Fees for buses, parking go up

Michelle Kibiger

Officials blame budget cuts for the July 1 increase in public transportation and University parking fees, but most bus patrons are more concerned about service cuts than increased costs.
“We were surprised at people saying, ‘We will pay more if the alternative is cutting service,’ ” said Bob Gibbons, director of customer services for Metropolitan Council Transit Operations.
College of Liberal Arts junior Johanna Pape said buses are much more convenient than driving to campus and worrying about finding a place to park.
“I’d rather hop a bus down than have to find parking and pay for parking,” Pape said. “It’s easier that way.”
The new bus rates add 25 cents to rush-hour fares for all MCTO buses and University of Minnesota Transit 52 routes. The University bus system always matches the MCTO fares. Now rides will cost at least $1.50 per ride from 6 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The 52 routes bring commuting students and staff members to the University. The University also has free buses (formerly Route 13 buses), which travel within and between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. Four 52 routes were eliminated this spring, and plans call for the complete elimination of all the 52 routes by 1997.
Daily parking rates increased to $1 in the car pool lots and $2 in most other lots. Parking ramps now cost $3 during off-peak times and $1.25 per hour during peak times. Those figures represent increases of between 20 and 50 cents.
Contract parking rates increased about $10 per quarter, bringing most of them up to about $85.
Victoria Nelson, parking services manager, said the University raised parking rates to keep pace with costs of riding the bus so that the two services won’t necessarily compete.
However, driving to campus instead of riding the bus is not an option for many University students. Many cannot afford to own cars and rely on the buses to get them to school and their jobs.
Pape said the convenience of the bus service was more important to her than the cost of a ride.
“They cut a lot of the runs that were great for me to get (away from campus) quickly when I’m done with class,” Pape said.
Alex Dixon, a post-secondary student at the University, said he relies on the bus much more in the winter because he can’t ride his bike then. He said new fares policies are more of a hassle for him and he questions the judgment of MCTO officials.
The MCTO will lose about 1.9 million riders because of the fare increase, but Gibbons said the organization had no other option.
Gibbons said the MCTO had to to raise fares or cut service to cope with budget cuts. Last year, the system received $7.5 million in federal operating funds. This year, it received $500,000. The fare increase will raise about $4.1 million during the next year.
“We saw it coming a long way off,” said Gibbons. He said the federal government was cutting revenues around the country and some public transportation systems were cut more than the MCTO was.
The MCTO has already cut all its discretionary spending, such as mass-media advertising, from the budget.
“We would have had to cut way too much service,” he said, if the system had not increased its fares.
Revenue from the University bus system is used to fund that system. Increased parking revenues at the University will fund facility repairs, new construction and debt payments for completed projects.