Passengers rage over cancelled route

by Lynne Kozarek

Transit authorities met boos and heckling from students and faculty members Wednesday at a campus hearing about the cancellation of University bus Route 52 service.
About 150 people gathered in Coffman Memorial Union to express their opinions to Metropolitan Council Transit Operations representatives.
Steve Mahowald, a transit planner at the Metropolitan Council, presided over the meeting and explained the changes that will take place when the MCTO takes over Route 52. Although plans have not yet been finalized, the changes could take place as early as June.
Mahowald said some Route 52 buses, such as 52F, 52K, and 52P, would be discontinued while most others would be retained on a limited basis. He also offered alternatives to people who will be left without Route 52 services.
When the floor was opened to public comment, the crowd was visibly upset about the discontinuation of their bus routes and concerned about the service they would receive when the MCTO takes over Route 52.
The crowd often heckled the MCTO officials and applauded many audience comments, especially when speakers complained about the proposed changes.
Bus riders also said they were concerned about their personal safety on MCTO buses.
Many riders asked how the MCTO could guarantee their security in light of a recent violent incident that occurred on a city bus.
Julie Johanson, acting general manager at the Metropolitan Council, said that MCTO’s top priority was the safety and security of its passengers and drivers.
“We are adding security cameras and more police to the buses,” Johanson said. “The MCTO has its own police force and we have a radio control center.”
Johanson said that MCTO is “horrified” by the incident last Friday when a woman was shot in the face and seriously injured on an MCTO Route 5 bus, but urged people to look at the big picture.
“If you look at the numbers,” Johanson said, “the number of people injured in incidents like that are very few.”
Many bus riders said they were happy with the service that Medicine Lake Lines, the company currently operating the service for the University, provides and were dismayed by the poor service they received while riding MCTO buses.
“This has been going on for three years,” said Betty Belfiore, a University professor of classical and Near Eastern studies, in reference to service and security problems on MCTO Route 5 buses. “I don’t expect it to be corrected in my lifetime.”
Johanson and Mahowald expressed surprise at the number of people dissatisfied with MCTO service.
“I’m somewhat amazed,” Mahowald said, adding that he has ridden MCTO buses for 20 years. “If everybody else is getting shoddy service, then I seem to be the exception,” Mahowald said.
Many bus riders were outraged at the information in flyers circulating around the room that contained minutes from a May 1996 meeting of the Faculty Senate Committee on Finance and Planning. Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation services, and Paul Tschida, assistant vice president for Safety and Health Management, had attended the meeting.
The minutes contained an inquiry about a project to build a combination driveway and loading area that provides an option to build an underground parking garage and pedestrian tunnels for the University’s Carlson School of Management.
The minutes state that Baker and Tschida agreed that if there had not been a transfer out of parking funds for Carlson, there would have been ample funding for the University to continue to subsidize Route 52 buses.
Roger Huss, assistant director of transportation at Parking and Transportation Services, said that Parking and Transportation Services didn’t plan to give funds to the Carlson project, although the money from parking and transportation was used.
Baker said the minutes referred to a theoretical discussion at the Senate committee meeting.
“Theoretically, could that money have been used to support transit?” Baker said. “In theory anything is possible.”
Linda Kenny, an administrative director in Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, expressed her dismay at the Carlson project.
“I am disappointed that the University lets all of these people down because of a parking garage,” she said.