Transit trouble, city windfall?

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March 1, 2004 // UPDATED 9:23 am - April 25, 2007
By: Terrell Brown
Terrell Brown

LRT delay and/or a bus strike could mean millions for Minneapolis city government

On a recent drive home up Hiawatha Avenue, I spotted a light-rail train out practicing along the route which someday may actually become operational. Since the project was announced, I've thought a traffic-delay-free trip to the airport was appealing. With the Met Council's announcement that LRT opening day would be delayed due to a possible driver's strike, I'm beginning to wonder if the line will be able to do anything without delays.

I'm also wondering if the city of Minneapolis really wants people to use public transit. The city has a financial interest in people NOT using mass transit. That interest is its ownership of over 25,000 off-street parking spaces -- a number that has nearly doubled since 1990 -- plus an additional 6,500 parking meters. The City's 2004 budget projects that the Parking Find will receive over $56 million for services -- $1 million per week because people drive instead of use mass transit.

As I write this, the Metro Transit union and the Met Council have been unable to come to an agreement on who should pay the increases in health insurance premiums. This strike presents a tremendous financial opportunity for the city.

Parking lot operators understand the concept of an "event." It's a time when large numbers of people want to park cars and lot owners can get by jacking up parking rates. In an era of budget shortfalls, I imagine that the brain trust on the 3rd floor of City Hall has recognized this opportunity.

A mere $5 per day increase in parking rates -- much less than the increase that accompanies a Vikings game -- gives the city an extra $150,000 per day, or three quarters of a million dollars in a five-day work week. I suspect they see they might win the lottery.

One can almost hear the conversation between the "no new taxes" crowd at the Met Council and the "we need increases several times the rate of inflation" members of the local brain trust. "Let's help each other. The buses don't run, so they don't need as much of a subsidy and the increased parking fees provide the city some bucks."

It can be cooperation between City Hall and the Capitol to a level we've never seen before.

Perfect situation ... unless of course you need to ride the bus (or drive on already-congested streets). The bus system does, after all, provide a couple hundred thousand rides a day.

What stops Minneapolis from taking full advantage of its parking racket is that it either gives away to much of its product or has it stolen from under its nose. Walk past any row of parking meters and see how many are expired. Failure to plug a meter, for many, isn't a violation of Minnesota Nice.

Private lots tow, and the city looks the other way. There should be a reasonable place somewhere in between. I was recently told of $250 tows for nonpayment from private lots, which I'd class as highway robbery. The city is now investigating using a simple "boot," which immobilizes -- but doesn't haul off -- parking scofflaws.

Across the pond, I watched the boot in operation in Amsterdam. A pickup truck loaded with boots drove down the street and attached them where meters were expired. And yes, in Amsterdam, people kept the meters fed.

Terrell Brown lives in Loring Park.