Express-route passes up $19; 13 Downtown routes may be cut
Metro Transit may soon cut routes to Downtown, raise fares and possibly lay off employees in the wake of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed $18.8 million transit cut.
Metro Transit spokesperson Bob Gibbons said his agency would propose altering 13 Downtown-to-suburb connections, eliminating five (see route change map, page 9). Metro Transit will alter approximately 40 routes in total, eliminating 17.
All told, Gibbons said 5 percent of Metro Transit service would be cut this year.
Rush-hour fares will also rise as much as 50 cents by July 1 if the Metropolitan Council, which governs the bus system, approves the new rates. Gibbons said higher prices would have to go into effect that soon to cover costs, because that's when Metro Transit's new fiscal biennium starts.
The increases include a 25-cent fare increase on local rush hour and express routes. Express route fares during rush hour would be boosted 50 cents. Rush hour is also being lengthened, beginning at 3 p.m. instead of the current 3:30 p.m.
Gibbons said the express routes were targeted for the raises, because they are the most expensive to run, with the bus running empty in at least one direction picking up suburbanites at park-and-rides.
Accordingly, prices would also go up on discount passes, bus cards, Metro Mobility service and passes for the transit schools program offering discounted rates for adult students, staff and faculty (see new fares, page 9).
Prices for local, non-rush hour rides will not change, remaining at $1.25, which Gibbons said constitutes 55 percent of all Metro Transit rides. The higher fares, he said, are expected to bring Metro Transit $11.5 million in revenue.
'Shortsighted and foolhardy'
Downtown state Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) criticizes the cuts. "We have one of the most pathetic transit systems in the region, and our Governor is only seeking to shrink it," said Dibble, who serves on the Senate Transportation and Budget Division committees.
Dibble termed the proposed service cuts "shortsighted and foolhardy." He said there are other ways to support transit, such as a gas tax, regional sales tax or a motor vehicle tax.
Gibbons said no one at Metro Transit wants to cut routes, just like no one wants to cut police or fire personnel, but because the state has a projected $4.2 billion budget shortfall through 2005, everyone has to take a cut and share in the budget problem. "We can't say that everyone besides us should be cut," he said. "The state is facing a huge problem, and transit can't just take a bye on this."
Gibbons said Metro Transit estimates the state will cut $11.4 million over the next two years from $76.6 million it now appropriates. He said Metro Transit is also facing a $19.2 million shortfall for the 2004-2005 funding cycle, because of inflation, lost revenue due to earlier route cuts, and $4.3 million cut by the last legislature.
That leaves Metro Transit with a $30.6 million budget gap to be made up from service cuts, fare increases, layoffs and programming reductions.
In addition to altering and eliminating bus routes, Metro Transit is also proposing a Metro Mobility fare increase. Metro Mobility routes will also be cut, but not in Minneapolis.
Gibbons said in addition to increasing fares and cutting bus service, Metro Transit is also trying to absorb some of the funding gap internally. For example, he said Metro Transit is eliminating all radio and TV advertising for this next year.
The public hearings on the proposed changes concluded April 9 and the comment period ended April 19. Gibbons said public hearings were held so close to the release of the proposed changes so Metro Transit could raise fares quickly and avoid raising fares more in the future.
Metropolitan Council member Peggy Leppik is also on the Council's Transportation Committee. Although she just started in March, she said that she already attended public hearings to listen to riders' concerns. She said the Met Council is making as many internal cuts as possible, but raising fares is the only way to make up for the funding gap.
Leppik said the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Committee will vote on the proposed changes April 28 and then the full Met Council will vote soon after.
For more informationand details about specific route and fare changes, see www.metrotransit.org.
For specifics on Metro Mobility route changes, see www.metrocouncil.org/transit/servicefare_change/servicefare_ADA.htm.