For years, the Associated Students of Madison has financed bus passes for students from segregated fees. These passes cover every Madison Metro Transit bus and allow for campus routes — the 80, 81, 82 and 84 — to run without requiring a pass or fare.
Between 30% and 60% of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison ride a Metro Transit bus depending on weather conditions, according to university data. During peak hours, route 80 runs every five minutes.
Changing Metro for a changing university, city
Later this year, Madison Metro Transit plans to introduce a Fast Fare Card that riders can swipe each time they board a bus, automatically deducting the $2 fare. The card will be capped so that the daily fare does not exceed the current single-day cap of $5, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The card is available for free through 2024 at Metro’s main office, sales outlets and through the mail. Money can be added to the card via an online account, a kiosk at a station or a sales outlet.
Currently, those without a student bus pass have two options: either purchase a pass for 10-31 days or pay an exact cash fare at $2.00.
Riders’ usage will now be capped by week instead of month, but prices will remain the same, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Riders are expected to be able to pay using credit cards, Google Pay or Apple Pay by early 2025.
ASM has not received any contact from Madison Metro on how this may change campus services, according to Lokken, although it is likely students will continue to swipe a pass.
Before the 2023 redesign, Metro Transit’s system and routes had remained largely unchanged for 23 years. These changes are expected to shorten boarding time and improve rider experience among rising student and resident populations, according to Metro Transit.
During contract years, ASM provides suggestions to Madison Metro to best fit student transportation needs.
How student affairs impact bus fares
UW-Madison started running a campus bus in the 1970s, but this service didn’t become fare-free for students until the 1990s when ASM began providing funding.
“Students in the 1990s figured that we ought to have a student bus system. They worked with ASM and Madison Metro, and now we do,” said Reed Lokken, a member of the ASM Transportation Committee.
Student bus passes that allow UW-Madison students to ride any city bus free of charge are paid for by segregated fees, a roughly $780 charge applied every semester that also funds University Health Services and the Wisconsin Union. Approximately $51 goes to transportation services, which funds student bus passes and the Accessible Circulator Shuttle.
Segregated fees currently contribute to 53.9% of campus bus funding, according to ASM. A portion of rent from Eagle Heights residents contributes to 8% of funding. The rest is paid for by UW Transportation Services and UW Housing.
Support from campus partners allows ASM to negotiate the bus pass rate to $1.40 per swipe instead of $2, according to vice chair of the Student Services Finance Committee Elijah Lin.
The segregated fees are calculated through the number of swipes for a four year average, plus the cost of the 80 series bus routes. This rate is used to calculate how much to set the segregated fees for the following year, according to Lin.
Looking forward, ASM hopes to distribute transit costs equally across the three partners, maintain funding for newly added buses and allow Transportation Services to direct funding to support broader campus transportation infrastructure, according to Lokken.
“Not everyone has the time to talk to administrators. I’m so grateful that I’m able to advocate for students around me,” Lin said. “The Student Services Finance Committee makes sure that student voices are heard.”
Financing campus routes
The 80 series routes run free for students, employees, affiliates and visitors to the UW-Madison. But, like the bus passes, its day-to-day operations are funded by segregated fees.
The decision to make the 80 series routes run without fare came down to two factors: lack of access to the Eagle Heights neighborhood and prior lower student ridership rates, according to Lin.
Regular negotiations between Madison Metro Transit, ASM, University Transportation Services and the Eagle Heights neighborhood allow the 80 series routes to run without boarding fares.
Students don’t swipe a card to ride the 80, 81, 82 or 84, but bus drivers are responsible for tallying how many board the bus. This is used to figure out the following year’s segregated fees, in addition to funding from campus partners.