Oral history interview with Sharon Persich

Dublin Core


Oral history interview with Sharon Persich


Transportation agencies
City planning


Copyright 2020, Sharon Persich and Madison Public Library. All rights reserved. For more information, contact Madison Public Library.


Persich, Sharon


Damon-Moore, Laura




Sharon Persich is interviewed about her career at Madison Metro. Sharon shares several projects that she worked on as part of Metro's Scheduling and Planning team, including the shift to the transfer point system, the introduction of real-time bus location updates via ITS, and models she developed and used to project fare increases and the effect on ridership.


Dane County, Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin





Sound Item Type Metadata



Interviewer: Good afternoon. My name is Laura Damon-Moore. I'm here with a narrator to talk about her career with Madison Metro and Madison Transit. It is Tuesday, January 28th. We're here at the Lakeview Library. I will have the narrator for today introduce herself now.

Sharon Persich: Hi, I'm Sharon Persich, retired Planning and Scheduling Manager from Metro Transit.

Interviewer: Thank you so much, Sharon.

Sharon Persich: You're welcome.

Interviewer: It's so good to talk with you. Let's start out, could you tell us about any childhood exposure to or experience with public transit that you have in your own life?

Sharon Persich: I had to smile at this because I am from a very small town in North Central Wisconsin. Medford, Wisconsin. And those of us who found our way into the public transit profession have so many stories to tell about how we just kind of fell into it. I mean this is not planned per se, right?
I was very inspired by a high school history teacher and this would have been in the late sixties—Vietnam War, the riots, civil rights—and he inspired me so much that when I went to undergraduate, I became a history/political science double major. And, of course, I was unemployable. Coming from a family where my sister became a teacher, my mother was a teacher, and so after about a year out of school working, I applied for and was accepted here at UW in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and got a degree in that field with a concentration in transportation.

And because it was a really vibrant time for the field of transportation because of many federal funding programs that were birthed in the 1960s and I can remember the other fellow in my class and I who were the only transportation concentration students both got a job right after we graduated, and I happened to get my first job with a regional planning commission up in the Fox Valley, so.

Interviewer: Okay, and how long were you there in the Fox Valley?

Sharon Persich: I went there in 1977, started off as an entry-level transportation planner, became the transportation planning sections coordinator about four years later, became the assistant director by the mid eighties, and in 1989 I left to take the position of Planning and Scheduling Manager for Metro.

Interviewer: Okay.

Sharon Persich: Yeah. So I was there for thirteen years.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. So, when, what year would have that have been that you came to you Metro did you say?

Sharon Persich: Eighty-nine.

Interviewer: Eighty-nine. Gotcha. Thanks. And, yeah, tell us about that process of, you know, did you just see a job posting? How did you end up here in Madison?

Sharon Persich: There was that. I had a feeling I wanted to move on at that point. I did not want to finish my career in the planning agency. The position in Madison opened up, but I was somewhat recruited for it because I was very collegial with the folks in the Bureau of Transit at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation who knew my work, and it was also about around that time that Paul Larrousse was hired as the General Manager, and he came in with a vision, saw the importance of plans in place at the time for transit centers and was willing to take it on and try to implement it.

It was called the Transit Center Project at the time because there were just two transit centers in the plans that were done in the early eighties, but so they knew—the DOT folks—that the studies that I had done up in Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Appleton introduced the notion of different routing concepts some including on-demand features and they knew that I had embarked on areas that weren't traditional transit. And so they, I think they recommended to Paul that I be interviewed. So, and that was the start.

Interviewer: Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit about what your position, someone in your position does? What do you work on, projects?

Sharon Persich: The Planning and Scheduling manager is, well, Metro's Planning and Scheduling Unit is somewhat unique in the industry because usually the planners are their own department and scheduling is its own department, but there was always a theory that they should work together and that theory is I'm sure very correct.

So in my unit, we had myself as the manager, and two other professional planners. We would add a third over the years. We also had a scheduler and a scheduling assistant. I think Lucy was the scheduling assistant. Maybe not. Maybe her job title changed too over the years. One of the planners was responsible for the technicians who provided or, you know, collected the data off off the fare boxes and that data had to be edited. And so one of the planners was responsible for the ridership data collection and analysis. The other planner, in addition to ongoing route planning had to do special event detours. We were all involved in an annual route review and adjustment process and that ran concurrent to the planning process that began in 1990 to implement this transit center/ transfer point system, which we thought was going to be implemented within two or three years naively. (Laughs)
So we had these regular duties: the scheduler taking care of the route schedules but also driver work schedules and the planners who were taking care of ridership data, route planning detours. I'm sure I'm missing something here. I mean this is getting to be ancient history for me (laughs), but, oh, and bus stop, bus stop and bus shelter placement. So that was another major duty of the planners. The planning manager—I replaced a woman who was in the position prior to me—we're supposed to be the big picture people and participate a lot on city committees and commissions, and we would do special studies. I mean I think over the course of my career I did a lot of independent analysis, special studies, especially when issues would come up at say the Transit and Parking Commission and then I might be undertaking a little study pertinent to questions or issues that were important at that time.

