Saving the MTS from the Governor’s Budget Cuts

I am blind, I am a guide dog user, and I am a bus rider. I’ve often wondered why, as […]

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I am blind, I am a guide dog user, and I am a bus rider. I’ve often wondered why, as I age, I must fight harder: 1) to become and stay employed; 2) to rely on public transportation systems to take me to work and other appointments; and, 3) to exercise my civil rights as a human being. Even though I have a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and have taught college level and public school classes for almost twenty years, my hard work hasn’t paid off in making my life easier over the years.

If the proposed transportation cuts and service reductions become a reality, what is in store for disabled people who use the Metro Transit System? As a blind person, I use the city buses on a daily basis to get to work, make appointments, get to classes, and shop for groceries.

During the bus strike in 2004, I had to walk to and from my appointments with my dog guide. The longest walk we had was three miles one way. I’m no youngster as I am in my fifties. My dog is eleven-years-old. Within a mile of my home, my service animal did something he never did before. My dog guide crossed diagonally between east and west traffic at Nicollet Avenue and 66th Street. My dog guide gave me his best, but he was just too old and too tired to perform as he should have. Our lives were put at risk because of the lack of bus service.

I am too dependent on the buses and I cannot afford to go through the loss of bus service again. If the issue of funding ends up being a repeat of what happened in 2004, I will either have to pay huge cab fares or be forced to suffer the effects of sore feet because of all the long walks my dog guide and I will have to take to get anywhere.

As Chuck Campbell stated in his article from a year ago, “For many of those who can’t walk or afford a cab, the strike amounts to house arrest.” (Metro Transit Bus Strike Deal Strikes Out, Access Press, April 10, 2004) It is unrealistic to expect someone like me, who has limited income, to daily afford $40 cab rides. Must I risk losing my job because I’m forced to stay home due to an inability to afford cabs? If I incur increased medical bills because I may have to receive doctor’s care for my sore feet, will the savings from the transit cuts just end up being transferred into higher medical costs?

Kimberley Barreda states, “In our system, ‘the disabled’ stay home with the rent paid by a government check. We don’t want to let any more of ‘them’ in because according to our ‘solution,’ there is no real opportunity to be self supporting. We just can not afford it…the ‘burden on society’ factor is a real issue and it legitimately applies to some people…the terminally ill and those with profound disabilities who are truly not employable are givens, as are some seniors – we make allowances for them as a society. Yes, it’s expensive, but we’re a compassionate people and we don’t penalize people for things that are out of their control…it’s not disabled people who are the burdens on society, it’s our outdated attitudes.” (disTHIS, the Cripculture Experience, Burden on Society, By Kimberley Barreda)

In an October 2004 administration newsletter, Admin-utes, Administration Commissioner Dana Badgerow presented information on alternative fuel technologies, such as hybrids, that will help reduce petroleum consumption, and stated that the Metro Transit will be adding 20 hybrid buses to its fleet by 2008.

What are disabled bus riders supposed to do in the meantime until these changes are implemented? Isn’t it contradictory to cut the Metropolitan Transit budget on the one hand only to increase funding to purchase a fleet of buses in the future? I don’t understand this line of logic.

According to Pioneer Press writer Charles Laszewski, “Metro Transit bus and Light Rail riders can expect a 25-cents-a-ride fare hike and dramatic service cutbacks in the bus system … The package…is designed to plug a $60 million hole in Metro Transit’s budget, caused by higher-than-expected costs for fuel and employee health care and lower-than-expected funds from the state’s motor vehicle sales tax,” said council staff member Dave Christianson. “It’s also based on Governor Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal, which provides for no increases to the bus system over the next two years.” (Metro Transit, still smarting from falling ridership after last year’s strike, looks at service cuts, too, By Charles Laszewski, Pioneer Press)

I propose that Governor Pawlenty and the House of Representatives wear sleep shades while they are at work, while they travel long distances, and while they attend functions. If they had to do this for five years, I believe they would begin to develop a better understanding of the daily struggles disabled people experience and how the proposed Metro Transit cuts will add to all of our difficulties.

My challenge to the Governor’s administration is to act on plans that include the disabled in every aspect of community life (this includes public transportation) rather then to exclude the rich culturally diverse populations of disabled people from normal life activities.

I’ve testified at the capital, and I’ve written letters to my state representatives. The statements I heard from state representatives and from articles I’ve read emphasize improving road conditions and building the Northstar corridor rather then to make life easier for disabled people who use the public transportation system. Once again, a barrier such as a reduction of public transportation services is in place to test our endurance, resolution and determination.

As long as Governor Pawlenty has been in office, I’ve heard him repeatedly state he was not in favor of any form of taxation, so why did he flip flop on the tax issue? According to Associated Press writer Brian Bakst, “Republican Governor Pawlenty said the proposal struck him as ‘reasonable’ but said he would prefer that the sales tax hike of 15 cents on every $100 spent in the county be put to a public referendum. Meanwhile, Pawlenty and leading lawmakers said the Twins bill should sit on the shelf at the Capitol until legislators finish work on the state budget. The 2005 session must adjourn by May 23, and the House and Senate have most of their budget bills left to pass.” Pohlad said, “It is a cannot lose stadium deal.”

Brian Bakst, Associated Press
April 26, 2005: “Can we trust Governor Pawlenty’s judgement on his obvious waffle on the stadium issue? How will Pawlenty’s short sightedness affect disabled working Americans in the short term and long term? Is Governor Pawlenty about to strike out on the stadium issue and how are fans supposed to get to this new stadium if there are no buses to bring them?

Let’s remind the Governor and the House of Representatives that they were elected to office to represent all of us and they can be elected out of their position by us if we all exercise our voting rights. It doesn’t make any sense to eliminate and/or limit the bus service to such a large population of people. It makes even less sense to put entertainment as a higher priority then employment.

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