Photo: Transit for Livable Communities

Minneapolis Public School students have a message for legislators contemplating making steep cuts to public transportation: Don't.

On Tuesday morning, students representing South, Southwest and Roosevelt high schools held a rally at the bustling intersection of 22nd Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis to speak out against a plan that would cut funding for Metro Transit bus and light-rail service by as much as 40 percent. Fares could also ride 25 to 50 cents.

A final vote on transportation funding is likely a few weeks off as there will be lots of debate before a final bill is signed, but students such as Sophie Manolis wanted her voice to be heard and tell lawmakers to reconsider their position.

"It's a necessity for me," said Manolis, a South High student who has taken the bus since eighth grade to get to school and swim practice. "I would have to rely on my parents to drive me and they are not always available. It's important for young people to learn how to take the bus. We need to learn to be independent and get around ourselves." 

Tuesday's rally was the second organized by Transit for Livable Communities, one of the several groups adamately opposed to service cuts and fare hikes that are being proposed. A "No Cuts, No Hikes. Fund Transit Now" rally on the Green Line Capitol Station platform is scheduled for May 16.

The debate over transit comes as the Met Council faces a $74 million transportation budget deficit, a lot which can be attributed 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.

Between 20 and 70 of Metro Transit’s 151 bus routes could be eliminated, and “thousands” of trips pared if cuts being discussed are enacted, the council claims.

Any reduction in service would hit students hard, those who spoke at Tuesday's rally said. 

It was a few years ago that Minneapolis School shifted high school students off of yellow school buses and onto Metro Transit buses. The district spends about $2 million a year on Go-To Student Pass program, allowing students to ride as much as they want between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. during the school year.

"Cuts in transit would impact a majority of MPS high school students," the district said in a statement. "A big increase in the cost the district has to pay may limit the amount of passes we are able to provide and that harms students."

According to Metro Transit, 10,282 student passes are in used at 52 area high schools across the metro area with total ridership in 2016 at 4.2 million. 

Besides transportation issues, transit advocates point to a University of Minnesota study that demonstrated other benefits for students. Research found that absenteeism dropped 23 percent among Metro Transit Student Pass users after Minneapolis Public Schools adopted the program. The study also found that there were time savings for families, reduced traffic congestion, reduced vehicle emissions, promoting positive attitudes towards transit, and equity benefits for students from under-resourced families.”

Metro Transit provided more than 82.6 million rides in 2016, averaging 266,916 rides each weekday. While that was down about 4 percent from 2015 when ridership hit its highest mark in 34 years, last year marked the sixth consecutive year Metro Transit provided more than 80 million annual rides. It also was the third-highest annual ridership since 1981

"We are going to keep fighting," said Andrea Kiepe, a spokeswoman for Transit for Livable Communities. Cutting transit "is not an option. It is a high priority for thousands who use Metro Transit every day."

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