Interviewer: Gotcha.

Sharon Persich: So, go ahead.

Interviewer: I was just wondering if you have any specific examples, I'm sure you do, of maybe a smaller scale study that you would do to inform a process?

Sharon Persich: A recurring issue was getting buses off of State Street.

Interviewer: Interesting. Okay.

Sharon Persich: So I can remember that we did a survey of merchants, we did a survey of passengers around this issue, and I know I ended up writing a report. Interestingly, the report request came from the Department of Planning in the city because this involved traffic and planning and parking.

Interviewer: Right.

Sharon Persich: So, you know, that's an example, but gosh, there were a number over the years. Although I would say that there were almost two distinct phases to my career.

One would have been the period from when I was hired in '89 to 1998 when we implemented the transit transfer point system and that was very time-consuming especially early on.
And then the second half of the career was we got into the bus pass programs where I was doing a lot ridership data analysis surrounding that.

There have been ongoing studies to get light rail and/or bus rapid transit started and there were any number of those and I would be staff—Metro staff—to those planning committees and when there were consultants involved. Oh, every five years—every five years, I want to check that—yes, every five years Metro traditionally I think since the seventies conducted an onboard survey where you handed out a full sized, actually I think they were 8 1/2 by 11. What's legal size? These were actually legal size surveys.

Interviewer: Oh, 8 1/2 by 14.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, 8 1/2 by 14, right, to passengers with the intention of getting a 100 percent sample. Most systems try to just sample, we would just do it 100 percent and that is the way it has been done. I don't know if they are still doing it, but right up until the time I retired we were doing it.

Interviewer: Wow, and that would, and what would that survey inform or what information would it gather?

Sharon Persich: Oh, my goodness. I mean demographic information, origin destination information, which was very important. Fare, fare type. What people liked and didn't like. Comments. We actually would more often than not hire consultants to do this because of the logistics involved and it would have taken Metro staff away from everything else that had to be done. So, yeah, we had a number of consultants do that over the years. And then they would put together a very nice report and make a presentation to the Transit and Parking Commission.

Interviewer: Interesting.

Sharon Persich: So, oh, I had brought that up in relation to the rail studies. What was interesting about these studies promoting either light rail or a heavier version of light rail or now it's Bus Rapid Transit that became more serious after I retired.

Interviewer: Okay.

Sharon Persich: It was just getting going, but one of the aspects of legitimizing and becoming eligible for federal funding for these very expensive projects like light rail is that you have to be able to justify it based on ridership potential and growth. And so two things I think were of importance to us in the planning staff. One is that they have to design a network. They have to design the corridor where this system—where the rail would go—and then the rail has to be fed with buses for transfers.

Interviewer: Right.

Sharon Persich: One of the things that we were very clear on in these processes was that, okay, if there is a rail line that is running down East Washington Avenue, that doesn't mean that there aren't still some buses running down East Washington Avenue and in the parallel corridors of Jenifer and Johnson/Gorham—those can't go away. And so, you were going to end up with not a lot of cost savings per se by truncating routes for transfers onto a rail line.

So to that extent this was a bit political. Because in the desire to have a light rail system here—and I think it's a very laudable goal, or at least Bus Rapid Transit is at this point in time, you cannot, play games with the model. These are models. These are route system models and the transferring of passengers from one system to another. If you play too many games with that in order to increase the ridership potential and justification for the rail, you're not painting an accurate picture really. I mean that's I think where we were concerned is that you, yes, you have to cut some, you hope to cut some costs on the bus system, but there's not a lot to cut. People aren't going to necessarily walk from Jenifer Street, down Ingersoll, out to East Washington Avenue when they've got a bus going down their corridor and you take that bus away how happy are they going to be? I mean we, you know, we were always trying to be as realistic as we could be without throwing cold water on the planning process.

Interviewer: Sure, yeah.

Sharon Persich: Some people thought we were throwing some cold water on it, but those studies were, you know, political studies and challenging from a technical point of view.

