Public transportation advocates fight proposed Metro Transit cuts

Mel Reeves speaking to the crowd (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

“Veto! Veto! Veto!” These were the chants that rang out in front of the Minnesota State Capitol as roughly 50-100 people — from residents to members of various organizations, including ISIAH — rallied against recent proposed cuts to Metro Transit. The rally, moderated by Transit for Livable Communities and Transportation Forward, took place at Leif Erickson Park, April 18 at 6 pm.

You could feel the intensity of how serious the issue is just by reading the signs held up that read, “Fund transit now,” “No cuts no hikes,” “Stop targeting us,” and “Transit equals access.”

 

Roughly 50-100 people gathered with signs at the rally (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

A recent proposal from the Minnesota Legislature would cut back services among bus and light rail services while raising bus fares by as much as 40 percent.

Most of the people at the rally from participating organizations rely on public transportation. “It feels like it really improves the quality of life where I live and economic development through transportation helps build the economy,” Jay Adams, a Twin Cities resident, said.

Emma Pachuta with Transit for Livable Communities and St. Paul Smart Trips, told the MSR that these organization are one of the coalition partners for Transportation Forward, a group of organizations and residents trying to move forward with the recent transportation issue.  She also pointed out that suburban routes are more heavily subsidized than are the city routes.

Emma Pachuta of Transit for Livable Communities and St. Paul Smart Trips (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

“Our main goal is to spread awareness,” Pachuta stated. We want to make sure people know about the state legislature proposing a 40 percent cut to transportation. We want people’s voices to be heard about what impact this will have on their lives. We really hope the governor and state legislature are paying attention.”

According to the Metropolitan Council, the House Transportation Omnibus Bill (HF 861) proposes to drastically cut funding for Metro Transit, the largest transit provider in the Twin Cities. After accounting for a proposed fare increase, HF 861 extends Metro Transit’s budget deficit to more than $125 million over the next two-year funding cycle.

Jay Adams holding his sign in protest of the Metro Transit cuts. (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

Mark Olivares, a frequent transit user and resident of the West 7th Street neighborhood in St. Paul, passionately summarized his view on why this bill should be vetoed as “Growing up, there was not a lot of opportunity where I lived. We never stayed in one place for too long, but did not have a reliable way of getting around,” he recalled.

“Both my parents worked nine-to-five [jobs], and I am the oldest of six children. I live on a fixed income. Without accessible forms of transportation, I probably would not have graduated high school,” said Olivares.

Mark Olivares (Chris Juhn/MSRN

The House proposal cuts general fund appropriations to regional transit by $120 million and completely eliminates State general fund contributions by 2021. It also divests the State from its previous agreement to pay part of the operating cost of the metro’s two light rail lines, shifting that funding burden to metro counties.

Critics argue this would have a negative effect on the elderly, people with disabilities, low-income workers, communities of color, and other individuals who are dependent upon public transportation.

Mel Reeves, a longtime community activist and partner of Transportation Forward, has a very passionate take on the future of public transportation for the Twin Cities. “This is a very serious issue,” Reeves said. “This is a big deal.

“If the cuts come and prices go up, it’s going to devastate the community. I take the bus and the train. It’s a good system. Why would you want to cut it?” Reeves said.

To emphasize the importance of what’s at stake, Reeves mentioned that the business community, known for its “stubbornness” in community issues, is even supporting the effort to stop the proposed legislation, as it would adversely affect them as well.

“You know something is up if the business community is behind us,” said Reeves.

Reeves pointed out to the crowd that there is a State surplus of $1.6 billion, while Metro Transit reported a need of $72 million in order to not raise fares. “It has me scratching my head wondering what motivated this,” he said.

As the speakers concluded their presentation, they encouraged the crowd with fighting words to continue their opposition after leaving the capitol: “If we fight, we win! If we fight, we win!”

A second rally is expected to take place May 16 at 6 pm at the same Green Line LRT station.

 

 

Ivan B. Phifer welcomes readers’ comments to iphifer@spokesman-recorder.com.  See more photos below by Chris Juhn.