Bill could reduce bus fares for homeless

Nonprofits could buy discounted bus tickets for the homeless.

A six-minute YouTube video of upset, low-income and homeless Minneapolis residents is turning heads at the state Legislature. The video âÄî featuring homeless residents describing the various reasons they depend on mass transit âÄî is part of an effort to pass a bill in the Senate to reduce bus fares for the down and out in Minneapolis. ItâÄôs a movement many politicians and supporters believe will go all the way. If passed, the bill will allow nonprofits to buy discounted bus passes and tokens for regular bus routes, which they could distribute to the homeless. In order to qualify, the nonprofit must provide services to the homeless and offer a job placement program. Josh Lang, Human Rights Program Coordinator at St. StephenâÄôs Human Services, and his project partner Richard Johnson became interested in reducing bus fares for the homeless last fall, when Metro Transit held public hearings about a 25 cent increase in bus fares. Lang said he tried to organize community members to attend the meetings, but a lot of people were intimidated by the bureaucratic process. âÄúSo we went out to get testimonies where people were comfortable,âÄù Lang said. Lang and Johnson recorded more than 400 people in front of shelters and nonprofit organizations who said a bus fare increase would negatively impact their life. Now, with Metro Transit facing a projected $62 million shortfall over the next two years, and the possibility of an additional 50 cent fare increase, Lang feels the bill needs to be implemented more than ever. âÄú[A 50 cent increase] would completely devastate people,âÄù Lang said. âÄúFamilies would be walking all over town with their kids âĦ people will have to walk to medical appointments âĦ it would impact all of these basic needs that people are trying to meet.âÄù But with cooperation between homeless advocacy groups, the Metropolitan Council and support from both parties, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis , said he has no doubt that the bill will pass. âÄúThe bill really emphasizes giving people a leg up âĦ and that doesnâÄôt have a partisan frame at all,âÄù he said. Dibble, who co-authored the bill, said people donâÄôt commonly consider limited transportation access as something that keeps people trapped in poverty. âÄúWe think about healthcare, housing and education,âÄù he said. âÄú[Transportation] is so fundamental for people to get to the things they need for their lives.âÄù Morgan Tsan, a geography senior and an intern at St. Stephens Human Services , started a Facebook group for the movement, and updates the progress of the bill almost daily. Tsan said the Metropolitan Council needs to be more creative in their solution to the budget shortfall. âÄúI understand they are in a budget crisis, but I think there are other things they could do rather than punish the people that use their service,âÄù she said. Before the bill can be passed, changes may need to be made, Dibble said, and the fiscal impact of the program needs to be considered as Metro Transit faces a serious budget shortfall. Lang said thereâÄôs a lot of skepticism among the homeless and low-income residents who the bill is looking to serve. âÄúThey really need to see things to believe it,âÄù Lang said. âÄúBut itâÄôs great to be able to go back to the shelters and say here is the bill number and theyâÄôre going to pass it.âÄù