Metro Transit fare increase delayed for budget plan release

Maggie Hessel-Mial

The proposed Metro Transit bus fare increase, set to take effect July 1, has now been delayed indefinitely until the state Legislature decides on a budget plan.

The Minnesota House of Representatives and the state Senate have been in conference committee with hopes of reaching a compromise between separate House and Senate transportation bills.

The House bill would provide $114.2 million for regional transit funding. This bill could lead to a reduction of bus routes by Metro Transit in order to make up for the lack of provided funding.

Many of the 58 proposed bus route cuts would affect University students and staff in daily commutes. Metro Transit ridership in 2000 suggests these route reductions could affect close to 2.8 million rides on weekday and weekend services combined.

The Senate bill – backed by Gov. Jesse Ventura – on the other hand, would allocate $136.2 million with an extra $18 million to buy out the rate increase.

“The Senate’s plan is the minimum the Metro Transit needs to maintain it’s current level of service,” said Bonnie Kollodge, media relations director for the Metropolitan Council.

The council decided to table the issue of a rate increase until the Legislature reaches a decision. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for this session tonight at midnight, but with no budget plan in sight, Ventura is expected to call a special session.

“We just couldn’t see going forward on such a huge increase until we knew for sure what the funding would be like,” Kollodge said.

The council proposed instilling rate increases of 25 cents per ride, with the senior citizen rates and disability rates staying the same, said Bob Gibbons, a media relations representative with Metro Transit.

“The express rush hour bus rates could go up to $2.25 without the support of the Legislature,” Gibbons said.

Transit riders could be forced to alter their personal budgets to allocate for the fare increase, as well as face the possibility of losing their route under the House plan.

“These cuts would come at a time of extraordinary growth in transit ridership,” said Jay Lindgren, regional administrator for the Met Council. “Now is not the time to reduce our commitment to transit.”

Metro Transit ridership has grown 22 percent in the past two years, Lindgren said. The council believes these funding cutbacks could wipe away ridership gains achieved.

“If funding of only $114 million prevails, we’ll never be able to make up the difference in fares,” said Kollodge. “Service cuts and fare increases would have to happen in that situation.”

Bus riders in the area find the idea of fare increases an inconvenience.

“I am concerned about riders that don’t have bus passes,” said Liz Rosar, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore and bus commuter. “I personally have a bus pass, but if the price for that were raised by a lot due to the fare increase, I might not be able to buy it.”

Funding cuts could also affect employees of the Metro Transit, resulting in the possible loss of 400 jobs, Lindgren said.

Gibbons said he is also concerned with other possible funding-cut drawbacks. “Actions of the Legislature will greatly affect the Metro Transit and its riders,” he said. “We’re all watching closely to see what decision they come up with.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the environment and transportation and welcomes
comments at [email protected]