On October 21st, the Regional Transit Board formalized rate changes which had been previously agreed to by various board members and apparently the state Human Rights commissioner. Press releases were duly released and published citing the “lowering” of fares. For the majority of regular Metro Mobility riders the fare will now be $2.20 instead of the previous rate of $1.00. No discounts are contemplated.
The usual charade of “public hearings” was held a week earlier, with even less notice to the public than usual. The result was predictable, meaning that citizen input was ignored in favor of the plan already determined. Some members of the board abstained from the vote on the 21st, citing the irresponsibility of adding more costs to a budget that was already in deficit. It was quite obvious they felt it politically unwise to be on record against lowering fares, but politically correct to say they didn’t actively approve a bigger deficit.
None of the board members admitted their own negligence in making the request to the legislature last year, or their conspicuous silence when an inadequate allocation was being set by the legislature. The RTB’s own estimate of “full-funding” was $32 million, the budget requested was $29 million, and the amount allocated $25.3 million. As one observer put it, “if you really want $32 million, you don’t ask for $29, you ask for $35.”
The actual fares which resulted from the vote at this meeting appear to be a consensus by the board and the Minnesota Human Rights commissioner on the legal issue created under the new Americans with Disabilities Act. Originally, the commissioner stated that his department perceived the new rates to be discriminatory under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The rates now going into effect on November 16th are in fact higher than originally proposed for most regular riders, but are no longer discriminatory in the eyes of the commissioner.
The reason? The ADA apparently condones a maximum fare for service to disabled person of twice the fare for “regular” service. The Human Rights commissioner apparently is satisfied with that, but Metro Mobility riders felt there was a more important issue, the burden which such a fare increase places on a population who have very limited incomes, and that this was indeed discriminatory.
Governor Carlson, who last summer stood at the gates of his mansion saying he understood the problem and promising a solution, has done nothing. His office now says he has no comment and no proposals for the legislature.
Morgan Grant, of the United Handicapped Federation has pointed to the irony of the ADA being used against the population it was supposed to help. The act set out some minimum standards of access but did not require states to lower their standards. Minnesota statutes require that fares for paratransit be comparable to regular fixed route buses. These buses employ discount fares as an incentive for regular riders, yet no such plan is available to Metro Mobility riders.
Metro Mobility is a service that allows individuals with disabilities access to transportation, which means integration into the real world of education and gainful employment. We think the Human Rights commissioner was right in the beginning. Our legislature turned its back on the a whole group of citizens, and the governor and the Regional Transit Board are accepting this discriminatory action without a whimper, much less a shout of disapproval. It is discrimination and it should be stopped.