Interviewer: Yeah. Were there sort of citizens or community members involved in that? Were there champions of this?

Sharon Persich: Oh, yeah, oh, champions, yes, absolutely. And, you know, the advocates—champions, advocates—and there does always need to be that. It's just that it's balancing. It's always balancing isn't it?

Interviewer: Yeah. Interesting. Can we talk about the amazing undertaking that was the transfer point or the, I think you called it the transit centers first, and then the shift to the transfer points.

Sharon Persich: Right.

Interviewer: Can you just talk about that process?

Sharon Persich: I can. Yeah, there was a plan done in the mid eighties and it was called a transit center plan, I guess, was done under the auspices of the MPO. That study identified two transit center locations. One in the Hilldale area—Hilldale/Sheboygan, somewhere in there—and they identified potential sites. And the other one was right at the junction of East Johnson and East Washington Avenue where, what's that little shopping center called? I know, I should know this.

Interviewer: I can picture it.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, yeah. I'll probably think of it as I'm talking.

Interviewer: Where Ella’s Deli used to be.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, except across the street.

Interviewer: Yeah, on the other side of—

Sharon Persich: —right, and Walgreens is there now.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: There.

Interviewer: Near the Hawthorne Library.

Sharon Persich: Yes, where Hawthorne Library is. Yes. So that's how we started this process. We hired an architectural firm to do some preliminary drawings for the the transfer center. We, as the planning staff, had to start designing preliminary routes for how to serve this so that we knew the number of buses going in there and on what frequency were they going to be going in there, and I can remember one of the issues for all of these sites on both east and west sides was in order to get buses, depending on which direction they were coming from, in the transit center in the correct alignment, so they had to circle blocks.

Well, you can imagine that this was not sitting well with neighborhoods. When I took the job here because I had gone to graduate school, I knew Madison had a wonderful history of transit and that it was well liked and all of that. So I was shocked at what people said about not wanting something like this in their neighborhoods and that the buses carry undesirables.

Interviewer: Wow.

Sharon Persich: And you know all of these issues rose up every time, the one on the east side was really just that location, but out at Hilldale we headed up on Sheboygan Avenue. We had one sort of in the parking lot of Hill Farms adjacent to the Red Cross. We had one down on Vernon Boulevard. I mean we were just looking at all of these different sites and they all raised hackles, right? I mean this, and I can remember Mayor Soglin at the time went to a—we were on the bus and went to the East Madison Shopping Center, that's the name of it. And this was to be like a little public meeting but there were all kinds of neighbors there and he gets off the bus and he's trying to, you know, rationalize with the folks and there wasn't a whole lot of rationalization to be had.

And I can remember any number of public meetings that we went to with alders—Sue Bauman went to meetings with us. We actually had people at these auditorium-sized public meetings who would get so angry at us that at one point we had three alders standing in front of staff trying to calm the situation down. That's how much they didn't want this and how passions were aroused surrounding this. And it got so that we just couldn't site them. We could not.

So the decision was made to change the plan, that original two transfer point plan. I ended up writing this report, which nobody can see on the microphone, but it's the history of what happened and it's a small report really, we entitled it Metro Rethinks, Revises and Restructures: The History 1989 to 1997.

Interviewer: Wow, that's great.

Sharon Persich: And so (laughs) we really wiped the map clean and started, throwing dots up on the map about how many transfer points should we have, I mean we probably had a lot of them at one time, but we decided, maybe that's not going to be such a good idea.

Interviewer: Right.

Sharon Persich: It got whittled down to four.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: And the scheduler—who was really the chief route planner because the two kind of go hand-in-hand—had developed a pretty good preliminary system, one that he thought would schedule. We knew the frequencies of buses in and out of the transit centers, we knew what kind of connections people would have from this part of the city to that part of the city. And so I mean we had a workable plan, but then we still had to site [the transit centers].

Interviewer: Right, yeah.

Sharon Persich: But we did manage to work out final site locations. And, so we didn't know if the airport would have been a better location but we settled on Oscar Meyer and they did work with us and, in fact, have continued to work with Metro because there's a very successful and large, potentially to be expanded—I don't know if Chuck said anything about that—park-and-ride lot there.

On the west side, that was working with University Research Park to site there, and if you really think about it—except for the South Side, three of the four are not close to any neighborhoods.

Interviewer: I was going to say, yeah, that, okay.

Sharon Persich: That was intentional.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.

Sharon Persich: The South Side, that is close to neighborhoods.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: But the alder down there at the time was very helpful on the South Side. Oscar Meyer was cooperative, University Research Park and, oh, and Swiss Colony.

