Bus fares, U-Passes could see price increase

Due to proposed cuts in the state’s transportation budget, bus fares may increase.

by John Hageman

Kristin Perzel makes good use of her U-Pass.

The University of Minnesota freshman takes the bus to and from work and school every day. At $97 per semester, Perzel figures sheâÄôs getting her moneyâÄôs worth.

But due to proposed cuts in the stateâÄôs transportation budget, bus fares may increase, and students may need to pay more for a U-Pass in the future as a result.

The Metropolitan Council, which operates Metro Transit, was facing a $109 million funding cut from the legislature when Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the transportation finance bill Tuesday, but similar proposals could appear in the upcoming budget battle.

Met Council chairwoman Susan Haigh warned that the transportation cuts would force the council to raise fares by as much as 50 cents and cut service dramatically.

âÄúThe draconian cuts to transit in this bill are unacceptable to me,âÄù Dayton said in the veto message.

Dayton and state lawmakers will meet in the coming weeks to compromise on budget bills.

Because bus fares and U-Pass prices are correlated, students will feel the effect, according to Jacqueline Brudlos, spokeswoman for the UniversityâÄôs Parking and Transportation Services.

Brudlos said U-Passes will remain $97 this fall, but any prediction on their cost afterward would be âÄúpure speculation.âÄù

Although U-Pass prices have increased $33 since fall 2007, sales have remained steady at about 20,000 per semester.

According to Parking and Transportation Services, a student paying $2.25 during rush hour twice a week would spend $144 per semester on bus fare. Students like Perzel pay significantly less for unlimited rides.

âÄúIt is a lot, but for the amount I use it, itâÄôs a good deal,âÄù she said.

But the cuts could have more widespread effects.

Haigh warned that a combination of fare increases and service cuts could result in a 26 percent decrease in ridership. The Met Council also estimates it would have to lay off 450 employees.

âÄúThe proposed cuts would force Metro Transit to choose which routes to amputate,âÄù Met Council member Jennifer Munt said.

Legislative stalemate

The $4.5 billion transportation finance bill, like other budget bills sent to  Dayton, was vetoed Tuesday. At the center of the impasse that dragged the Legislature into an upcoming special session is how to best erase a projected $5 billion deficit.

Dayton has proposed raising taxes on the richest 2 percent of Minnesotans, while the new Republican leadership refuses to stray from their âÄòno new taxesâÄô mantra.

âÄúThe governor has repeatedly said that this is not the time for transit cuts,âÄù Haigh, of the Met Council, said, noting that gas prices are hovering near $4 per gallon.

Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar,  said the cuts, an 85 percent reduction in the stateâÄôs general fund to the Met Council, arenâÄôt a big enough part of the overall budget to hold up negotiations.

Gimse said that DaytonâÄôs staff hasnâÄôt budged from zero cuts to transit, making it hard to strike a compromise.

 âÄúThatâÄôs not how you negotiate,âÄù Gimse said at a press conference.