Metro Transit riders most likely will see a fare increase for the first time in nearly a decade, predict Metropolitan Council officials. They claim a hike is necessary to keep up with rising costs.
The Met Council will be considering either a 25 cent or 50 cent increase for Metro Transit bus, light rail, express bus, A Line and Northstar line fares. Metro Mobility and Transit Link fares also could rise anywhere from 50 to 75 cents.
Council Member Wendy Wulff (District 16) noted during a May 31 public hearing at the downtown Minneapolis library that transit fares pay for at least one-third of operating costs, including driver salaries and bus maintenance.
District One Council Member Katie Rodriquez told the MSR, “I think we will have a fare increase. I think we need to.” She added that the last time Metro Transit raised fares was in October 2008.
“We have been on an every-two-or-three-year cycle of raising fares,” recalled Rodriquez. “The [proposed] 25-cent increase barely covers inflation.” The “super expensive” Metro Mobility operating costs rise every year. “[It] is a big driver for our deficit,” noted the council member.
Regarding increasing transit fares, District Six Council Member Gail Dorfman warned, “We have to be very careful about making this decision. [Raising the fare] is going to impact a lot of people.”
Many previously feared deep cuts to Metro Transit funding by the Minnesota Legislature: Gov. Mark Dayton wanted $3 million over 10 years from a ½-cent sales tax increase in the seven-county Twin Cities Metro area. The Senate and House, both Republican-controlled, originally offered nothing at all for Metro Transit.
Rodriguez said the session was tough. “I had a lot of sleepless nights.”
The final transportation bill passed and signed last week by Dayton includes a “one-time infusion” of $70 million over the next two years that will close Metro Transit’s projected deficit for 2018-19. The bill avoids what would have been a 40 percent cut in service if the GOP proposal had been approved.
“If the transportation bill had not passed, at least 40 percent of Metro Transit service would have been affected… That would have devastated our region,” said Rodriquez. Added Dorfman, “It’s not the extreme emergency we thought we would be facing right away.”
The Met Council has been holding public hearings since mid-May for public testimony orally or in writing; the last of four such meetings will be held June 14 at the Council’s St. Paul headquarters. There have also been several informational open houses where people can ask questions but cannot give testimonies. The final two such open houses will be June 6 at Southdale Library in Edina and June 13 at the North Regional Library on Lowry Avenue in North Minneapolis.
The deadline for public comments on Metro Transit’s proposed rate hike is June 26.
Dorfman listened intently to people who testified in last week’s one-hour hearing. “I took lots of notes,” she told the MSR. “I thought people had lots of good points, particularly around raising transit [fares] when gas prices are going down.”
A White woman testified, “Every dollar in my budget is fixed.” Two brothers — both blind, testified on blind people’s rely on [public] transportation.
A disabled woman from Bloomington noted that getting around took too many buses. “There should be buses that run more frequently.”
Also testifying were several men from St. Paul’s Ujamaa Place, a Black culturally specific nonprofit that works with young Black men ages 18-30 in educational and job skills training. Raising fares “would be tragic,” said Taymon Robinson of St. Paul. “It would make things more complicated and be hard for people to get around.”
“We need [buses and trains] to make it to class on time,” said Latrell Campbell, Jr. of St. Paul.
Afterward, Ujamaa’s Education Director Corey Stewart told MSR that Ujamaa provides bus tokens for men in the program to get back and forth to work, home and Ujamaa. “We know that a fare hike will have a tremendous [negative] impact on the services that we provide.”
Campbell has classes during rush hour, and although he owns a car, he and others like him often park their cars and use buses and trains for convenience and to save money. He points out that it is too costly for parking in many places, especially downtown. He takes the light rail to classes because “it really helps time-wise.”
Robinson said he spends “around $21 or more” each week on transportation. “If you raise [fares], you’re talking about $40 to $50.”
Raymond Parker of St. Paul complained about the lack of transit frequency, especially on Sundays. “We should have more buses on Sunday and during the evening after 7 pm. There are places we need to get to [but cannot] because some buses have stopped [running].”
Parker and others proposed eliminating the current two weekday rush hour and non-rush hour fares if Metro Transit does raise fares. “There are many different things being proposed,” responded Rodriquez.
Longtime bus driver Teresa Collins said at a community meeting last month, “Our passengers are predominately people of color, the elderly, people with disabilities, low-income people making minimum wages and struggling single mothers. A fare increase will hurt these passengers.”
Jhanae Burnett of St. Paul told the MSR that a fare increase “might be harder” for her economically. “I spend almost $150 a month on public transportation” using a weekly, 7-day bus pass.
Seventeen-year-old high school student Raven Black uses her school-furnished bus card for all of her transportation, including weekends and after hours. Her mother, Tanya Black, said her daughter relies on public transportation to get everywhere she goes. She said if bus routes or service were cut, “It would affect us tremendously.”
Minneapolis Public Schools Transportation Services Director Scott Jones said the District pays for bus cards for at least 7,300 high school students — 1,500 of whom are on free and reduced lunch. He explained that MPS pays roughly $300 per student for bus cards.
With any cost increase the district would be looking at about $127,000 in additional costs. “Our budget simply can’t absorb that.”
Rodriquez said riders should be prepared to pay more to ride buses and trains in the near future. “We also have a fiducial responsibility to the region,” she concluded.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.