Interviewer: Yeah. So do you think that it was, you could make the case better to these sort of specific partners rather than—

Sharon Persich: —neighborhoods?

Interviewer: Right. Trying to convince, yeah.

Sharon Persich: Yes.

Interviewer: Yeah. Interesting.

Sharon Persich: Yes, absolutely. It was very intentional on our part to keep it away from neighborhoods. We just don't think we could have put it in one. And, I mean and it happened. I mean and we, I mean here again we went through a lot of public meetings and public hearings on the route plan and how individual neighborhoods were going to be affected. We went out to neighborhoods all around the city to get feedback on this. We'd come back to those places with revisions—I mean we really wanted to make this work for them to the extent that we could. With a transfer point system that is based on timed transfers between buses though, they do have to operate on a specific frequency either fifteen, thirty, or sixty. And for routes to do that, routes have to be a certain length. So you are balancing the scheduling requirements with route lengths for instance.

We tried to do what we could to make everybody happy, and it got approved. And what I think the most fascinating—and I went to a national convention and spoke to this—is that as far as I know, we are the only system of our size who implemented a major, complete, 100 percent makeover of the system in one day.

Interviewer: Tell me about that day.

Sharon Persich: It went live on one day. Well, we were ready for it. I mean we had people out at every transfer point, we had people on the square. I'm trying to think what else we did. I remember I was at the North Transfer Point.

It actually went okay. I mean there's always a few little glitches, right? I mean you find out about them, but it went okay. And when it happened, and I can remember the old-time bus drivers weren't necessarily all on board with this because they really thought we were going to wreck the system.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: I remember while coming back in probably around nine or nine thirty and I was walking through the operations and maintenance area of the building, and I can't tell you how many maintenance employees stopped to talk to me and even to congratulate, and the bus drivers too. I mean we actually had involved bus drivers in the design process. We were really careful about that too. So it was quite a moment.

Interviewer: Wow.

Sharon Persich: Yeah.

Interviewer: What was the reaction from the public like? What was that feeling of the transfer point over here that day?

Sharon Persich: I didn't get any negative feedback at the North. I don't know really if there was much of that. I mean the comments were flowing—being called in, right? You know, into customer service and then again all of us were responding to them and many of them had legitimate complaints.

And so as a result of that, we embarked on a modification process, you know, how we used to do annual service and route changes? We sped that up and we over the course of maybe six months made two or three system changes. Not system-wide, but where there were problems we were making changes. And I think the public appreciated it. I mean there was never a riot, you know, so you figure you were okay. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Oh, yeah. So some of the comments that led to changes would be, you know, things like “I can't make this transfer” or—

Sharon Persich: —Yes, yes. Or the route isn't on my street anymore, you know, they might have to walk a little bit further or they couldn't make their transfer.

We knew schedules had to be massaged, because where people used to get on the bus in their neighborhood out in the south west side or up here on the north side, and were longtime bus riders, they knew the route and they knew it would get them where they worked and it's probably why they chose the route in the first place.

Now here we had set up opportunities, decentralized opportunities for people who maybe weren't going downtown, maybe were going or wanted to get, [or] have a job out in the expanding employment areas on the east and west side. They could do that now.

Or if you were coming from east, the east side, south east side of Madison and you wanted to get to MATC, you couldn't before. You had to take the bus all the way downtown or at least to Baldwin Street before you could connect and go back out to MATC. Here they could ride the bus fifteen minutes up to the north transfer point and then probably fifteen minutes out to MATC. So for trips like that there were a lot of improved connections, but that said there were people who were disadvantaged.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: Whether they adjusted, whether they left the system, we don't know. But where you see big jumps in ridership around this time, that actually is the Unlimited Ride Pass Programs, which really do go hand in hand with the type of system that the transfer point system is.

Interviewer: Right. So, yeah, so that's a good segue into unlimited ride programs. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Sharon Persich: They were being implemented in other parts of the country with great success and most of these other areas were in university towns. There were some out in California as I recall. And so we approached the university's parking and transportation office with this idea, and that's back at a time and maybe it's a little better on campus now, I don't know, but they were really having trouble with parking.

Interviewer: Okay, yeah.

Sharon Persich: And they knew they were going to have to build more surface and multi-rise ramps.

Interviewer: Parking garages.

Sharon Persich: Yeah. They just were going to have to do that.

Interviewer: And so they were not, at that point the Metro drove through campus but you had to have, you had to pay for a pass if you wanted to use it as a student?

Sharon Persich: Yeah. They may have been giving students a break already.

