Higher fares and less service may lie not far down the road as the Twin Cities transit system scrapes to make ends meet.
For Vaughn Larry, the bus is his vehicle to work on Saturdays at a St. Paul restaurant where he cuts meat.
"If you take away my service on weekends, I lose a portion of my revenue," he told transit operators who are considering slashing service and raising fares to deal with potential state budget cutbacks.
Larry, 54, of St. Paul, was among nearly 100 people who jammed a hearing room Wednesday night to warn about the impact of the cuts and hikes on transit riders.
A fare increase of up to 50 cents and a possible 25 percent reduction in bus service are under consideration by the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Twin Cities transit. Weekend service could end in some areas.
The agency is at the early stages of planning for the impact of a cut of as much as $109 million in state general fund revenue. The reduction was approved by the GOP-led Legislature but vetoed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton before the state government shutdown. More public hearings are expected to be held later this summer.
The proposed cuts and hikes couldn't go into effect before 2012, the Met Council told the audience.
The contingency plan is based on the assumption that the proposed state funding reductions become law. The severity of any fare hike or service cuts will depend on the outcome of the budget negotiations as well as future decisions by the Met Council.
The plan is not a response to the shutdown. Instead, the Met Council expects to tap reserves to keep the buses, the Hiawatha light-rail line and the North Star Commuter line rolling.
"We believe we have at least several weeks left of reserves," said Metro Transit general manager Brian Lamb, adding that the surplus could keep the system running for six to eight weeks.
But the prospect of future service cuts was foremost on the minds of those at a hearing. When a map of potentially eliminated routes was shown on an overhead screen, it elicited groans from several in the audience.
While the Met Council plan envisions a bigger share of the cuts occurring in the suburbs, most of the audience worried about reductions in inner-city service.
"This is absolutely ludicrous," said Justin Busch, 52, who lives in the Lowertown neighborhood of St. Paul. "I do not own a car; I have no intention of owning a car. I use transit to get everywhere."
He urged the Met Council to challenge the possible use of state money to subsidize a new Vikings stadium "so long as any public needs are facing anticipated cuts."
"It really doesn't matter if we have a ... stadium if we can't get to it unless we use cars," he said.
LuVerne Shepard said she "moved from the suburbs back to St. Paul so I'd have good mass transit for going to work."
Of the budget stalemate, she said, "Something's got to give, and I don't believe we should have to."
Juola Haga, 78, of Minneapolis, told council members, "I pray ... you succeed in keeping as much of the service as you possibly can."
While economic concerns were paramount, Ron Struss, 57, of St. Paul, said, "I ride the bus for environmental reasons. We have to get people who have cars to park ... and ride the bus."
Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504