Metro Transit, Met Council discuss proposed changes

A projected 25-cent fare increase is expected to go into effect in July.

by Jason Juno

Frank Douma, a research fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said he takes the Hiawatha light rail line and connects with the route 74 bus to get to his home in the Highland Park area of St. Paul.

Getting to and from the University could become less convenient for him, because the route is slated for cuts, he said. The route is part of the Metropolitan Council’s proposed service cuts and fare increases.

“Gas is expensive,” he said. “I like the chance to relax and do some reading when I’m on the bus or the train.”

Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit officials had an informational meeting with University Parking and Transportation Services officials Tuesday to inform the University community about the council’s proposed fare increase and service cuts.

Approximately 25 people attended the session at the Humphrey Institute’s Cowles Auditorium.

The meeting took place before a series of planned public hearings seeking resident input across the metro area. The meeting at the University was not an official public hearing.

Five bus lines will be directly affected at the University, but close to 70 percent of routes are affected across the Metro Transit system. The proposed fare increase is 25 cents for bus fares on most individual rides across the metro area, according to the Metropolitan Council.

The fare increases would go into effect in July, and the service reductions mostly would start in September or December.

Some students who attended the meeting said they wondered how this would affect the price of the U-Pass, which now costs $55 per semester.

University transit manager Bill Stahlmann said the University is in the first year of a four-year contract with Metro Transit. The contract has built-in costs for inflation increases, he said.

Stahlmann said he is uncertain whether the fare increase would translate into an increase in the U-Pass price.

Metro Transit is facing a $60 million deficit, and this increase would balance the budget, said Brian Lamb, general manager for Metro Transit.

When Metro Transit last dealt with fare increases and cuts, changes were made after public comment, Lamb said.

Staff members will look at public comments to see where routes could be combined or somehow saved, Lamb said. They will also look at ridership and the number of connections on a line, he said.

If enough comments also specify fare increases in general or a specific service, that will be looked at and possibly changed if financially feasible, Lamb said.

The proposed cuts put Metro Transit close to its budget goal, Lamb said. But a balanced budget does not mean Metro Transit will be in a perfect state, he said.

For every 10-cent increase in fuel, it costs Metro Transit $1 million, Lamb said.

The group Transit for Livable Communities is pushing for a half-cent metro-area sales tax to offset the proposed cuts and increases, said Barb Thoman, the group’s program director.

Barbara Sullivan, a Humphrey Institute employee, said she did not think anyone from Metro Transit would respond to her or the public’s concerns.

An online comment card is available on the Metropolitan Council’s Web site.

Officials also urged people to write legislators with their opinions.

The next public hearing is at 11:30 a.m. today at the Metropolitan Council Chambers, at 230 Fifth St. E. in St. Paul.