Interviewer: Okay.

Sharon Persich: In fact, I think the university did have a little program for bus riders and it was paid out of their student fees. That's what it was.

Interviewer: Gotcha.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, actually Anne Gullickson was a little bit more involved with some of this than I was. So they had actually started a little something and this then morphed into a university-wide bus pass program that everybody paid for it whether or not they used it—and I am trying to remember now how that started.

Well, probably student fees, but then it was opened up to faculty and staff. And so it was paid differently on their part, but you can see when you look at the chart that that program took off and had a hugely positive impact on ridership because, what I didn't mention is prior to 1989, throughout most of the eighties Metro was losing ridership, which was the impetus for the 1985 study what to do about this.

The city was changing and a lot of the employment or the businesses that had been on the square really weren't there anymore. The downtown went through some hard times and jobs were opening up out on the edges of the city. So the planners knew something should be done to change the orientation of the system but, you know, it took many years for that to happen. I don't want to repeat myself here, the multi-directionality of the transfer point system and we never took service away from downtown. That's another issue people were afraid of, is that we were going to take service away from downtown so that we could add service on the periphery. That never happened.

Interviewer: Interesting.

Sharon Persich: That never happened. And so people who work in the university, work at the state office buildings, pretty much had the service they always had. Some may have had to transfer, depending. But really from any point in from the transfer points, their service would look like it used to look. It was people from further out that may have had to transfer.

Interviewer: Right, right. Or those folks that had to get from one, you know, corner of the city to another.

Sharon Persich: Right.

Interviewer: Yeah. Instead of going through the middle you'd go around the outside.

Sharon Persich: Yeah. Right, right. So the pass programs grew ridership, and then the hospitals got involved in that.

Interviewer: Interesting.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, and I'm trying to think who else may be doing it.

Interviewer: The city?

Sharon Persich: Oh, the city, yes, the state and the city—and the county, yes, all have these programs. And I think they do out at the American Center too. And, you know, if anything else has happened, it's been since I retired so I don't know. But yeah they were very successful.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: Fare studies. Fare studies to see what would happen, right.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Yeah, can you, so what is the Automated Scheduling Program? This was something I think you had talked about.

Sharon Persich: Oh, yeah.

Interviewer: What does that mean?

Sharon Persich: What does it mean? It means that when the public schedules were written, they were written by hand and when driver work schedules were put together, they were all done by hand. There was an art to it—a science and an art to it—and there were people at Metro who were very, very good at it.

Interviewer: These are, just to clarify, so this is like the schedule book [editor’s note: the Ride Guide] that you would—

Sharon Persich: —this is the public timetables, the book, yeah.

Interviewer: Yeah, the book and the, everything that's printed at the stops.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, all of that. And the driver work schedules. And driver work schedules are a very complicated animal because you need almost twice as many drivers during the rush hours as you do during the midday and evening and you have labor contract rules associated with how long a shift can be, how many split shifts and how long the duration between your shifts there can be. Transit work rules are very, very, very complicated.

And so Paul Larrousse, knowing that we would be, embarking on this transfer point system and in an effort to modernize and some of the bigger systems (I think already had some automation of their schedule), got the approval to go out to bid. I think there were, I don't remember how many bids we got. I remember the two main bids were a company out of Canada called Trapeze and a company out of Boston called Multisystems that had been involved not only in large bus scheduling but paratransit—small bus, elderly and disabled transportation scheduling although I'm not sure they actually had a software ready to go for fixed route buses. Anyway we selected Trapeze which became a little bit controversial because the guy who was brilliantly constructing this software wasn't quite done with it and we were actually going to be a beta project.

Interviewer: Okay.

Sharon Persich: Which really made Multisystems mad because Multisystems had a long history with Metro in terms of planning and other assistance.

Interviewer: Okay.

Sharon Persich: I think they had done an onboard survey once. They raised a little stink about this, but Trapeze got it and it truly was a beta system. And it's just a good thing that the scheduler was who he was because he was good at computers, or he learned computers quickly, and he became very proficient very quickly using the software and in fact so proficient that he worked closely with the company that was developing it.

Interviewer: Gotcha.

Sharon Persich: And they actually used him to go to other properties where they had sold their software to help their schedulers with installation and use and training and oh, and an interesting side line; now I can probably talk about this after the fact. There was also a period of time when there was a lot of emphasis on minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

I did have a woman-owned consulting business even when I was here at Metro. I did some work up in Fond du Lac, for instance. I had done some work with a company down in Louisville, Kentucky, so they—the company, Trapeze—contacted me and said would you become certified? And I said certainly. And so I did and Colin became an independent contractor to me and then I contracted with Trapeze and then he, Colin used his vacation time actually to go to these other cities, large cities, Atlanta, Dayton. I'm trying to think where all he went. He went a lot of places. So, we did that until they didn't need us anymore.

