On October 1, passengers using Metro Mobility, buses and trains in the Twin Cities region will pay more for their rides. The Metropolitan Council in July unanimously passed a 25-cent fare increase for local and express buses, light rail and commuter rail, as well as a 50-cent hike for Metro Mobility. Metro Mobility is the region’s para-transit service.
The increase is the first since 2008 and is needed to cope with a $110 million budget deficit expected by fiscal 2020-2021. An anticipated decline in motor vehicle sales tax revenue, inflationary pressures and growing demand for Metro Mobility, which is mandated by the federal government, are driving the increase.
The increase comes at a time when there is more study of Metro Mobility. In August, a task force began meeting to discuss the paratransit service. The task force is charged with preparing a report by February 2018. The task force will look at options including identifying options for reducing program costs and improving efficiency; identifying at least three potential service level approaches that involve partnering with and incorporating transportation network companies, taxi service providers, or both, and providing recommendations for program and legislative changes.
The council in July also voted to make permanent the Transit Assistance Program (TAP) that provides a discounted fare of $1 per ride at all times to qualifying low-income riders. Many other adjustments were also approved. In 2016, ridership was 96.3 million rides. On an average weekday, ridership is more than 250,000 rides. Research shows 80 percent of riders are going to work or school.
“This was not an easy vote, but one that was necessary to strengthen the future of transit in our region,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck. “Transit connects hundreds of thousands Minnesotans with jobs, school, and with their communities.
This is the first fare adjustment we have made in nearly a decade. I do recognize that some low-income individuals who are dependent on transit may not be able to afford an increase at all. Therefore, I’m pleased that the council was able to mitigate the impact of a fare increase on low-come income people, by making permanent the Transit Assistance Program.”
The 2017 Minnesota Legislature funded operations with an infusion of one-time money of $75 million, and zero dollars for FY 2020-2021, which will result in the region facing a transit deficit projected at $110 million.
“The reality is that transit services are getting more expensive, and the legislature isn’t doing its part to provide a long-term, stable funding source,” said Duininck. “Our riders depend on this service, and our business leaders clearly recognize transit services play a critical role in our regional economy. Despite overwhelming public support for transit, leaders in the House and Senate chose a short-term fix and ignored transit’s on-going needs. Raising fares is the responsible thing to do and preferable to cutting services – but I want to be clear, we can’t solve our budget problem with fare increases alone. The legislature must act to create sustainable, dedicated transit funding.”
The Council action will result in an estimated $6.8 million in additional revenue per year.
The Council’s action affects all regional transit services, including those operated by Metro Transit, Metro Mobility, the Metropolitan Council (Transit Link and suburban service), and suburban transit providers (Maple Grove Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, Plymouth MetroLink, and SouthWest Transit). Transit fares, under state law and regional policy, must be set on a regional basis and be consistent across providers.
Duininck, leading his final meeting of the regional planning body, called the vote a tough decision. He and other council members expressed unhappiness that state lawmakers didn’t address sustainable transit funding in 2017. But they also said that a higher increase was considered but set aside.
The council held several meetings and conducted other outreach to discuss the rate hike. Many at the meetings about how an increase would tap already strained budgets.
Metro Mobility users will soon pay $3.50 to $4.50 per ride, as well as an additional 75-cent surcharge for trips of more than 15 miles. Transit Link Dial-A-Ride fares will increase on average by $1.60. These trips will also include a 75-cent distance surcharge.
Under the new system, local fares for off-peak hours will increase from $1.75 to $2; while rides will go from $2.25 to $2.50 for peak hours.