“Good morning, sir!” exclaimed Maureen Scallen Failor, president of the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, as she handed a leaflet to a sleepy commuter waiting for a bus at the Lakeville park-and-ride early Wednesday morning.
The literature decried a 40 percent cut in bus, light-rail and commuter rail service that the Metropolitan Council says will occur if a Republican-led transportation budget bill moves forward at the Legislature. Between 20 and 70 of Metro Transit’s 151 bus routes could be eliminated, and “thousands” of trips pared, the council claims.
The Minneapolis Regional and St. Paul chambers of commerce and the transit advocacy group East Metro Strong have launched an information campaign and website to alert the public about possible cuts. Transportation Forward, a coalition led by Transit for Livable Communities & St. Paul Smart Trips, also is holding a rally May 16 to support transit.
Metro Transit provided more than 82 million rides to passengers last year, and about 40 percent of the people who work in downtown Minneapolis use transit for their commute. Yet many of the commuters taking the express buses from the Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride in Lakeville Wednesday were unaware of the transit brouhaha at the Capitol.
“I take this bus every day. I haven’t heard about this,” said Lacey Janikowski, who works at Target Corp.
Justin Valeri, who lives in Lakeville and works at Xcel Energy in Minneapolis, said he takes the bus because it’s cheaper than parking downtown, and it’s good for the environment. “If this happens, I guess I’d have to adjust my schedule,” he said.
It’s not a done deal — yet.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who co-chairs the Transportation Finance Conference Committee, conceded the House bill “is challenging for transit. It’s certainly on the lean side of things. We have some work to do. I don’t intend to ignore transit.”
The conference committee will work on the transportation budget bill Thursday.
Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, said the Met Council has failed to come up with its own effective cost-cutting measures. “They’re saying these cuts are the Legislature’s fault when in fact it’s their budget,” she said.
The council has a $74 million deficit, due to rising costs of Metro Mobility, a federally mandated transportation service for the disabled, as well as declining revenue from the motor vehicle sales tax. The council claims the House transportation bill would cause its deficit to balloon to $140 million.
It’s unclear which bus routes would be hit by a cutback. Planners would consider ways to minimize ridership loss, a route’s productivity and its passenger subsidies, said Met Council spokeswoman Kate Brickman. It’s hard to say how cuts might affect light-rail lines serving the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.
The council is considering increasing transit fares for the first time since 2008, but that wouldn’t eliminate its deficit.