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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist
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Madison Metro Transit ridership holds steady after fare hike

Months after Mayor Dave Cieslewicz pushed through a 50-cent hike in bus fares, ridership has shown a slight increase over last year.

But because more riders seem to be buying the $55 monthly bus passes instead of paying cash for each trip, Madison Metro Transit brought in $440,000 less in ticket revenues than it had budgeted for.

However, an even larger drop in expenses made up for the drop in revenue.

"We weren't expecting quite the shift from the cash fares to the monthly unlimited passes," says Mick Rusch, Madison Metro Transit spokesman. "That's the only thing we can figure out that's going on."

Cieslewicz says that although revenues are less than what was expected, they're still $480,000 more than 2008. "Any projections we make are unlikely to be absolutely accurate," he says. "It's not what we'd hoped for, but still a considerable increase."

As for the drop in expenses, Metro spent $425,000 less on salaries and wages, $170,000 less on gas, $100,000 less on natural gas, and $145,000 less on health benefits. These and other savings have left Metro with a $156,000 surplus for the first half of the year.

Rusch doesn't anticipate Metro Transit will have any difficulty meeting its budget for the year, saying, "We're not concerned at all."

Although many critics predicted that ridership would plummet when the city increased bus fares from $1.50 to $2 in April, so far that hasn't happened. There was a slight drop in both May and June, but overall, ridership is up for the year to date. As of the end of June, 7.024 million bus rides had been taken, compared to 6.732 million for the first half of 2008 -- a 4.3% increase.

Cieslewicz says the ridership levels are in keeping with what his staff predicted, "and far more accurate than the dire predictions by the opponents of the fare increase."

The drops in May and June are mostly accounted for by a drop in transfers and non-revenue rides. People with monthly passes don't need to purchase transfers -- and each trip is calculated as a separate revenue ride. Non-revenue rides include children under 4 and school or children's groups that ride with free passes.

"These non-revenue rides are a pretty small amount of our ridership, and we really don't have an explanation for that," Rusch says. "The economy could be keeping summer camp and school groups from taking as many field trips."

Transit is moving ahead with route expansions on Aug. 23, including restoring Route 10 midday service. The complete list of route changes can be seen here.

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