It was a cold and windy day when I visited Madison?s Metro Transit. Sure, cold kind of goes with the description when you live in Wisconsin in the winter, but it was about -10 F on the thermometer — and probably -20 F with wind chill — when I looked outside that morning. I figured I would get to see the buses in the maintenance bays or perhaps just tour some of the office facilities, but Metro's general manager, Chuck Kamp, had other ideas.
A Subzero Tour
"I'm dressed and ready to go," Kamp said (as you can see by our cover) with a smile. "For me this is the perfect day to show the system when we're really challenged."
And we did tour the system like any other rider would. We waited for a bus at a stop in the cold, got on board and rode a bus to the state capitol building and returned in the same manner.
And what surprised me the most about our trek to use transit that freezing morning was that not only were people on the buses, they were packed.
"That has to do with the support for public transportation," Kamp says. "This community supports it in terms of ridership and it also supports it in terms of the taxes that support it."
One of the ways that Kamp has noticed the support for transit in Madison is the number of choice riders the system has attracted. He notes that the Wisconsin capital is very environmentally conscious, which may explain some support, but there may be another — economic — reason.
"If they are parking at one of the ramps we will ride by downtown, it is $120 [a month]. And to get a bus pass it's $47 a month. In my previous community, to ride a bus for a month was about $60 and you could get a parking pass for a month for $20.
"Where you work in a community where the transit and parking policies are looked at together, I think that?s an example where you can build public transportation support," Kamp says.
Putting Down Roots
Despite its unenviable winters, Madison is one of the best places to live in the United States. Recently rated by Forbes magazine as the best place in the country to get a job, Madison has half the unemployment rate of the rest of the country. And it has a growing transit system. As any transit director will tell you, even though many transit executives move around quite a bit you do tend to put down roots in your community.
Kamp has had that opportunity a couple times over his career and has been happy with the decision each time. First entering the transit industry through a management internship program with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Kamp was allowed to do different assignments in transit over a two-year program. He wasn?t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew it would be in transportation.
"I've got transportation in my blood. I have a great grandfather who worked for the railroads. So I just think it's in my system," Kamp says.
Kamp took a few assignments with the program and eventually ended up at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Ending his internship program, Kamp stayed on with WMATA and as he says it, "I've never looked back."
Spending the 1980s in Washington, D.C., Kamp would move back to the Midwest in 1991 to become general manager of Valley Transit in Appleton, Wis. Spend 15 years in any location and you'll put down roots, so when you decide to make a move, it's a big decision, as it was when Kamp considered the open general manager position in Madison in 2006. Casually chatting with his wife over dinner, he discussed the open position, but was cautious because their youngest child was still in high school.
"[My wife] knows public transportation pretty well," Kamp admits. "And she said isn't it true that some people in transit manager jobs, they take it and then they are there 20 years. And I go, well yeah.