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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  A Few Clouds
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MAD TALK

Racial profiling on Madison Metro?

Reeder is concerned about Metro's checks for student IDs.
Reeder is concerned about Metro's checks for student IDs.
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Jessie Reeder has been a student at UW-Madison for seven years. She's also a regular Madison Metro bus rider. In all those years, she's never once been asked to show an ID to prove her student bus pass is legit.

On June 19 she climbed aboard the #2 route at Johnson and Mills, and the bus driver "just smiled at me, like hundreds of times before."

So she was a bit surprised a few stops later, when she heard the driver ask another rider: "You got ID for that student pass?"

Reeder looked up to see that the rider was a young black man. This made Reeder, who is a young Caucasian woman, wonder: How does Madison Metro decide whom to check for student IDs? Reeder emailed her concerns to Metro, and its response was not particularly reassuring: "The requirement...has been in place since we started offering unlimited-ride pass options."

"This driver clearly decided he didn't look like a student," Reeder says. "And I couldn't for the life of me see why he didn't look like a student."

Reeder says she doesn't have any problems with drivers asking people for IDs, but she's uncomfortable with a system that might encourage profiling. There are better, more random ways of enforcing student passes, she says, such as carding every fifth or sixth person who uses a pass.

Mick Rusch, a spokesman for Madison Metro, apologizes for Metro's initial response to Reeder. He says Metro began carding more riders who present unlimited-ride passes last fall, after some of its partners complained about spiraling usage. "They just told us the number of rides on their passes has gotten so they can't afford it anymore."

Since January, Metro has confiscated 620 passes that were being used by unauthorized people. If all of those passes were used twice daily, Rusch calculates, it would add up to $360,000 a year.

Metro partners with several schools and companies, including the UW-Madison, Madison College, Edgewood College, and UW and Meriter hospitals, for the passes. The partner is charged a reduced rate of $1.15 per ride. Rusch says the drivers need to have flexibility in carding, so the buses don't get backed up.

"We are confiscating a lot fewer passes, so it does seem to be working," Rusch says of the enforcement measures.

He notes that the drivers go through annual sensitivity training, where situations that arise throughout the year are reviewed. And all city employees will soon be going through a harassment-prevention course.

Reeder remains concerned that Metro does not take profiling seriously.

"I don't want to get any bus driver in trouble, and I think most of them are wonderful," she says. "But I would think they don't want a policy that leaves them open [charges of] to discrimination."

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