A city committee approved a five-year plan with potential for changes in the Metro Transit system at a meeting Wednesday.
According to Mike Cechvala, Transportation Planner for the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Transit Development Plan starts this year and will continue through 2017. The plan would continue to study and implement changes to configure the most efficient bus routes possible, he said.
The Metro Transit experienced problems with overcrowding and bus stop spacing in the past, Cechvala said. While bus service hours have only been increasing 1 percent each year, ridership has been increasing by over 4.5 percent per year, he said.
The buses currently stop on every block, which is excessive and only slows the system, Cechvala said. MPO proposed consolidating the stops from eight to 10 per mile to four to six per mile, especially in the busiest neighborhoods on Johnson and Gorham Streets, Jenifer Street and Monroe Street, he said.
Cechvala said MPO is more concerned with improving the speed and reliability of the system than it is with having stops closer together. By consolidating stops, the bus system is expected to run faster, he said.
“You may have to walk a little bit farther, but you’ll have faster, more reliable service once you get there,” Cechvala said.
The Transit and Parking Commission expressed concern about reactions from transit users, pointing out bus stop spacing would be less convenient.
Ken Golden, a TRC member, said he understood how consolidating bus stops could speed up the system but added bus stop spacing might be less convenient for other transit users.
“I’m more than willing to do it, but if I’m trying to rush home. It’s going to take me longer,” Golden said.
David Tolmie, a committee member, added that he wanted to see actions taken in consideration of those with disabilities and the elderly.
The plan is still in its early stages, according to Golden. Changes in bus stop spacing may be seen within one to two years.
Other changes proposed to the Transit system included decreasing the amount of routes and increasing bus frequency, Golden said.
Cechvala said several current routes, including routes 2 and 3, have hourly service, and the proposed changes would increase the service to every 30 minutes. The plan would also extend bus routes to go outside the city, reaching surrounding areas such as Sun Prairie, Monona and Stoughton, he said.
Amanda White, TPC vice chair, said she was concerned with how the Metro Transit could provide more service while working on a limited budget.
Cechvala said the plan was prioritized into short, medium and long-term needs in hopes it will better accommodate the budget.
Golden added the plan may also include replacing the higher density Metro Transit routes with Bus Rapid Transit buses, which would cost about $30 million per piece but would provide more comfort and convenience to bus riders. This is a growing trend nationwide, he said, and would rely on federal funding and state support.
These changes would not likely appear for another three to five years, Golden said.
The five-year plan faces City Council for a second time at its meeting March 19.