Many of Epic's employees choose to live in Madison's downtown area and are willing to make the half-hour commute to where the medical software giant has built a rambling campus in Verona. Metro runs two express routes between Madison and Verona and Beck says they are "almost a little too popular."
Route 55, which leaves from Madison's West Transfer Point, and Route 75, which departs from the Capitol Square, make minimal stops before reaching the Epic campus. Both are consistently near capacity.
A recent Metro report (PDF) shows the strain on route 75, which experienced a 44.2% increase in ridership during May 2014 compared to the year before. Route 55 saw an increase of 0.8% during the same period.
Beck says Metro feels pressure to expand these routes, but the transit system has seen a decrease in federal funding. "At this point, we're looking under rocks for funding," he says.
But Chuck Kamp, Metro's general manager, is hopeful about funding opportunities through a new grant (PDF) from the Federal Transportation Administration. Last Wednesday evening, Kamp asked the Transit and Parking Commission to support a resolution allowing Metro to apply for the Ladders of Opportunity Initiative; the application is due August 4. The initiative focuses on providing additional transportation to areas with job opportunities.
Metro's proposal asks for federal support to purchase two new hybrid buses. The FTA would cover 80% of the costs, with a required 20% local match that would be included as a supplemental request to the city's 2015 capital budget. Additionally the grant asks for funding for six vans in a partnership with the YWCA.
Kamp told the panel the grant, if approved, could fund buses for additional routes to Epic or to UW Hospital from the east side, among other options.
Kamp says that Epic subsidizes the operating costs of the two bus routes to Verona, and the city is talking to the company about kicking in money toward the purchase of any new buses that would be used on the Verona routes.>
He says Epic is discussing this internally and will report back to Metro before the application deadline.
The commission was supportive of the grant application, with some wondering if Metro should ask for funds for more buses, given the continued increase in demand. "I just want to formally encourage staff to be ambitious and to dig for funds," said Margaret Bergamini, a member of the commission.
But there is a problem with acquiring more buses: a lack of storage space. Beck says Metro would have to lease additional space if it expanded its fleet more extensively since its current facilities are at capacity.
For this reason, Kamp says he is "cautious" to ask for financial support to purchase more than two buses.
Kamp says the possibility of expanding will be an ongoing discussion and that he plans to update the commission again before the application deadline. The resolution approving the grant request also needs to be approved by the Common Council and Board of Estimates.