CIVIC BEAT // Metro Transit braces for cuts

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July 18, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
The Twin Cities could be facing a 50-cent bus fare hike plus a 25 percent reduction in bus service if proposed state cuts to Metro Transit funding become law.

Metropolitan Council representatives gave the bad news to a packed room in the Minneapolis Central Library on July 7. They did, however, caution that their plan could be changed if the Legislature reduces those proposed cuts if and when a special session is called to end the shutdown.  

In the meantime, the Met Council is scheduling a series of public meetings in order to get input on how best to deal with the proposed $109 million cut.

The basic framework of the Met Council plan includes a mix of fare increases and service reductions. The Met Council is considering either a 25-cent fare hike, which would raise revenue by $11 million over the next two years, or a 50-cent hike, which would add $16 million in revenue.

It’s also proposing a 25 percent reduction in service. The Met Council did not identify specific routes that would be affected, but signaled that most suburban local routes and many crosstown routes would be eliminated. High-frequency routes would have their service reduced and their hours of operation shortened. Some buses that run seven days a week would lose one or both days of weekend service.

In total, a service reduction to match a $109 million cut would amount to reductions or eliminations of 131 of Metro Transit’s 146 routes, said Bonnie Kollodge, the Met Council spokeswoman.

The cuts would have gloomy consequences, according to the Met Council. They estimate that service reductions and fare hikes would reduce annual transit ridership from 82 million passengers to 64 million passengers. More than 500 bus drivers, mechanics and support staff would lose their jobs.

A two-year cut of $109 million, as proposed by the Legislature, constitutes 85 percent of the state’s general fund allocation. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed that proposal, but he is negotiating an entire budget solution with legislative leadership.

“At this point, we’re preparing for the worst but hoping for the best,” said Adam Duininck, who represents the eastern half of Minneapolis for the Met Council.

Service reductions and fare hikes would not take effect until early 2012.

The Met Council plans to hold seven public hearings after it makes specific proposals on the amount of the fare increase and route reductions and eliminations. One of those meetings will be held at the Minneapolis Central Library from noon to 1 p.m. Aug. 10. A full meeting schedule can be found at metrocouncil.org. Those meetings are subject to change depending on the length of state budget negotiations.

Loring Park, Sculpture Garden may go to a public-private model

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is formulating a plan that would turn over the operation of Loring Park and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to a nonprofit alliance made up of public officials and private business representatives.

The Park Board would provide base funding for maintenance, capitol improvements and programming. The Downtown Park Alliance and its private partners would be expected to generate additional revenue.

According to the memo, the alliance would have a board of directors that would oversee operations and would include representatives from the neighborhood, Downtown businesses, the Walker Art Center and the Park Board.

The Alliance would be in charge of contracting for park maintenance as well as approving special event permits, including permits for the Loring Park Art Festival and the GLBT Pride Festival.

The Park Board is expected to take up the matter at its Aug. 17 meeting.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.