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The Monona Express is a commuter bus service which runs between Monona and the Capitol Square/UW Hospital, Monday through Friday. It loops downtown, through the UW campus and to all three hospitals, running from 6-9 AM and from 3-7 PM.
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The Transit Commission develops and recommends to the City Council policies on the various elements of public transportation and transportation facilities. The purpose of the Transit Commission is to provide for the safe and efficient transport of persons and goods within the community. It regularly weighs public transit options, evaluates transit operation monthly, and gives any proposals due consideration in relation to citizen needs, while also understanding operating budget constraints. Put another way, the Commission’s responsibility is to get the “biggest bang for the buck” in service and dollars, for Monona residents and businesses.
A few other “datapoints” may be helpful:
To gather more input from the community, the Transit Commission held three Public Information Meetings, accepted comments online and on paper, and conducted a comprehensive survey. The Commission also created these FAQ’s and posted all relevant documents. After thorough and careful consideration, and many more discussions with both Madison Metro and our current transit provider, the Commission made a recommendation to the City Council on December 4, 2023.
The Commission has weighed Madison Metro’s proposal, in contrast to our current public transit service, for more than two years. The Metro route now recommended is different than what was initially offered by Metro and we believe more responsive to both resident feedback and Monona needs.
Monona issued an RFP for public transit approximately three years ago and received only two proposals. Other service providers are not interested or would substantially increase the cost of transit in Monona. Moreover, a consistent complaint from community members has been the lack of seamless service between any contracted provider Monona has had and Madison Metro, including but not limited to the need to transfer. Securing another contract provider for Monona, even if available, would not resolve this issue.
Perhaps just as significant, if Monona does not contract with Madison Metro, we would be the only City in the entire Metro service area not served by Metro. With Metro’s system redesign, every other City has expanded service. We often hear “Monona is not Madison” and we gratefully agree! But we believe isolating the residents and businesses of Monona by operating our own private, limited transit service is not in the best interest of our whole community.
Expanding service hours during the week or to the weekends using a privately contracted service is cost prohibitive for the City’s operating budget, which is where this service must be budgeted.
Monona discussed this option with Madison Metro but there are several reasons why this is not the best option for Monona.
First and foremost, the use of Madison Metro and Madison Paratransit, the special door-to-door service operated for qualifying individuals who cannot take the regular bus, are a package deal. And Federal regulations require that anyone qualifying for Paratransit must live within three-quarters of a mile of the regular Metro service area. Monona is and has always been committed to our Seniors and others that require door-to-door service. If the bus ran only on Broadway and Monona Drive, far too many residents that need paratransit would live outside of that three-quarters of a mile regulation and therefore would be denied access.
Second, we know from our current ridership on the Express and on the Lift that there is need for bus service both west and east of Monona Drive. And for many years, residents have asked why we can’t have service running more regularly to the City Center for access to the Library, City Hall, Senior Center and events at Winnequah Park.
For a variety of reasons, that is not possible. First, it is cost prohibitive for Monona. Second, it would be more cumbersome and expensive for riders as Express, Lift, Metro and Metro Paratransit do not operate seamlessly or honor each other’s tickets (Monona honors Metro tickets but Madison does not honor Monona’s). Third, valuable time would be spent waiting for buses to connect up with each other at chosen stops. While Monona has found Madison Metro open to working with us, it will not design their system around us.
No, not even if Monona bought one for them. Madison Metro service offered to Monona is part of a system-wide redesign which requires flexibility; the need for Madison to utilize their fleet interchangeably across the system.
Eventually yes. Metro has announced its commitment to be fully electric. And the purchase of the electric buses has accelerated due to funding through the Infrastructure and Jobs Act. But an exact timetable is not available due to supply chain issues.
The current Metro fleet is hybrid or low-sulfur diesel (i.e. much cleaner than “old” diesel). And Metro has assured us that Monona will see our share of electric buses as they come online.
We are in the third year of a five-year agreement with First Student. The final year is 2026. However, as with many City contracts, there is a six-month termination clause that can be exercised by either the City of Monona or First Student.
Both the City of Monona and Madison Metro have indicated a preference for a shorter contract, likely two or three years, if Monona shifted to Metro service, which would not occur until mid-2024 at the earliest. The intention is to treat it as a pilot and make adjustments as ridership dictates or suggests.
All bus drivers in Wisconsin must have a commercial drivers license (CDL) and pass strict licensing requirements to ensure the safety of their driving.
Madison Metro has a very detailed professional safety plan with three full-time, in-house transportation safety professionals overseeing their operations. The safety plan sets measurable targets which are compared to actual results every year (or more frequently as needed). Their safety record is very good. There were three injuries in regular service in 2021 and ten over the past three years, none which entailed pedestrians injured due to driver error. There were zero Paratransit injuries in 2021.
First Student also has a very good safety record, the City wouldn’t have contracted with them if they didn’t. The Commission has requested more details about their safety protocols and oversight and will report on them as soon as they are provided.
Monona Express can sometimes be tracked in real time. While its owner, First Student, advertises this as a feature, current riders report that the App to do so is not very reliable; sometimes the bus doesn’t show up on the App at all. If the bus isn’t showing up on the App, riders have to call First Student (in Mineral Point) to find out if the bus is even running.
Riders can also track a single Madison Metro bus or multiple buses on multiple Metro routes in real time – through the Madison Metro web site or through numerous third-party Apps such as Google, Moovit, and Transit.
Riders can use a credit card to buy a Madison Metro pass online or at various service centers. Riders can also get a multi-ride pass for Monona Express at City Hall. For either Madison Metro or Monona Express/Lift, individual fares on the bus must be paid in cash, using exact change.
