The current proposal by the GOP to drastically cut funding for Metro Transit would have severe negative impacts for those who can’t afford a car and depend on transit on a daily basis. It would also lead to choice-riders going back to their automobiles and further clogging roads. While it may be difficult for politicians to understand compromise, right now it’s desperately needed for transportation. So what should we do?
• Raise fares, but keep it simple and allow the poor to pay less. Local bus fares should be $2 all day (currently $1.75 off-peak and $2.25 peak), and express buses should be $3 all day (currently $2.25 off-peak and $3 peak). Northstar Line fares would be raised by $1. The Transit Assistance Pass (TAP), which is a program giving discounts to those in poverty who use transit, should be permanent. This is already proposed by the Metropolitan Council.
• Delay the test project of Northstar commuter-rail service to St. Cloud. Proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton, this test would only have one round trip per day (from St. Cloud to Minneapolis in the morning, and vice versa in the evening). Let’s wait until we have funding for more service between Minneapolis and St. Cloud than just one trip.
• Less dependence on the motor vehicle sales tax for transit funding. It’s quite ironic that we need people to buy cars in order to have sufficient funding for our transit system. When a recession hits, people may want to take transit to save money, but car sales are also less, which means less funding for transit and cuts to service.
• Dakota County must accept disbanding the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) in order to allow metro counties to raise the sales tax to a half-cent. Just as with Metro Transit, the suburban counties and their transit service face the threat of reduction due to insufficient funding.
• Reduce the state’s funding of light-rail operations to a quarter of total expenses from the current half.
• Use the state surplus to cover all or most of the current deficit for transit funding.
• Metro road and bridge maintenance projects should have funding. Dangerous roads and intersections should be fixed, but projects involving widening roads/bridges and building new interchanges in an attempt to ease traffic congestion should be put off; with increases in population and land use, plus induced demand, they may make traffic worse rather than better.
• Most important: No cuts to transit service.
Eric Ecklund is a student at the University of Minnesota majoring in transportation planning.