The Madison Metro Bus System – likes, dislikes and a vision of the future!

By Brent West and Mike Edwards

Mike Edwards is a supported employment IPS staff member here at Chrysalis.  Brent is a part of the Chrysalis Advisory Committee.

Many people in the Chrysalis community use the Madison Metro bus system. For lots of people, it is their only option apart from expensive cabs. We’d like to get a conversation going about the bus system and how, if we plan for the long term, a really good transit system could benefit our community.

What we like about the bus system:

  1. The best we can say about the current Metro bus system is that it is fairly functional for our needs. Brent lives downtown and can get to most places in the City fairly easily. 
  2. Google maps is quite a good way of planning your journey. The Madison Metro ‘Plan your Trip’ section of their website uses google maps so you might as well just go straight to Google maps. Brent also uses the mobile app ‘Bus Radar’, which shows you where your bus is and what other routes are available at your location.
  3. If you are not a person who uses their phone or a computer for this sort of thing, the easiest way to plan your journey is to call Metro Customer Service, (608) 266-4466. You can actually get a friendly person to tell you the best route to get where you want. Monday – Friday: 6:15 am – 6:00 pm; Weekend & Holiday: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm. 

What we don’t like about the current Metro bus system:

  1. Buses are often only once an hour. If you miss a bus, that means a long wait! We’d like to see much more frequent buses.
  2. Sometimes the buses are early. We’ve both got to the stop on time and it’s already gone by! The ‘Bus Radar’ app doesn’t always work!
  3. There is no service to some nearby areas outside the City that are in different jurisdictions. This is ridiculous, because places like Monona, Sun Prairie and Deforest are where lots of jobs are and people in the city who don’t have cars can’t get to these job opportunities.

Why we’re worried about the change to a system based on the Bus Rapid Transit route:

  1. There will be reduced routes and fewer buses for some areas and people will often have to walk further to get to the stop. 
  2. Low and mid income people, a population that heavily relies on public transportation, will be affected by the reduced services if they live in some areas. This does not seem like the way to go. 

What we would like to see for the bus system in the near future:

  1. Increased service to suburbs and areas not currently being served, like Monona and DeForest.
  2. Services running earlier and later in the day. 

Why don’t we have a really good public transportation system?

  1. The main problem is that municipalities like Madison, Sun Prairie and Verona have little control over most federal funds for transportation. Congress decides whether the funds are used for roads or public transportation. Then federal and state governments decide on specific projects. The great majority of funds go for building new roads instead of public transportation like buses and light rail. For example, the recent highway upgrade from the South Beltline to Verona, cost $265 million, nearly all in federal dollars. As you may have noticed, such highway construction is constant in Dane County. The only new Madison public transportation investment is the Bus Rapid Transit system. Construction will cost $160 million, only $105 million of which is federal. Madison Metro’s total budget for this year is $68 million. In 2019, prior to Covid, Madison Metro provided 12.9 million rides. However, the system only received $6.2 million in federal assistance.
  2. Highway expansion projects are often justified based on the assumption that they will reduce traffic congestion and increase traffic speeds, but they do the opposite. A couple of years after a highway expansion, the traffic has increased so that the speeds return to their prior level. In addition, over the long run, highway expansions increase the total amount of time that residents spend traveling because they create more dispersed development patterns where travel distances are longer and there are fewer non-auto travel options. (; Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis II – Travel Time Costs Victoria Transport Policy Institute (
  3. Despite this evidence, Congress authorizes funding for highways. This is because of lobbying by the road construction industry and the automakers. We need to fund instead the public transit infrastructure that will make our cities and towns more livable and sustainable now and in the future.
  4. How about investing in a system like the one shown in the map below? We could afford it just by giving up a few highway ‘improvements’ in Dane County. Imagine then those bus, underground or light rail lines extending and going out to Waunakee, Deforest, Windsor, Sun Prairie, McFarland, Verona and Cross Plains. Accessible jobs, fewer cars, faster travel, less sprawl, less pollution, accessible to everyone, better for our mental health. We can do this! 

Let us know what YOU think.