Interviewer: Wow. Interesting.

Sharon Persich: But, yeah, interesting little spin off on that.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: It is the scheduling program to this day. And it has grown. Now they have the scheduling module, there is an operations module, and the operations module probably has these sub-modules. I don't know anything about that.

Interviewer: So were they able to work with your, the scheduler to make changes and make updates?

Sharon Persich: Yes, yes.

Interviewer: So you could sort of customize—

Sharon Persich: —Oh, yes, yes.

Interviewer: The software to work for you.

Sharon Persich: Yes. And that is really how the software, the guy that developed it is brilliant and it is really how it should work, is that you have the basic framework software. Each transit system is different in the way they do things. So it does need to be customized.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. Nice. Wow.

Sharon Persich: Boy, tell you what, this just exhausts me talking about it. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Makes me think of integrated library systems.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, right, right.

Interviewer: Let's see here, Sharon could you—so you talked a little bit before we started recording about your process for looking at creating a predictive model about fares and fare increases. Could you just recap that for us?

Sharon Persich: Oh, that's right that wasn't on tape was it.

Interviewer: Right, right, right. Your process around that.

Sharon Persich: Okay. Okay. Well, there were predictive models that were developed as far back as the 1970s on the elasticity of bus fares. Bus fares are a price you pay to use something, just like you pay a price to buy something and if that price gets too high, you maybe won't buy it anymore. You'll buy something less expensive or do something very different.

So you know that when you raise prices there's going to be a loss of demand and you are trying to balance the increase in revenues compared to the loss of passengers and their revenues. But if you have a pretty significant net revenue gain with not a lot of loss in passengers, then that would be deemed a success. And where the models become a little complex is when you have a fare system like Metro that has a pretty big fare system, but you can imagine larger cities have really, you know, a lot more. And so then we were building into the model where there would be shifts taking place in fares, like if you raise the price of the unlimited or the commuter pass, how many people would shift back to tickets? You see?

Interviewer: Or ten-ride passes or something.

Sharon Persich: Right. Or even cut down their frequency of riding and pay cash.

Interviewer: Right, yeah.

Sharon Persich: See? And so that had to be built in to this and you don't, like I say you really do need good data coming off your fare boxes to really have this model work. By the time I retired and I had been working on—I think I had gone through two fare increases in the period between say early 2000s to 2009 when I retired—we were getting quite good data off of the fare boxes so that I could see what was happening associated with previous fare increases.

It used to be the onboard [survey], we would rely on to tell us some of this, but I don't know how accurate really that was.
My going away year there was a fare increase and one of the alders on the Transit and Parking Commission developed his own model and presented his results and then I had to like say, “Well, but you know, but,” and it was hard. I mean because everybody, Madison is unique in that respect because everybody thinks they're an expert, whether it's route planning, fare studies or, you know, whatever.

But anyway that fare revision, that fare increase was passed, and then I told you this, I heard from Chuck afterwards that it was like real close. It was real close but that's a testimony to how good the data had gotten and we had had years to refine the model and where its weaknesses were.

Interviewer: Yeah, what was, do you remember what that increase was? Was that to two dollars, or—

Sharon Persich: —it probably was the two dollar cash fare.

Interviewer: Wow.

Sharon Persich: Right. Right. In fact—

Interviewer: —and that's where we are today, probably?

Sharon Persich: Oh is it? Is it still two dollars?

Interviewer: Yeah, it's still two dollars, per ride, yeah.

Sharon Persich: You know it's hard to go above that.

Interviewer: Yeah, interesting.

Sharon Persich: Until you really give something back.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: Like, you know, a significant increase in service or bus rapid transit or something like that.

Interviewer: Sure, gotcha, yeah.

Sharon Persich: And maybe, you know, I don't really know too much about the budget and funding situation at Metro anymore. But if ridership continues to grow, your revenues will automatically grow. So that's kind of the key, and that's great, you know some people argue in this whole fare theory field that it is good to routinely increase fares. Prices rise. Well, I don't know. I mean we've been in a period where prices really have not been rising that much. The inflation is low.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: And so, you don't want to send the wrong signal, I would think, with fare increases. They don't have to be that routine if your ridership is increasing, but it all depends. It all depends on what's happening out there. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Absolutely. It's such a process.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, it's a process.

