Last night, the Madison Transportation Commission unanimously approved the next step of the Bus Rapid Transit process, outlining where stops would be located throughout the city.
Also approved at last night’s meeting was the city’s purchase of 46 electric buses for use in the Bus Rapid Transit. Originally, the city had planned to buy just 27 electric buses, and 14 diesel buses.
Justin Stuehrenberg is the General Manager of the city’s Metro Transit.
“The Infrastructure and Jobs Act (or the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill) was passed, in November of last year, which dramatically increased funding for electric buses in general, and the Small Starts program specifically. Part of that (was) we did have a conversation with the FTA about potentially increasing our grant award to allow us to bring the entire fleet to electric for BRT, where previously we had planned to do two-thirds electric and one-third diesel. And in the 2023 budget that the President just proposed, they did allocate those additional dollars to the Madison BRT project, meaning that that allows us to increase the project to full electric, without any additional local money. The feds would cover 100%,” Stuehrenberg says.
Those buses will be bought from the company New Flyer, who are the only company the city looked at that made electric buses at the length they required. They are also the only bus looked at that has doors on the left side of the bus.
According to Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, the city’s current buses use over 5,600 gallons of diesel fuel each year. The buses will also save up to $125,000 in maintenance costs each year for each vehicle, due to the fact that they don’t have engines, transmissions, intakes, or exhaust systems.
The other highlight of last night’s meeting? The exact placement of the bus stops around Madison. While the current bus system has bus stops on the side of the road, the plan with Bus Rapid Transit is to place 21 out of 31 of the stops in the median of busy roads, such as Midvale Boulevard and Regent Street. Madison Alder Charles Myadze represents part of Madison’s north side, and sits on the transportation commission.
“I haven’t heard too much about a safety (issue) besides people crossing the street. Already we have a lot of accidents already with people crossing the streets. There is that concern of pedestrians crossing the street after exiting the bus,” Myadze says.
The Bus Rapid Transit line would run from east to west throughout the city. And it’s not to be confused with the ongoing Network Redesign plan. Myadze says that deciding to move forward with Bus Rapid Transit before Network Redesign is a mistake.
“I think that this process was done backwards because of the simple fact that when the federal funding was brought about for BRT, it was to make sure that people could get where they need to go. The redesign should have happened first to ensure that people can get to where they need to go. The focus on the rest of the city, the east to west corridor, which is mostly the college corridor, rather than the residents of the city who have been here for 20, 30 years paying their taxes, should have been the number 1 focus,” Myadze says.
Stuehrenberg says, however, that Bus Rapid Transit has to come first, because Network Redesign would not have qualified for any federal funding, a crucial step in upgrading the city’s bus system. He says that by starting with Bus Rapid Transit, they could use those federal funds to help create infrastructure that would then make Network Redesign much easier to accomplish.
The final plan to purchase the buses, and to approve the new stops, is set to be taken up by the full council at their meeting next Tuesday. Construction is slated to begin later this year, with the project expected to be completed by the summer of 2024.