University-area bus service should remain priority

In order to integrate Hiawatha Avenue light rail service with bus service, and to accommodate the growing number of bus riders who live in the central-south area of the Twin Cities metropolitan region, Metro Transit is planning to restructure its bus service in this area. The central-south area includes Edina, Richfield, Bloomington and the southern halves of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The proposed changes, if implemented, would be phased in at the end of this year and throughout 2004.

Under the proposed plan, route 52 express service, which currently logs 9,251 hours of drive time per year ferrying University students and staff to and fro, would be significantly reduced. Overall, however, the proposed plan would expand service throughout the central-south area and significantly increase suburban to downtown service.

Many University students and staff depend on the bus system for transportation. The popularity of the U-Pass program (30 percent of University students have U-Passes) and the sheer number of routes that service the University area (approximately 35 of 160 total routes) testify to the importance of bus transit to University students and staff. The University’s dependence on the bus system has benefits beyond transportation. Last year the U-Pass was given the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Waste and Pollution Prevention. The University estimates the program is responsible for reducing statewide carbon monoxide emissions by 865 kilograms per day.

Route 52 is an integral part of the bus system used by University students and staff. Under the proposed plan, 52 service would be pared down to service only the Uptown and the Lyn-Lake areas. The slashing of route 52 service would make commuting for bus-dependent University students and staff much more difficult and reduce the transit and environmental benefits of the very popular U-Pass program.

Given Minnesota’s budget crisis, the Pawlenty administration and Minnesota’s legislature will probably not provide the funds necessary to implement the segments of Metro Transit’s plan that would provide expanded service to the central-south area. In fact, service levels, when compared with today’s level, will probably fall as a result of the budget crisis. If inner city route services are cut, the effect of route 52 cuts will become even more problematic for University students and staff that depend on buses for transportation.

While increasing suburban bus riders is necessary if the Twin Cities metro area is to experience improved traffic flow and air quality, better suburban to downtown service must not come at the expense of Metro Transit’s core constituency, inner city riders and many University students and staff. As Metro Transit makes painful budget decisions over the next few years, the University community must pressure Metro Transit to keep routes that service the University and other inner city transit options plentiful.

University community members interested in learning more about the proposed changes to Metro Transit service in the central-south area, including the schedule of public meetings designed to elicit rider opinions regarding the proposed changes, should consult Metro Transit’s proposed changes’ Web site at sec5/central-so_plan.htm.