MADISON – University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering transportation researchers are compiling the results of ridership surveys conducted in March and April on board Madison Metro buses.

The survey results will provide the city of Madison with information about where passengers get on and off the buses, as well as passenger demographics and satisfaction.

“Surveys are the only way to get that kind of data,” says Sharon Persich, Madison Metro transit planning and scheduling manager. “It’s a route-planning tool that gives us a sense of whether we’re providing the best route connections.”

The surveys were requested by consultants from the Transport 2020 study, which is the Dane County and Greater Madison metropolitan area initiative to evaluate the region’s transportation network.

With cooperation from Madison Metro, representatives from multiple transportation research centers at UW-Madison conducted the surveys. More than 30 students and staff members distributed surveys on the bus from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. several times a week. The questions took three to five minutes to answer and asked passengers about their frequency of travel, boarding areas, intended destinations and overall satisfaction.

“The data obtained will give the transit system a better understanding of the service demands of their users and how to improve routes to attract more ridership,” says principal investigator and civil and environmental engineering associate professor David Noyce, who is the director of the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety (TOPS) Laboratory.

Along with TOPS, College of Engineering-based Wisconsin Transportation Center and National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education (CFIRE) were involved in the project.

“Research with local transportation agencies provides an excellent opportunity for our students to gain real-world hands-on experiences that we cannot replicate in the traditional academic setting,” Noyce says.

Stephanie Lind, a transportation planner for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments in Colorado Springs, Colo., was one of the students who benefited from the experience. Lind was an urban and regional planning graduate student working as a project assistant at CFIRE this spring. She, along with TOPS members Richard Lord and Michael Wagner, led the teams of surveyors.

“Before my work on this project, I had no idea how expansive the Madison Metro service area really is,” Lind says. “Transit service is vital to many Madisonians, and riders were happy to take the survey and provide feedback on service.”

CFIRE deputy director Jason Bittner agrees the experience of conducting surveys on the buses was eye-opening.

“It was very surprising for me to see how varied bus scheduling, ridership and routes can be. I’ve been on a bus headed to Fitchburg with only one other passenger onboard, and on the return trip the same bus is full, with standing room only,” Bittner says.

After CFIRE staff and students finish compiling the data, Metro manager Persich will compare the results to previous surveys to find trends in passenger demographics and behaviors.

Persich says the collaboration between Madison Metro and UW-Madison worked well.

“This went very smoothly and was methodologically very scientific,” she says. “We’d like to do it again.”
– Sandra Knisely, (608) 263-5988,