The Results are Good
January 13, 2009 4:53 PM
In city government we tend to hear from people more when things aren't going right then when they are. That's understandable. It's just human nature to fire off an email or a letter when we're angry. When we're satisfied and contented we're more likely to just ask what's for dinner.
So to get a better sense of how our customers really feel about the services we provide, in October we sent surveys to 1,000 Madison households asking them to rate their satisfaction on 15 city services. The return rate was a remarkable 43% (we would have been happy with 30%) and the overall level of satisfaction was very high. Almost nine out of ten respondents said that both the overall quality of life in the city and the overall quality of city services was good or better. So, overall I'm very pleased with the results of our survey. We'll replicate it now every year at the same time of the year so that we can track levels of satisfaction or discontent and get in there and fix problems when they pop up.
The only issue that got noticeably poor reviews was lake water quality, which shouldn't be too surprising to anyone. Of course, that issue isn't primarily a city issue, but a regional one. I'm encouraged that a conference held on lake quality last October is leading to more cooperation between partners like Dane County and agricultural interests. Maybe the single best thing we can do for lake quality is to build a "manure digester", which is a kind of waste water treatment plant for animal wastes. The county is serious about making that happen.
One area that good pretty good marks, but showed room for improvement was satisfaction with the level of bus service. That's one reason why I hope the Transit & Parking Commission will finally approve a fare increase at their meeting. With the fare increase we can actually add more service and provide other improvements.
Here's the memo I sent to the Commission today:
Dear TPC Members:
As you reconsider the issue of bus fares I wanted to take this opportunity to address the issues raised at your last meeting and to urge you to approve the fare increases at this meeting. At your previous meeting there were essentially three issues raised, and I would like to address each of them directly.
At the December meeting new information was offered regarding an elasticity model from the American Public Transportation Association. This information provided much of the justification for not increasing fares, but subsequent analysis from Metro staff indicates that the Metro model is more accurate. While the APTA model was built in 1991 and is based on broad, national experiences, the Metro model is updated and based on actual Madison-specific experience. When we apply both models to the last fare increase in 2005, the Metro model predicts revenues almost perfectly. And while neither model is especially accurate with regard to ridership, the Metro model is considerably closer to actual experience.
The TPC's authority is over fares and service. The TPC does not have the authority to cut other transit-related programs already approved by the City Council. So, the TPC may not cut security at transfer points, the Transit for Jobs program, marketing or the Metro reserve. If the TPC does not increase fares, it must cut service to balance the Metro budget. Metro staff has recommended that if service needs to be cut, Sunday service should be reduced by half, holiday service should be eliminated and five Metro drivers should be laid off. And these are the least disruptive of the options. I agree with Metro management that a fare increase is far preferable to these drastic cuts. Of course, with the fare increase service can actually be increased.
Impact on Low-Income Riders
The budget that I introduced and that was adopted by the Council doubled the Transit for Jobs program. Now, in addition to this, I am offering to create another program to assist low-income riders. This program was developed from a proposal by Lisa Subeck, community advocate and program coordinator for the YWCA. Lisa worked with my staff, Metro staff, Steve Schooler from Porchlight and Nan Cnare from the United Way on development of this initiative. The gist of it is this: if the TPC approves the fare increase, I will ask the City Council to amend the budget to create a new discounted fare for low-income riders. Under this new program, low-income riders could get a 50% discount, a discount that was not available to them before the fare increase. The budget amendment would reduce the Metro reserve by $100,000 to pay for the program. This is responsible because it would still leave $170,000 in budgeted reserve when we have never budgeted for any reserve in the past. In addition, I would appoint an ad hoc committee to recommend a permanent program in time for consideration in the 2010 budget.
Metro staff and I have now addressed each of the three major issues raised at the last meeting. In addition, I want to remind you of what we will do with the fare increase:
· Increase service by $150,000.
· Increase security at transfer points.
· Double the Transit for Jobs program.
· Increase marketing.
· Reestablish a cash reserve.
· And now, create a new program to help low-income riders.
Without the fare increase we will still increase security, Transit for Jobs, the marketing and the cash reserve, but there will be no new program for low-income riders and we will have to cut:
· All new service improvements.
· Half of the Sunday service.
· Holiday service.
· Five drivers.
The choices are stark, but clear. A fare increase is the far better alternative.