Monday, January 23, 2012

Yes, you can ride the bus, even if you live way outside the city.

Just because there isn't bus service to your home doesn't mean you can't arrive at work by bus.

This morning brought another conversation about driving, parking, costs, buses, and the possibility that transit and driving could be combined to save some money. It doesn't really matter what the details of the situation were today, because the conversation followed a familiar path. I've has variations on the same conversation dozens of times. This particular one occurred as a woman was trying to renew her parking permit on the UW campus.

Woman complaining about parking costs: It's so expensive. Parking should be free. Nobody else charges employees to park!

Me: [After pointing out that the UW Transportation Services gets no state funding, and has to somehow raise revenue to provide the parking she wishes were free. And that actually, many places charge for parking. Some employers in Madison don't provide any options other than parking in the public ramps, so that costs way more than the spots at UW.] Why don't you take the bus? Then you wouldn't have to pay for parking at all?

Woman: I live in [outlying community about 20 miles away], so I can't take the bus.

Me: Well, you could drive into an area in Madison with good bus service, and then take the bus from there. Just park on the street. Lot's of people do it. No cost for the parking, and then the UW provides the bus pass for you as well.

Woman: It takes too long.

Me: Actually, it's only about fifteen minutes from Hilldale. There are a bunch of buses that go from there right to the campus.

Woman: Well, what if my kids get sick? I have to have my car.

Me: The UW provides an emergency ride home. If your kids get sick, you can take get a ride to where you parked the car, and then drive from there.

Woman: I wish they told us that.

Me: They do. They send out an email every semester to all employees outlining the options other than driving alone and parking.

Woman: Well, I didn't see it.

Me: OK, well, now you know. It's just one option to save some money.

It doesn't matter what community this woman lives in, or whether she works at the UW or somewhere else, except that the UW has done an excellent job of providing information to all employees on how to get to and from work without driving. This woman gets all sorts of emails on this subject, and probably has seen posters at her office, received mailings, and even heard people talk about the bus pass program, but she rejected it for two reasons:
1. She knows there's no bus in her community, so she assumes that a bus is not an option for arriving at work, never considering the possibility that she could take the bus part way and avoid that pesky parking fee.
2. She's never taken a bus in her life, and it scares her to think about taking a bus.

OK, I'm speculating on that second point. But Madison is just small enough that there are a lot of people that still view buses as for poor people, brown people [oh, the horrors!], students, and crazy environmentalists. Buses are urban things, and she lives in a rural community. She wouldn't have the first idea how to find the correct bus, and she has no intention of finding out how to use the system.

So she'll continue to complain about the cost of parking. But maybe, just maybe, one day she will try riding the bus, just to prove that it won't work for her, and she'll find out it's actually pretty easy. Then she'll think about all the money she could save by giving up her parking spot, or getting flex parking, and maybe another multimodal commuter will be born.

And by the way, the City of Madison can also help you find ways to avoid driving (and parking) every day. So you don't have to be a UW employee to get that emergency ride home. But if you happen to be a UW employee, and don't already know about the services they provide, check out the Commuter Solutions page. It's great information for anyone in Madison.


  1. "Free" parking isn't free:

  2. Yes, I am well aware that there is no such things as "free" parking, but that is another blog post.

    However, from the perspective of the woman to whom I was speaking, the driver in question - who does not live in Madison, so does not pay Madison property taxes to maintain Madison streets - would incur no direct cost to leave her car parked on the street for the length of her work day.

  3. Free parking, even exclusively for UW employees, would be absolutely insane. It would be an arms race to see who is willing to show up on campus early enough to snag the finite amount of spaces. Then she would be in your office complaining that there aren't enough spaces, and you would have to break the hard truth about scarcity to her.

    This is why dropping economics requirements in high school curriculum is a bad idea.