Interviewer: I don't know if you were sort of around Metro during the implementation of the Intelligent Transportation System, the ITS, like real-time updates and things like that. So I don't know what that looked like from your, you know, vantage point, but, yeah, do you remember that happening?

Sharon Persich: Oh, I remember it happening, yeah. Oh, absolutely. Oh, my god. This is fantastic stuff, on-time performance and the ridership data.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: And the ability to communicate things quickly to drivers and I'm trying to think what other features there were of that.

Interviewer: How did it affect ridership data? Was it just that you could tell who was or how many people were getting on at a particular bus stop and things like that?

Sharon Persich: Yes. You could tell the people getting on at the bus stop, people getting off, accurate counts on and off. We used to put people out on buses to count the number of people getting on and off at each bus stop. Yeah, and I tell you what, that's pretty boring work, and these were part-time employees that we would hire at the time and they weren't always reliable.

Interviewer: Uh-huh, wow.

Sharon Persich: And so, yes, to have this very accurate on/off data, what I'm not sure they had—still don't have—is tracing an origin to a destination. Now I think if you have a pass they can do that, the system can do that.

Interviewer: Sure, yeah.

Sharon Persich: That is, that's perfect data in a transit system knowing where someone gets on and where they get off—instead of just ten people got on here and five people got off there.

Interviewer: Right.

Sharon Persich: It's the connection, the trip, it's how you design routes is knowing from where you get on, where do you want to go? It's been a long time since I've been back to visit, and I know Chuck is gone now, but there's still some of my planners there. So I’ll have to stop by and check on things. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Inspire all of us to get back in it. Yeah, just looking at our topics here are there any, you know, moments or people or stories. I'm not sure if weather-related or, you know, sort of unplanned local events although I guess that might be—

Sharon Persich: —Oh, I've got a funny story.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.

Sharon Persich: Oh, yeah, I got a good one. So, I had just come down here, right, from the Fox Valley, and the planning and marketing offices were at the very end of the main building sort of looking across the street at Jiffy Lube—East Wash—you could look across the street and Jiffy Lube, right?

Interviewer: This is the East Wash Transit Metro Office Building.

Sharon Persich: Yep.

Interviewer: Okay.

Sharon Persich: And honest to god I maybe was here two months and I'm in my office, and I'm watching an operations supervisor come flying down the hall, I see another operations supervisor come flying down the hall. Pretty soon I see Paul Larrousse come flying down the hall. Well, I had to get up and see what this was about. So they're all down at the door.
There's a bus stopped across the street at Jiffy Lube and there are SWAT team guys creeping along the Jiffy Lube back wall coming to the bus.

Interviewer: Oh my gosh.

Sharon Persich: I can't remember the specific issue what had happened on the bus, but those SWAT guys entered the bus, it was all taken care of without further incident. But I'm sitting here thinking, “Wow is this what goes on down here?” (Laughs)

Interviewer: The big city.

Sharon Persich: I know, the big city. That was, yeah. Oh, you know, weather-related, well, did Anne talk about the Rhythm and Booms Service?

Interviewer: No.

Sharon Persich: Oh. Well, when Rhythm and Booms started and they found out how bad the traffic was going to be so they approached Metro about setting up bus shuttles from various locations. MATC was one. I'm trying to think—there were others I think—and so we planned that and the first year or two I would say it worked okay. By the time Metro no longer did it—it's now contracted out to a private operator—we had it running really smoothly and, you know, we as staff would be asked to come down and help, especially after the event when the hoards come out and we had probably around six or eight buses that would be lined up on Sherman Avenue and people would pile on, you know, hanging out the windows and then when those buses were loaded they would go and then just within probably minutes the next wave of buses would come in. Sometimes it worked really cool. Buses have to get through the traffic too.

Interviewer: Right. Sure.

Sharon Persich: And so sometimes it broke down a little bit and then, you know, people would be grousing, but I tell you what, it probably beat trying to get out of the neighborhoods around here and onto Northport, onto Sherman, and get out on CV, yeah, that was quite something.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: I'm glad they moved it. Down here it, some people miss it. It was, I think it was a cooler event in some ways down here.

Interviewer: At Warner Park.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, at Warner Park.

Interviewer: Wow, that's quite, yeah, that's quite an undertaking. So people would park out at MATC, that's where they would leave their cars and it was a shuttle back and forth?

