City News

Overcrowded buses, increasing demand lead city of Madison to apply for federal grant

SSFC passes resolution in support of the application

Madison Metro Transit is applying for the TIGER 9 grant in order to improve city infrastructure.

Image By: Morgan Winston

To address problems with overcrowding and an increasing demand for public transportation, the City of Madison is applying for a federal grant, a move that the Student Services Finance Committee formally supported Monday night.

Currently, the Madison Metro Transit’s storage is at such high capacity, that they have leased space in Middleton for “breathing space,” said Madison Metro Transit spokesperson Mick Rusch.

Rusch said the city is looking to get approximately $17 million from the federal grant, which would go towards a satellite maintenance facility, and allow the city to house larger buses and increase its overall number of vehicles.

In 2014, the bus company broke the all-time high ridership record. As one of the biggest areas served by Madison Metro Transit, the UW-Madison campus is where the city is dealing with the high level of overcrowding, Rusch said.

“Our ridership has expanded to the point we can’t manage it any longer,” he said. “What has come along with that record is that our buses are very overcrowded and as a result, drivers can’t keep buses on schedule because we just have so many issues with how many riders we are carrying. It seems simple to say ‘I’ll just send more buses down there.’ We’re so crowded, that we’ve run out of buses.”

That’s why the city is applying for the TIGER 9 program grant, Rusch said, a fund operated by the U.S. Department of Transportation to help cities with infrastructure projects. Madison Metro Transit applied for money in the past, but due to high competition, did not receive it.

Given SSFC’s role in allocating and reviewing the bus pass program for ASM, Vice Chair Kristi Parsons, one of the legislation’s co-sponsors, said representatives wanted to support the city’s effort to meet student needs.

Several SSFC members vocalized their support at a meeting Monday night where the body unanimously voted in favor of a resolution in support of Madison Metro Transit’s application for the TIGER 9 grant.

Rusch said the grant would impact students for a variety of reasons. Operating like a train, the bus rapid transit system — a high frequency, limited stop transfer system — is dependent on whether the city gets this grant and is able to build the bus garage, Rusch said. He said the BRT would be “the next step to addressing issues downtown.”

The BRT would give students frequent service throughout the day, eliminating the need for checking bus schedules, he said. Additionally, the heart of the BRT would be in the downtown area, where UW students are in one central location, which would help with the overcrowding problem. Additionally, BRT would alleviate the problems with Madison’s lack of parking, which isn’t plentiful since the university is on an isthmus.

“It’s an issue that’s going to keep festering itself here. I wouldn’t say it’s something dire, like right away next year we would have problems, but it’s a community issue where people need to get back and forth through this busy area,” Rusch said. “It would be something the community would struggle with until we’re able to move forward on increasing our transit system.”

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