will be able to come up with a solution that causes fewer headaches for everyone involved.
Joe Timmerman (email@example.com) is a sophomore majoring in math and economics.