Metro Transit redesign will benefit minorities, low-income areas, study says

7 Nov 2022 1:33 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

Metro Transit

A sweeping redesign of the Madison’s bus system will benefit minorities as much as white residents and low-income neighborhoods as much as other neighborhoods, a new equity analysis says.

Older adults will also benefit from the coming Metro Transit redesign, but not as much as others; non-English speaking residents will benefit as much as English speakers; and those with disabilities may benefit less than others, a study by the city’s consultant, Jarret Walker and Associates of Portland, Oregon, says.

But critics say the city’s outreach process failed to truly engage marginalized communities, that some people could get less service due to inadequate geographic coverage, and that a more in-depth equity analysis is needed to ensure riders most in need are being better served by the redesign.

The network redesign is intended to address longstanding inequities in public transportation, reflect future needs and complement coming bus rapid transit, or BRT, city officials have said.

In the early morning of June 8, the City Council voted 14-6 for a system redesign that promises to deliver more frequent and consistent service while using fewer routes and transfers, and better links to outlying areas, and eliminating buses from lower State Street. For some riders, the changes will mean longer walks to the bus stop and less service. But the council also approved a series of amendments intended to reduce those hardships.

After the plan was approved, the private consultant conducted a federal Title VI equity analysis to see if there are any disproportionate impacts on specific communities.

The study’s positive results were anticipated because the city designed the system with the goal of providing better, more useful service with an emphasis on improving travels times for communities of color and low-income people, city transportation director Thomas Lynch said.

But Susan De Vos, president of Madison Area Bus Advocates, said the analysis has serious methodological problems, inadequately addresses qualitative issues, and should be considered inadequate and be improved.

“We went into the redesign favoring a ‘ridership’ model for the new network and then failed to deliver the service frequency it requires,” added Jonathan Mertzig, a member of Madison Area Bus Advocates.

The city has scheduled a final online public hearing on the consultant’s analysis, bus stop placements, route start and end times, and route name updates for 6 p.m. Wednesday. The system changes will go into effect in June 2023.

Access to jobs

The redesign and amendments envision BRT — a high-frequency, high-capacity, limited-stop service that would run on city streets and dedicated lanes with special stations — as the backbone of the new network, which is a separate initiative. The initial 15.5-mile, east-to-west BRT route will run roughly from East Towne to West Towne, while a future route will run from north to south.

The proposed network reconfigures bus service in all parts of the city with a completely new set of routes designed to better meet the goal of connecting the most people with the places they need to go in a reasonable amount of time, city officials said.

For the equity study, Metro considered how often a bus stops near each neighborhood and how many jobs or places riders can get to from where they live. The location of jobs is a good way to see where people can travel because the places that people work are also the places many people go to shop, eat and get other services, officials said.

Overall, the analysis found people will be able to travel to more places using the bus. Residents will see a 27% increase in the number of times a bus comes to their neighborhood, and 47% of residents will be able to travel to many more places, which means being able to get to 10,000 or more additional jobs on a 45-minute trip, the analysis says. But 3% of residents will be able to travel to fewer places, which means getting to 1,000 jobs or less in 45 minutes, it says.

“I don’t think we realized how much better job access would be for most of our communities, including marginalized communities,” Lynch said.

But DeVos, Mertzig and others have concerns.

“The planners and city leadership will point out that they’ve delivered 15-minute high frequency on some routes, but if you’re outside that core network, basically on the central Isthmus, I suspect this network and proposed service levels will actually be worse for many riders,” Mertzig said.

Who benefits

The analysis also found:

  • Minorities will benefit as much or more than white residents. Neighborhoods with more minorities will see a 30% increase in service compared with 26% for white people; 45% of Black and white people, 56% of Asians, and 52% of Hispanics will have many more places they can travel by bus.
  • Low-income residents will benefit as much or more than other residents. Low-income residents will have 20% more service and other neighborhoods 32% more, but the latter number is high because the current transfer point system counts trips twice. Sixty-seven percent of low-income residents will have many more places they can travel by bus compared with 40% of other residents.
  • Older adults will benefit, but not as much as others. Thirty-six percent of older adults will have many more places they can travel to by bus, but 4% will have fewer places. But that’s partly because older adults are more likely to live in single-family homes and areas where housing is more spread out and less likely to be near main streets where more bus trips are planned.
  • People with disabilities may benefit less, but limited data makes it somewhat unclear. Available data shows 41% of those with disabilities will have many more places they can travel to by bus and that 4% will have fewer places.

“The analysis shows it will allow more people to get to more places at more times,” Lynch said.

“The analysis shows that the plan will work as is,” he said. “However, there are some minor adjustments to the ends of a few routes. They will be presented Nov. 9. When we do the soft roll out, scheduled for May, it may give additional information to make refinements that can help everyone.”

Overall, the city’s community engagement was flawed because it relied heavily on online meetings while many transit riders lack sufficient access to online media, De Vos said. Further, the system is under resourced, critics said.

“The network probably could be OK if actually funded to be a high-frequency system for more of the city, but the current budget fails to actually deliver that result,” Mertzig said.

The biggest concern, Lynch said, is that a lot of detailed work remains to make sure the system is ready for such a substantial overhaul. “But Metro is confident that we can make that schedule with adjustments being made as needed,” he said.

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