Since 2020, Metro Transit has been engaging with people all across the city to talk about how to make our transit network more equitable, more efficient and more effective at getting people where they need to be. Working with an internationally-recognized consulting firm, Metro staff have put countless hours into analyzing data, talking with residents, drafting possible routes, and designing a proposal for a better transit system.

Some have asked why the city is redesigning the transit network at all.  The main reason is the current system does not serve our residents well – in fact, it exacerbates the racial disparities we see in Madison.  People of color have to transfer 2.5 times more often than others.  People of color have twice as likely to have a trip that takes longer than 45 minutes than others. Our city has changed considerably in the 20 years since the current transit network was designed – in particular, most of our employment centers used to be downtown, and now there are many centers spread across the city.  Now is the time to reduce transfers and travel times to make it more equitable for all of our residents. 

The draft network was designed, under the direction of the Transportation Policy and Planning Board, to follow a model that would provide high quality service in corridors with dense housing, especially those neighborhoods with higher percentages BIPOC or low-income households.  This is intended to maximize mobility for the vast majority of the city’s residents, reducing wait and travel times so that people can get where they need to go on the timeline in which they need to get there.  It’s incredibly important for us to not just provide service – but rather to provide service that actually works for people.  Many people in Madison, especially those in BIPOC communities, have been subjected to extremely long wait times and travel times.  Giving them more time back can have a positive impact on their lives.

This is not without tradeoffs, because we are making all these improvements within the same budget.  We cannot provide that high level of service everywhere given the budgetary constraints placed upon us, so we must make a choice – good service for most, or mediocre service for more people.  This plan is designed to provide good service for most, with an emphasis on serving low-income neighborhoods and employment destinations (see, page 8).  An analysis of the draft plan shows that 31% of Madison residents would see improvements in service, while a small percent would see a decrease in access due to this shift. With the proposed amendments, I’m confident that we can reduce that percentage even further.

We have had over 50 public meetings on the plan where Metro has received productive feedback. As we approach a Common Council vote on the Transit Network Redesign this summer, I wanted to bring your attention to many suggested adjustments to the plan being presented as amendments in neighborhood meetings and ultimately as a package for our transportation committees and the Common Council to approve. The approval process is planned to follow this timeline:

  • May 10: Introduce resolution at Common Council
  • May 16: Present detailed plan and amendments to the Transportation Planning and Policy Board (TPPB)
  • May 19: Citywide public information meeting on the plan and amendments
  • May 31: Citywide public hearing on the plan and amendments in front of the TPPB
  • June 6: TPPB deliberation and vote on the plan and recommended package of amendments
  • June 7: Common Council deliberation and vote on the plan and amendments

Before we get to the amendments, I wanted to clarify a few issues.

As we work through two simultaneous, but independent, projects with Metro Transit some residents have mistaken the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project and the Transit Network Redesign as the same project.  Metro Rapid BRT and Transit Network Redesign are separate projects that acknowledge the effects of each other, but each project has value with or without the implementation of the other. Neither project restricts the consideration of alternatives of the other project nor does adopting one mean you have to adopt the other. Routing for the BRT project has been approved by council and won’t be affected by the Transit Network Redesign process.

Metro Transit has designed the draft network to give the vast majority of Madison, especially people with disabilities, low income residents and people of color, access to a much wider array of jobs and locations (see, page 18). This was a foundational principle of our planning effort.

But some have raised concerns about the redesign falling short of compliance with the federal law. That is simply not the case, nor is it an option.  Metro has a federal requirement to conduct an analysis to ensure that the burdens of a change do not disproportionately fall on specific communities.  At this point the Transit Network Redesign is still in the planning phase, with many amendments still under consideration. Until Metro knows what changes the council does or does not support, including over a dozen different amendments, they cannot complete the detailed service equity analysis because there are too many variables.

The action before the council this summer is for the redesign plan.  Final implementation will require another approval of the detailed schedules, start/stop times, and the equity analysis later in the year.  Metro Transit designed the draft network in a way where they feel confident that there would not be a disparate impact, but once the Council has given direction on the plan and amendments, they will do that analysis to confirm. If it does show a disparate impact, they’d need to adjust the plan.

We’ve also heard that residents fear the redesign will leave people with disabilities with more distance to travel to and from bus stops.  The city has focused on improvements to sidewalk infrastructure for years so that ultimately it should be easier for everyone to navigate to bus stops, including those with disabilities. For a few though, the fixed route service would no longer be an option and so paratransit service is also being expanded to serve those in range of the new routing as well as grandfathering those who were eligible with the old routing. The proposed amendments to the draft plan largely focus on the needs of the people who rely most on the service.

Now for a few samples of the concerns we heard and what’s included in the offered amendments:

  • We heard that all-day service was needed north of Tennyson Dr. and service needed to continue to connect key destinations on the North and East sides, so one amendment adds a route to provide all-day service to the far North side (Wheeler Rd. & Delaware), connecting to the Pick n’ Save, Madison College, the Kinsman DMV, and Woodman’s on East Milwaukee.
  • We heard that School Rd. was not appropriate for service and the Troy Dr. needed to keep service, so an amendment will restore the current Troy Dr. loop.
  • Southside residents expressed concern about the loss of service to several major destinations, including the Romnes Apartments and St. Vincent’s, so one amendment is providing all day service on Olin Ave. and Fish Hatchery Rd. (north of the Beltline).
  • We heard from Owl Creek that the new routing would not take them where they want to go, so one amendment is connecting Owl Creek to LaFollette High School and Woodman’s.
  • Several neighborhoods on the West side expressed concern about the loss of all day service, so one amendment is providing all-day service on Speedway Rd., Old Sauk Rd., and Nakoma Rd.
  • Campus stakeholders shared concerns about the capacity of buses through the core of campus, so an amendment is committing more peak hour service through the core of the UW Campus on Observatory Dr.
  • And more – see the amendments here.

Fast, efficient transit that serves all of Madison well is a top priority of my administration. I am encouraged by the lively engagement with the Transit Network Redesign process and know that through our robust community engagement process, we can build together a modern Metro Transit system that will serve as a back bone of our community and our economy. Plus, with modern electric buses we will be getting cars off the road and taking one of the most significant steps we can take as a community to combat climate change and protect our air and water.

Whether or not you ride the bus, I invite you to share your thoughts on the proposed plan and amendments by attending the public hearing on May 31, you can find the details here.

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Category: Transit