As the city of Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council move forward on a plan for the Southwest light-rail line, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) is deeply troubled by the lack of racial and geographic equity in the current plan.
As Met Council Chair Susan Haigh noted in her State of the Region address in January, “equity requires a tailored approach to each community in our region, and in particular to areas that have experienced long-term, historic disinvestment.”
NOC, along with other community-based organizations in the People’s Transit Coalition, has spent months drafting a community-benefits agreement with transit riders in north Minneapolis, where the Southwest line will have three stops. The community-benefits agreement, presented to the Met Council, included connecting routes, more shelters, a reduction in fares, and investment in affordable housing and local businesses in north Minneapolis to prevent gentrification pricing residents out of the neighborhood. The current Southwest plan contains none of these demands and no mention of racial equity.
The following are key areas of needed improvement as identified by our north Minneapolis transit rider surveys.
The formula by which Metro Transit determines whether bus shelters are warranted is 40 riders per day in the city, but just 25 riders daily in the suburbs. Why the separate standard for urban riders, the majority of whom are people of color? This fits a long and painful narrative for people of color, and African-Americans in particular, of “separate but equal” standards. We need the Met Council to adopt a single standard for shelter requirement.
The current Southwest light-rail plan has committed to 75 to 100 new shelters in north Minneapolis by the end of 2015. This moves them from meeting 54 percent of the need in Racially Concentrated Areas of Poverty (RCAPs) — by the Met Council’s own definitions — to about 74 percent. An equitable plan would meet 100 percent of RCAP bus shelter requirements, including heated shelters at high volume stops.
Currently, fares are priced equally throughout the region, meaning a rush-hour trip to Target Field costs $2.25 whether 10 miles from Edina or 2 miles from North High. An equal cost structure is not the same as an equitable plan. The current model actually subsidizes suburban ridership at the expense of urban riders. A truly equitable transit model would reduce costs for low-mileage trips.
The Met Council needs to seriously consider free and reduced transit fares for all metro residents. Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, is the latest in a trend of European, South American and U.S. cities to adopt a zero-fare public transit system. In the Twin Cities, we’ve already seen how fare decreases, even in specific demographics like students and the elderly, boost ridership. The Met Council needs to get much more creative in incentivizing public transportation through free and reduced fares.
The Met Council should provide security cameras for all stops that have a precedented security concern. Folks want to know they are going to be safe when they stand at a bus stop with their children after dark. This would require standard security criteria for stops throughout the metro area and a degree of coordination between municipal police departments and Metro Transit. A truly equitable transit system would build safety concerns of all passengers into the foundation of the project.
We call on Gov. Mark Dayton to take a hard line on bridging the outrageous racial disparity gaps in our state and reversing the historical trend of disinvestment in north Minneapolis. He’s done a masterful job to help get the Met Council, the city of Minneapolis and other regional players to negotiate and make a commitment to build Southwest light rail. Now we need him to urge the gubernatorially appointed Met Council to prioritize all of our region’s transit riders, including those in north Minneapolis.
As Haigh said in January: “Investing in equity and opportunity is investing in regional growth.”
We have a tremendous opportunity to maximize the Southwest Corridor, to spur economic development, and to increase jobs and growth across the region — if light rail is tied to reducing racial and economic disparities in north Minneapolis. We look forward to continuing to engage with the city of Minneapolis and the Met Council to make this a reality.
Anthony Newby is the executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.