Madison mayoral candidate Gloria Reyes hosted a press conference on Tuesday afternoon at StartingBlock Madison to discuss issues currently facing the city of Madison with a specific focus on the redesigning of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Reyes said she is not against the BRT, but wants to re-evaluate the current approach to its implementation in light of worries about equity and “the serious financial crisis brought on by the mismanagement of the BRT program.”
Reyes said the closing of three downtown office buildings by the state government — the State Education Building, the State Natural Resources Building, and a building that houses the Department of Health Services — causes legitimate concerns about public transportation ridership.
“I don’t want to start from scratch necessarily,” said Reyes. “I think with the loss of these three significant state buildings in our city, I want to review what the ridership will look like as we’re taking employees away from downtown.
“As you know, the BRT is a radical change to how Madison Metro operates. Unfortunately, it has not been well thought out,” Reyes added. “Madison has unique conditions that make taking plans from another city and expecting them to work here impossible.”
The City of Madison is building a BRT system in an effort to get riders around the city quickly and will include an all-electric fleet and function as a high-frequency, high-capacity, and limited-stop service. Sixty-foot buses will run on city streets and in dedicated lanes with special stations.
“We’re going to be in a structural deficit in the next couple of years,” Reyes said of her concerns for the current BRT plan. “We’re going to sink to a $32 million structural deficit. We’ve used one-time federal funds to support the building and operations of the BRT that are going to run out. That’s going to impact us significantly, we’re going to have to review that.”
Reyes also spoke to the importance of considering vulnerable populations and suggested that a lack of Title VI report for the 2020-2022 data is a critical concern. Reyes mentioned the 2017-2019 report for guidance around BRT redesign is now four years old. She said she has discussed BRT implementation with former mayoral candidate Scott Kerr to gain a greater perspective on the issue.
Reyes asserted that if elected mayor there would be a review of the use and alleged misuse of data across lines of ridership, service for low-income communities, and route changes. Reyes once again questioned if the data for ridership that is being used for BRT redesign really gave a voice to communities often gone unheard, and claimed her own interaction with Madison residents gave the same sentiment.
“My data is really qualitative,” said Reyes. “I’ve been talking to residents across the city, on the far west, far south, and far north side of Madison. These are real-life concerns for people of having to walk a mile away, or a couple of blocks away. It’s really impacting our most vulnerable populations.”
Madison365 reached out to incumbent Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway about Reyes’ concerns about the structural deficit because of the BRT plan.
“The claim from the Reyes and [former Mayor Paul] Sogin team that BRT is contributing to City budget deficits is false. The capital budget spends fewer local dollars on transit than the former mayor proposed in his 2019 budget. My administration brought in over $110 million in federal funding that pays for the infrastructure needed to implement the East/West Bus Rapid Transit project,” Rhodes-Conway said in an email. “And that figure does not include the additional grant money brought in that fully funds the purchase of 46 new all-electric buses.
“On the operating side, we are able to do this for the same amount of money because we have, for instance, collapsed multiple bus routes on East Washington into one faster BRT route. The city, and therefore its taxpayers, will actually spend less on transit because of federal investment and it is a ridiculous accusation that BRT will be the driver of budget deficits moving forward.”