2008/11/25:Proposed Bus Fare Hike Protested - Madison Area Urban Ministries

Proposed Bus Fare Hike Protested: Impact Of 50 Cent Increase Debated At Crowded Hearing
Wisconsin State Journal :: LOCAL :: A3
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
By DEAN MOSIMAN dmosiman@madison.com 608-252-6141

Bus advocates protested a proposed fare increase at a crowded public hearing before the Madison Transit and Parking Commission on Monday.

Many among a crowd of more than 90 people voiced concern that a 50 cent cash fare increase to $2 would hurt ridership and disproportionately impact low-income riders.

The increase "balances Metro's budget on the backs of people who can least afford it and need it the most," said Linda Ketcham, executive director of Madison Area Urban Ministries.

But some said a fare increase, while not desired, is needed to keep Metro Transit healthy and avoid service cuts.

"There is only so much we are going to be able to do with our current resources," resident Michelle Beasley said.

The commission, after hearing testimony at Monona Terrace on Monday night, is expected to make a decision on fares and service levels on Dec. 9.

Any changes would go into effect in March.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has proposed raising Metro Transit cash fares 33 percent to $2 and making related increases for ticket packages and passes to raise $680,000 in nine months next year to improve service, add security at transfer points, boost marketing and build a reserve. The changes would raise $940,000 annually thereafter.

The City Council voted 12-8 to support the mayor's proposal as part of the 2009 operating budget.

The TPC, however, has authority to set fares and service levels within the budget set by the council.

If the TPC refuses to raise fares, service would be cut, Metro General Manager Chuck Kamp said.

Before the hearing, dozens attended a rally outside the convention center to celebrate public transit, oppose the fare increase and show support for affordable service.

In a presentation at the hearing, Kamp offered revenue options based on keeping the $1.50 cash fare, raising it to $1.75 or increasing it to $2.

If fares stayed the same, ridership would increase about 5 percent to 14.1 million next year, Kamp said in an interview. If the cash fare increases to $2 and corresponding increases are made, ridership would increase only 1 percent to 13.5 million, he said.

Bus riders, advocates and labor came with their own ideas.

Lisa Subeck, who works with low-income families, proposed an alternative that would create a low-income fare for those receiving food stamps equal to the $1.25 fare charged to the disabled and senior citizens.

Gene Gowey, representing the bus drivers union, said drivers backed the increases to avoid service cuts and layoffs.