After considering the harsh reality of an approximately $60 million gap between transportation funding and transportation costs over the next two years, the Metropolitan Council has approved a “25-cent across-the-board fare increase for Metro Transit and other regular-route providers” plus a 25-cent increase during non-rush hours and a 50-cent increase during rush hours for Metro Mobility.
The decision regarding proposed service cuts has been postponed until the state legislators finalize their current budget negotiations, wherein Council members and riders are hoping for additional funding to be allocated that could minimize, and possibly prevent, such cuts. The 2005-2006 biennial legislative sessions adjourned May 23, 2005 without the completion of a state budget for the next two years. Therefore, the governor called a special session, which began May 24, 2005 to finalize the budget. At the time I was writing this article, potential budget allocations remained unclear.
The Council proposed increased fares and reduced service last March, followed by several public hearings and a public comment period that lasted until May 1, 2005. The Council reports receiving 5,254 comments from the following sources:
• 21 Petitions totaling 1,443 signatures;
• 1,311 E-mails;
• 1,225 Comment Cards;
• 477 Comment Line Callers
• 341 Letters / Faxes;
• 260 Public Hearing Speakers (841 Attendees); and,
• 197 Metro Transit Customer Relations’ Contacts.
Further, the Council indicated that the comments outlined three common themes. First, people generally oppose a fare increase and any service reductions, but would prefer to pay slightly increased fares instead of losing any service. Second, respondents generally feel that the combination of increased fares and reduced service will have a negative impact upon our communities, especially given congestion, pollution, and gas price concerns. And, finally, contributors generally feel that the state should fully fund our transit systems.
Regarding fare increases, Council reports indicate more than 1,400 comments addressed the increase, with 980 (70%) opposing any increase, 280 (20%) agreeing with an increase only if it meant no service cuts, and 140 (10%) in favor of an increase. Overall, there were concerns raised that transit services will no longer be affordable to those individuals and families experiencing fixed incomes and low wages. Other concerns were that transit services would be more expensive than parking downtown for some, thereby discouraging them from using the services.
Regarding proposed Metro Mobility changes, documents show the receipt of more than 500 comments. Respondents strongly opposed reducing the service area to one mile on either side of regular route bus service. They stressed that the proposed changes will significantly impact riders dependent on such services, including individuals experiencing the effects of disability, aging, and fixed incomes. Such cuts could leave many people stranded at home without access to work, groceries, medical care, worship and leisure activities. Individuals living in various suburbs face the greatest risk of losing all service, leaving those riders with no alternative and causing them to become homebound.
Furthermore, some participants noted that reductions to regular route service would force a greater number of people with disabilities to use Metro Mobility, a system that is more expensive to operate, compared to regular route services. Thankfully, lower-than-expected bids from Metro Mobility service providers “make it very likely that the Council won’t have to cut as deeply into the service as previously thought,” according to a Council press release.
During our July publication, we hope to have more information to share regarding the final state budget allocations for our transit system, an update regarding the proposed service cuts, and possibly even a decision concerning those cuts.