City Council members debate the rise in bus fare from $1.50 to $2 Tuesday evening.[/media-credit]

The Madison City Council approved early Wednesday morning a bus fare increase to $2, contradicting the previously set $1.75 fare for the city’s 2009 budget.

The council’s decision was met by several hours of fierce outcry by most of the 50 community members who attended the public hearing portion of the meeting. Most said the increased fares would hurt low-income riders who could find it difficult to pay for the higher price.

Although the Transit and Parking Commission is the body charged with setting bus fares and decided on an increase from $1.50 to $1.75 in January, city attorney Michael May said the lack of clarity in city ordinances grants the City Council authority to firm, reject or modify actions taken by the commission.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, a strong proponent of the $2 fare, said the 33 percent increase aligns Madison with the inflation rate since 2000, the last time the city approved a hike in bus fares.

He added parking meter rates have increased 100 percent and the cost of fuel used by Metro buses has increased in more than 200 percent since 2000, while bus riders have experienced no price difference.

Cieslewicz said increasing the bus fare to $1.75 would have kept Metro running but would have added no services.

“You pay more; you get more,” he added. “None of these choices were easy [but] it seemed to me that this was the only to go with.”

But some alders said they were concerned that the fare increase would not balance out with the projected gain in services.

Ald. Brian Solomon, District 10, said the projected revenue gain from increased bus fares would be worth it in the long run and added the Council should not overrule TPC’s decision to increase the price by 25 cents.

“Even in the best case scenario, the revenue is barely going to expand service,” Solomon said. “In the worst case scenario, it won’t even let us expand service, let alone balance our budget.”

The fare increase includes a low-income bus pass service that will cost the city $100,000 to come from Metro’s contingency fund. The plan would benefit 400 riders eligible to receive food stamps with monthly passes at $27.50 and would be made available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning in April 2009. The current price for a monthly bus pass is $48.

The increase does not affect the dollar amount paid by University of Wisconsin students to receive bus passes. The price, $53.52 in segregated fees for each student, already includes bus fare increase until 2010, when the contract expires.

“Raising the bus fares, particularly in this economy, will most likely hurt the people who have the least ability to pay the increase,” said Ald. Eli Judge, whose District 8 includes the UW campus. “At this time, there would be greater virtue in preserving our current fare while searching for other methods of revenue or things that we might be able to cut in order to preserve the contract.”

The $2 fare was passed by an 11-8 vote. Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, was the only council member absent due to a previously scheduled trip.