Sharon Persich: Yeah, right, right, and there were some other locations too. So, yeah, I mean that was another one. The worker strikes you know, they were 1980—that very much predated me—but I knew, I had heard all the stories about that and there hasn't been one since. I don't even remember what caused it, but I think, I'm sure Chuck spoke to this, I think management and union relations have been very good for a very long time. Yeah. Weather-related issues? I mean there's always the annual tornado drill, you know, where drivers would have to get passengers off the bus during the drill.

Interviewer: Wow. Okay. Like all at the same time across the city? Like there would be —

Sharon Persich: — yeah.

Interviewer: Wow. Interesting. From a, was that your charge to plan for that sort of drill or is that more operations or?

Sharon Persich: That would have been operations. Anytime you're involved in getting driver cooperation and timing to stop their buses, yeah, that would be direct operations.

Interviewer: Yeah. So you would have to find a time, did it always happen at the same time of day? I'm just thinking—

Sharon Persich: —I'm trying to remember and, you know, I don't know if they kept doing that in recent years, you know, during the time that I was still there. I can't honestly remember.

Interviewer: Yeah, interesting. Because I can see times of day when it would not be a great idea to do that—although still, you know, very important too.

Sharon Persich: Right, yeah. There was a tornado, but yeah I don't think while I was working that we really had any major weather event that was, I don't think so.

Interviewer: Yeah. Because you can't, so that's not part of, I'm just thinking about like the flooding, you know, that happened in the last couple of years.

Sharon Persich: Oh yeah, yeah.

Interviewer: So that stuff is not on your radar as much as a planner, you know, from that—

Sharon Persich: —well it is, you know it is for the planner who is assigned detour responsibilities because now with the flooding I would imagine that the planner who was in charge of that was over in operations helping them devise roundabouts, going around the problem, yeah.

Interviewer: Got it, got it.

Sharon Persich: And getting the word out and now they're using information coming out on Twitter, on email, you know, they're using social media to help get this information out, in addition to posting information at bus stops and bus shelters and on the buses.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Sharon Persich: So, but it helps that we have immediate ways to contact people.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah, so that would be a time when the, you know, the staff that you worked with would kind of, you know, that overlap would happen between, a direct overlap between planning and operations.

Sharon Persich: Right. Right. You know another couple of cool things that happened were the expansion of service to the American Center and out to Verona to the Epic Center. Those were two kind of cool expansions because the employers were paying. They were buying enough bus passes to pay the local cost of that route.

Interviewer: Yeah, gotcha.

Sharon Persich: So that's what you would call public/private cost sharing in transit, which they can do a lot more of in big cities where they have train stations and development at train stations and that sort of thing, but.

Interviewer: So would those kind of projects, does the employer come to you or to Metro and say, you know, it would be great to have a bus out here? Or does the city sort of look at that and say, wow, there's a lot of people like that—

Sharon Persich: —yeah, I think it does happen both ways. I think that we may have been contacted in both those specific examples, you know, Paul Soglin in between his mayoral stints worked for Epic, and I'm sure he had a role in that. And I think Judith Faulkner is very receptive to that. Although the American Center now that might, oh, well, no wait that was part of their development plan out there that they had to bring transit out there.

Interviewer: Interesting.

Sharon Persich: Yeah.

Interviewer: Okay.

Sharon Persich: Yeah. So and when we first started out there, there really wasn't anywhere near what there is right now, but they have a park and ride lot out there too that it looks like it's fairly well utilized.

Interviewer: Yeah. Interesting. So that was part of their plan from the get go.

Sharon Persich: Yeah.

Interviewer: Interesting.

Sharon Persich: Yeah, that just came back. I mean we would meet with Sun Prairie to talk about possible expansion. We did have a program of trying to go out to municipalities to meet with them and just see if they had any transit needs, and we would be happy to help them with surveying, you know, any stuff like that. Sun Prairie I think they do have some kind of a taxi service right now that can connect up to buses out at East Towne.

Interviewer: Interesting, yeah.

Sharon Persich: But, Middleton maybe has expanded service. Middleton has always been a good partner.

Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah. Anything else we haven't—

Sharon Persich: —I don't know. What time is it? How long have I talked?

Interviewer: It's been about just over an hour.

Sharon Persich: Oh, not bad.

Interviewer: Yeah, not bad at all.

Sharon Persich: Not bad. Huh. Yeah, right now I think, I think that covers it really. I'll think of something, you know, when I'm gone.

Interviewer: Sure. We can follow up by phone.

Sharon Persich: If it's worth it, I'll let you know.

Interviewer: Yeah. Well, thank you so, so much.

Sharon Persich: Oh, you're very welcome. You're very, very welcome.


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