Housing advocates are pushing the city of Madison to create a new "low-income" cash fare for Metro riders.
"We offer seniors a discount because they're low-income and on a fixed budget," says Lisa Subeck, a program coordinator for the YWCA. "So why not offer the same discount to individuals and families living at the same income levels?"
Cash fares for Madison Metro are currently $1.50; next Tuesday, Dec. 9, the Transit and Parking Commission will decide whether to raise that fare to $2. Under Subeck's proposal, low-income individuals who are eligible for food stamps would pay $1.25. They would just have to show a food stamp eligibility card.
Subeck says Metro's own ridership survey in 2000 found that 31% of riders who use cash fares have incomes below $15,000: "It's clear low-income riders are the most affected by increases to the cash fare."
Members of the city's Transit and Parking Commission are interested in Subeck's proposal. "I like it a lot," says Ald. Brian Solomon, one of three alders on the commission. "Personally, I would love to see a low-income fare, no matter what."
But since Metro projects a $682,000 budget gap next year, Solomon says the commission must be careful not to structure fares in a way that loses revenue. Subeck's proposal, he notes, only works if the commission raises cash fares for everyone else - something he's not sure should be done.
"I'm still scared about those people who said this increase is going to price them out of Metro," he says, noting those who ride Metro by choice might defect to their cars. "If Metro is seen as only for low-income riders, I think public support starts eroding."
Solomon sees other ways Metro can give a break to low-income individuals, such as expanding Transit for Jobs, which provides free bus rides for people looking for work. He also wonders if the city could contract with a nonprofit agency to provide discounted rides, like it does with major employers like the UW.
Doing so might even increase revenue "because we might have nonprofits that think $1.50 is too much to pay, but 95 cents is enticing."
Carl DuRocher, chair of the Transit and Parking Commission, agrees Subeck's plan is feasible. But "I don't want to do anything that makes the fare structure more complex. The easiest thing would be to not raise fares."
Subeck thinks the city will eventually have to raise fares. And she wants low-income riders to be protected from those increases. "If we create a new classification of fares for low-income, it sets up a more fair system in the future," she says. "This puts low-income riders in a better place to start."
Lucky number 13
At least bus advocates don't have to worry about losing route 13, which winds through the city's south side and the town of Madison, with stops at the Goodman Pool, the Alliant Energy Center and the county's work-release jail.
The route was threatened earlier this year, when the town of Madison balked at paying $111,000 - a 31% increase - for its share of Metro service. Dane County finally stepped in with a one-time payment of $9,000, to help keep the route running.
Two weeks ago the town agreed, without complaint, to pay Metro $120,000 for service next year. Town chair Jim Campbell says the town met with Metro and knew ahead of time what the cost would be.
"We budgeted for it [in 2009]," he says. "We're satisfied that almost everything was done to minimize costs on this."
Campbell's ultimate solution to such budgeting quandaries is a Regional Transit Authority, which would pay for bus service countywide through a sales tax. "That would be a lot more fair," he says, "if everyone chipped in on it."
When Madison resident Lucy Taylor needed a job a few years ago, she went to the Job Center on Aberg Avenue and tried to use its "accessible" computer to create a résumé. Taylor, who has multiple disabilities, found the computer "had none of the adaptive technology I would need."
She requires a special mouse and software that allows her to give voice commands to the computer. But the Job Center's computer - which was located in the lobby, in full view of other people - had none of that.
"I wanted to get another job, yet I couldn't work on the computer," says Taylor. "I'm not sure how they thought it was accessible."
Taylor filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Job Service, but got nowhere. She eventually asked Disability Rights Wisconsin for help. The group contacted the state agency's legal counsel and, nearly two years later, the state has finally made some changes.
"The computer now has a headset, earphones and a scanner for documents," says Chris L'Heureux, an advocacy specialist with Disability Rights Wisconsin. The computer has also been moved into a cubicle to give users some privacy.
Brian Solomon, head of Wisconsin Job Service (and a Madison alder), says it took two years because the state had to figure out what it could afford to provide. "Our absolute goal is to have everything accessible," he says. "At the same time, it's hard because we don't have the resources."
L'Heureux says her group may survey all of the state's job centers next year, to check how accessible they are. "If this computer is in Dane County, which is the site of the state capital, and this one is not functioning properly," she asks, "what do the rest of them look like?"
Falk prepares for battle
Correction: The below column says Kathleen Falk "raised about $200,000" in her last race for county executive, in 2001; Falk actually raised $247,000 and spent "in the $180,000 and $190,000" range, says campaign advisor Melissa Mulliken.
On Thursday, about 100 "environmental leaders" will sponsor a fundraiser for Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk at the Club Tavern in Middleton. Falk is running for re-election next spring. She has at least one declared opponent, former Madison school board member Nancy Mistele. Verona Mayor Jon Hochkammer is also rumored to be considering a run.
"It's not our first event," says Melissa Mulliken, Falk's campaign adviser. Falk held a kick-off fundraiser on Nov. 20, hosted by John DeMain, director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and his wife, Barbara. About 700 people sponsored that event, at the Nakoma Golf Club.
"We were going to do it at [the DeMains'] house, but it got to be so large, we had to move it," says Mulliken. "It was this incredible outpouring of support."
The last time Falk had an opponent was in 2001, when she ran against Supv. Dave Wiganowsky. She raised about $200,000 then. This time, Mulliken expects Falk to have about $160,000 by the time her first campaign finance report is due in January. She'll collect more as the election nears.
"This is just the beginning of fundraising," promises Mulliken. "We'll raise what it takes."
First things first
Last week terrorists attacked Mumbai, India's largest city, killing at least 173 people and wounding nearly 300 others in a three-day siege. This was headline news for most media outlets - except the Wisconsin State Journal. On Thanksgiving, the day after the attack began, the paper ran just a short blurb about it, with a small black-and-white photo. Meanwhile, in a separate section entitled "Nation & World Extra," the paper ran a big story about Barack Obama's inauguration plans, and another story on...the resurgence of Spam.