-by Ashwat Anandanarayanan, Transportation Policy Analyst
Transit ridership in Wisconsin has been a mixed-bag. Madison has seen ridership thrive, with 2011 hitting an all-time high.1 Milwaukee has seen ridership fall by over 10 million annually since 2009 due to substantial cuts in state aids.2 Ridership on other Wisconsin systems have remained fairly constant.
The City of Madison, has invested in multimodal transportation, and has seen record ridership increases on its transit system, along with all-time high bike and pedestrian mode shares. Nearly 45% more transit trips were taken on public transportation in Madison in 2011 than in 1997.3
Other Wisconsin cities are also seeing all-time transit ridership demands. In La Crosse, annual transit ridership has risen from approximately 750,000 trips in 1997 to 1.3 million in 2012.4
According to the Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finance and Policy, between 2007 and 2011 statewide ridership on “Tier C” transit systems with populations less than 50,000 rose. For example, at Bay Area Rapid Transit on the shores of Lake Superior, year on year ridership was up 11 percent in 2010, 21% in 2011. 5
These ridership numbers are indicative of how investments have been prioritized in these cities. Milwaukee has seen significant and persistent cuts to its transit system since 2009, with over $6.8 million cut in the 2011 legislative session alone.6 The transit system also increased fares by 29% in 2006-2011.7 Simultaneously, the city has invested heavily into expanding capacity on its urban roadway system – at a time when Milwaukee has seen some of the greatest driving decreases in the nation.
This systematic divestment in the transit system has contributed to a 21% decrease in Milwaukee transit ridership over the last five years.8 Studies estimate that nearly 40,000 jobs have been put out of reach to commuters over the last decade due to the elimination of routes.9