Opinion: Metropolitan transit could be crippled by proposd budget cuts

For years in survey after survey, the metropolitan public’s No. 1 concern has been traffic congestion.
In response, the state, through the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), has been responding by building more transit systems.
In the metropolitan area, buses, light rail and commuter rail services have been carrying more and more people to their jobs.
That progress would come to a halt because the Republican majority in both houses want to cut $109 million from the Metropolitan Council, which runs the bus, light rail and commuter rail systems.
Gov. Mark Dayton had recommended no cut in state funding for Metro Transit.
MnDOT gets most of its funds from sources other than state aid. It would continue to operate, but would be crippled by one legislative bill if it were to become law. It calls for a 15 percent reduction in employees by 2015.
Such a reduction would mean the loss of 750 of 5,000 employees across the board in all services. Loss of state aid also would reduce wages and benefits for existing employees.
The legislative bill would cut the general fund appropriation for greater Minnesota transit by $3.729 million a year. This cut would reduce service to communities outside the metro areas for people who cannot drive.
The government shutdown will have had a big ripple effect on private contractors and construction workers who rely on MnDOT funds. It’s estimated 1,600 businesses and 3,900 small and individual contractors do work for the state.
While Minnesotans expected expenditures to be cut, a Metro  Transit poll suggested that they want to see revenues increased to balance this budget.
Gov. Dayton cited the damage to the transportation system when he vetoed the transportation finance bill.
Never was the eyeball-to-eyeball battle over funding more dramatic than in metropolitan transit, which probably will never be the same, having gone through the shutdown experience.
A reduction of $109 million proposed by the Legislature, an 85 percent reduction, would have resulted in an across-the-board increase of 50 cents over the base fare of $1.75.
It could have resulted in a reduction of 241 buses, which according to Metro Council officials, could have meant a 30 percent reduction in services, resulting in the loss of 20 million rides annually.
This combined fare increase and loss of buses and routes could have resulted in 27 million fewer rides a year, 31 percent of annual ridership and the layoff of 610 Metro Transit employees.
Faced with the loss of state revenue up to $109 million, the Metro Council is launching an extensive planning process. It will use as the worst-case scenario, the loss of $109 million over the next two years.
Public meetings tool place July 6 and 7, with another series of seven formal meetings scheduled in August.
The shutdown of services illustrates what reducing aid, particularly for Metro Transit, could mean for transit riders and systems that respond to the metro public’s highest priority — relieving traffic congestion. — Don Heinzman

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