Metro Transit bus riders who start and end their trips completely within downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul can do so by dropping two quarters into the fare box. That’s a bargain compared to the full fare of $1.75 for off-peak and the $2.25 charged during rush hours for trips that go beyond what’s known as the Downtown Zone.

Metro Mobility riders don’t get a discount. They pay a full fare — $3 for a one-way trip during off peak hours and $4 during peak hours — even if they stay downtown.

The Metropolitan Council thinks that’s wrong, and it’s doing something about it.

This month, the council is soliciting public comment on its plan to create “Downtown Zone” fare schedule for Metro Mobility, a public paratransit service that provides door-to-door rides for those who are unable to use traditional buses and trains.

If adopted, Metro Mobility riders would be charged $1 per ride anywhere in the downtowns regardless of the time of day. Rides that go outside either downtowns or between them would still be charged full fare.

“We need to be equitable, ” Metro Mobility Senior Manager Andrew Krueger said during a sparsely attended public meeting last week. “It’s an ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirement that we can’t charge more than two times the fixed-route fare. We want and need to match what Metro Transit offers.”

In Minneapolis, Metro Transit charges 50 cents for rides in an area roughly bordered by 3rd Avenue N. near Target Field, the former Metrodome on 11th Avenue, I-394 and the intersection of Hennepin and Central avenues just across the Mississippi River. In St. Paul, the Downtown Zone extends from University Avenue to Plato Blvd. and from Kellogg Blvd. to the Lafayette Freeway. Metro Mobility’s Downtown Zone would follow the same boundaries.

The proposed change comes as more people are using Metro Mobility. Operated by five contractors in 92 communities in the metro area, Metro Mobility provided rides for nearly 17,000 people last year. Collectively they took 1.82 million rides, an increase of about 100,000 rides from 2012. Of those, about 1,000 rides in Minneapolis and 1,100 in St. Paul would have qualified for the reduced fare, Krueger said.

One man who attended last week’s meeting was concerned that a fare decrease of $2 to $3 per ride could result in service cuts. Metro Mobility operates with a $65 million budget, and Krueger said a loss of $4,000 to $6,000 “should not have an impact in service one way or another.” It might actually increase ridership, he said.

Other changes are in the works, too. A new pilot project to be launched this spring will allow Metro Mobility riders to begin paying with Go-To Cards, the same bright green plastic cards with an electronic chip used by Metro Transit bus and train riders. Currently Metro Mobility riders must pay with cash or Metro Mobility coupons. Coupons will be phased out by 2015, Krueger said.

“We have a long history of wanting to provide what the federal requirements are and have no desire to change that,” Krueger said. Thankfully, “we have a state culture that prioritizes this service, recognizes that it is expensive and understands that it is a civil right.”

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