Metro Transit needs a fare increase. That’s the unpleasant but unavoidable conclusion that a Metropolitan Council committee reached Monday and that the full council ought to approve Wednesday. The Twin Cities bus, rail and Metro Mobility service needs its fareboxes to pull more fiscal weight if it is going to keep providing 85 million economy-supporting rides per year.
With no increase in fares since 2008, the share of operating costs borne by Metro Transit riders has dropped below 23 percent, down considerably from the council’s goal of 28.5 percent. The increase that’s before the council Wednesday — 25 cents more per ride on bus and rail, 50 cents on Metro Mobility — will bring the farebox share of the operating budget just above 24 percent.
Those statistics would justify an even larger increase. But public reaction to a proposed 50-cent increase was sharply negative, Met Council spokesman John Schadl said. Truth be told, transit riders aren’t keen on a 25-cent increase, either. But at least some of the 6,000 people contacted through a community engagement process said they were willing to pay a quarter more in order to help prevent cuts in service.
A 25-cent hike will generate $6.9 million per year, a small but important supplement to a $70 million boost in state funding enacted by the 2017 Legislature. Together, that should stave off service cuts in the next two years. But this year’s state funding increase has been promised for one biennium only. If it goes away in 2019, a $110 million deficit is forecast to appear on Metro Transit balance sheets.
Riders’ pushback to the modest fare increase that’s on the Met Council docket Wednesday bears notice at the Legislature. Many transit riders are low-income people who already find getting to work an expensive proposition. Pushing fares higher still is likely to cut ridership, which in turn would shrink the Twin Cities labor force. That would be economically counterproductive at a time when labor is already in short supply. It’s one of the reasons that we hope the state’s business community will take the lead at the Legislature next session in securing a permanent funding increase for Metro Transit — one that does not rely on another increase in fares.