As reflected in the previous chart, Monona Express does have a reduced rate for students and seniors. But it does not have a discounted Pass Program with area schools, hospitals and businesses; Monona is just too small.
Also as reflected in the previous chart, Madison Metro has a reduced rate for students and seniors. It also has a Pass Program with many area colleges, hospitals and businesses. For example, Edgewood students and faculty pay $10/semester for Madison Metro. UW employees pay only $48 for an annual unlimited pass.
Monona contracted with Madison Metro through late 1987. The City stopped contracting with Metro because it became cost prohibitive. Numerous inquiries regarding Madison Metro service returning to Monona have been made since that time; their offers heretofore have continued to be cost prohibitive.
There would be three routes servicing Monona.
Route C3 is proposed to run through Monona every 30minutes. See the map for the current configuration. Note that Route C3 was changed from its original iteration in direct response to community feedback the Commission received at the Public Information Meetings and the more expansive Community Transit Survey. It now is proposed to run two ways to increase the ease of access and shorten travel times, predominantly on Nichols and Dean as our larger thoroughfares with sidewalks, fully includes Monona’s City Center, and is proposed to run 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday (in contrast to the original 7 days per week until 11 p.m.) The exact stops on the route are still under discussion.
Route G (also on the map) will run northbound and southbound on Monona Drive and eastbound and westbound on Broadway west of Monona Drive, every 30 minutes. At Park, it will connect with an express bus to the UW campus and at Rimrock Road, to an express bus to the Capitol Square. This is a larger piece of the overall system redesign that Madison implemented starting in June 2023. This bus will have stops in Monona with the exact locations under discussion.
Route L will run northbound and southbound on Monona Drive, north of Pflaum Road and service points northward, including Milwaukee St. and North-east Madison. See the map here. This is also part of the overall system redesign which Madison began in June 2023. This bus will also have stops in Monona with exact locations under discussion.
The C3 Route that we have negotiated with Madison Metro is designed to get and return from downtown and the campus with only slightly longer times (10-15 minutes) than the Monona Express, anytime from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. This is due to stops that may be needed enroute, on Atwood and Williamson Streets, particularly during peak travel times. It will only stop if people are at stops and there will be no need for transfers.
The Monona Express is commuter-based, offered specifically for commuters who need a pick up in the morning (between 6-9 AM) and a drop back to Monona later in the day (between 4 -7 PM). It works well for those who work on the Capital Square, at UW, or the three major hospitals, on a traditional 9-5 weekday schedule.
Madison Metro has a wider service area and provides service seven days a week. And with Metro’s more regional redesign, many transfer points have been eliminated.
Monona Lift does not have a set route but provides service on demand, from 8 AM to 3:15 PM weekdays only. It provides rides within ¾ mile of the route service area. Rides are scheduled by calling the afternoon before they are needed. For a map of the service area and more detail on Monona Lift: http://mymonona.com/292/Monona-Lift-Bus-Service-for-Seniors.
Just like the Monona Lift, Madison Paratransit does not have a set route but provides service on demand, door-to-door, with service available from 6AM to 9PM every day, including weekends. Rides are scheduled the same way as the Lift; by calling the afternoon before. The service area is the entire Madison Metro service area.
There is a process for being approved to use Paratransit, the door-to-door service, using smaller buses, offered by Madison Metro. Madison Metro reported at the Senior Center Public Information Meeting that they have not denied a single applicant in the past three years.
More information on the application process is at: https://www.cityofmadison.com/metro/paratransit/paratransit eligibility
A goal of the Transit Commission, if we transition to Madison Metro and Paratransit, has been to design regular bus routes that would not be onerous to anyone (not just seniors) who may not qualify for Paratransit, but nevertheless would experience difficulty walking significant distances to a bus stop. Madison Metro would have more frequent service without the need to schedule in advance, service anywhere across the metro area (many routes without a need to transfer), short walks to a bus stop, and safe and well-marked bus stops. Madison Metro buses are also all accessible, equipped to accommodate medical devices used (e.g. a walker or wheelchair or oxygen), provide priority seating, and accommodate those who may be challenged with steps or balance.
Paratransit does require the applicant to apply in person to make sure they are who they say they are, and to assess and confirm need. It will also send a driver to pick up the applicant and deliver them for the scheduled assessment. But the assessment is not a medical test or physical; it is a discussion!
The application does not require a physical or anything written from your healthcare provider. The application does ask for the names and contact information of two healthcare professionals with knowledge of the applicant. If contacted, regulations including HIPAA prohibit Madison Metro and the professionals listed from discussing your mental or physical condition in detail.
Madison Paratransit service is available from 6AM to 9PM every day, including weekends. It can take you anywhere in the Madison Metro area, including around Monona.
If you use Paratransit, it will get you where you need to go. If you are a regular Madison Metro Transit rider, you could use the bus to get to or close to many businesses and services in Monona (including the Senior Center); it depends on where you are going.
Other service providers who already provide service to Monona, including Dane County’s Group Access Service (GAS), RSVP, and the Transit Solutions Activity Bus (also offered by Dane County), will continue to be available for Monona. In other words, there are other options available if you need to get somewhere directly that isn’t covered by Madison Metro. You do not have to sit on a regular bus for an hour to get you where you need to go locally. More detail on what each of these alternative providers offer can be found at: http://mymonona.com/292/Monona-Lift-Bus-Service-for-Seniors.
One service Monona currently offers, through a Dane County grant, coordinated through the Senior Center, may continue - free trips to East Towne Mall on the first Tuesday of the month and to Woodman’s East the second Tuesday of the month. If the demand is there, Monona sees no reason why Dane County wouldn’t continue to fund it.
Madison Paratransit is a contracted service, much like Monona Lift. Small, private companies (e.g. Badger Bus) with small buses and vans are contracted and contacted when a ride is requested.