Abby Becker's June 6 article in the Cap Times on the future of mass transit and the prospect of constructing a bus rapid transit line provides an overview of the current funding of Madison Metro by government entities.
Currently, state government pays about one-third of the system costs, the federal government and city pay one-third and transit riders pay one-third. There is, however, a conspicuous omission from this list: county government.
Although county government received an infusion of $13 million in new revenue this year with the addition of a $28-per-vehicle registration fee, there has been no increase in funds for the repair and reconstruction of county roads — a promise that was often repeated by its proponents. Despite the hike in new revenue, funding for county highways was essentially flat from 2018 to 2019. Nor has the county opted to use these funds to help shoulder the operating and capital costs of either the current or future improved rapid transit system.
County officials reject this proposal by asserting that the bus system is “for Madison” in the same way that it has argued that it shouldn’t pay for the upkeep and construction of county highways that are within the boundaries of a city.
This argument makes it fairly explicit that county government does not see Madison (or any other municipality) as being part of the county for the purpose of transportation services. While city residents are not exempt from paying the $28-per-year registration fee or our share of sales and property taxes, we are forgotten when those revenues are appropriated. All too often, county elected officials need to be reminded that Madison residents are residents — and taxpayers — of the county, too.
The notion that the bus system is used exclusively by city residents is a myth. Who is that filling the “park and ride” lots and private and public public parking lots at the outer limits of the isthmus and along major bus routes?
My guess is that these are non-city residents who are avoiding the traffic and substantial parking fees of the downtown. Thus, the generous subsidies of the federal, state and city governments to Madison Metro allows the exurban county residents to live in comparably less expensive housing while using the “city” buses.
Dane County can remedy this inequity by using at least half of the vehicle registration fee for purposes in addition to road repair. It should share the cost of Metro with the city of Madison and postpone further fare hikes. It can also subsidize inter-city buses from Sun Prairie, Middleton and Cottage Grove into Madison during commuter hours, which will reduce traffic into the city. The county can also help fund a new garage that will house bus rapid transit vehicles. After all, most riders at the East Town station of a future rapid transit system would likely be from outside of the city.
If Madison is to avoid regular traffic gridlock, all levels of government will have to contribute to a solution. This must include Dane County.
David Ahrens is a former member of the Madison City Council.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to email@example.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.