"We shouldn't have to beg for public services!" declared Madison Area Bus Advocates organizer Barbara Smith at a rally against hikes for Metro bus fares on Monday evening. Two dozen opponents of the proposed increases gathered in front of the Capitol entrance to Monona Terrace, voicing their concerns to assembled media in advance of a public hearing held by Metro Transit and the Madison Transit and Parking Commission inside the convention center.
When it passed the 2009 operating budget for the city nearly two weeks ago, the Madison Common Council imposed a revenue increase of $682,000 for the transit system, and approved a fixed-route fare increase from $1.50 to $2.00 to cover it. But the final decision is left to the commission, which is holding the hearing to solicit comments from the public on this and other proposals to balance the bus system's budget. These options include a proposal to increase the fare by a quarter to $1.75, or to increase the price of bus passes and other multi-ride fares. The meeting is also focusing on the possible impacts on service by any or no increase in fares.
Blustered by cold late autumn winds, the rally was short and to the point. Protestors voiced support of the city's bus system and public transportation in general, and against the proposed $0.50 fare increase. Their signs sported slogans like "Bailout Bus Riders," "Brother I Can't Spare 5 Dimes," and "Freeze Fares for Families," among others, sentiments that looked to be shared by more than a few people passing by on their way to the hearing.
Smith spoke briefly about their opposition to a fare increase, calling on full funding for the bus system. "Unfortunately, public transportation is underappreciated," she said, arguing that bus riders and the transit system is held to a different financial standard of efficiency than drivers using the roads in private vehicles. She also compared the potential cost increase faced by riders, particularly those who have fixed or dropping incomes in these tough economic times, and urged that the cost increase be passed on to all city households as road construction is currently.
"We just don't think there has been enough attention paid to the needs of bus riders," said Smith. Protestors were urged to share their comments at the hearing, which got underway at 6:00 p.m. inside Monona Terrace shortly after the rally ended. The mood inside was largely one opposing an increase, with the attention of those seeking to avoid this focused on the challenge of figuring out how to increase Metro's revenues without higher fares.
"I really don't know," said Smith about whether or not the rally and hearing would make any difference on a fare increase. "I think it's going to be a tough one."
The Madison Transit and Parking Commission will decide on the future of Metro fares and service at its meeting on Tuesday, December 9. Any changes in the bus system will subsequently go into effect come March 2009.