GOP legislators are pushing increased fares for metro buses, light-rail and commuter trains, part of a longstanding effort to shift more of the cost of transit from taxpayers to riders.

Supporters say a 25-cent hike is justified as gasoline prices rise for motorists, but opponents say the increase would violate a deal that broke the state budget impasse last summer.

Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that since the last fare increase in 2008 "virtually everything in everybody's life has gone up."

Gimse also argued that another fare increase would reduce the dependence of Metro Transit on future state funding.

Without the increase, "they will be demanding a bigger and bigger piece of the general fund pie" at the expense of rural and suburban transit systems, he said.

But Metro Transit cites statistics from the National Transit Database, an arm of the federal government, to stress that Twin Cities buses and the Hiawatha light-rail line depend less on fare subsidies than transit in many similar cities.

While fares recovered just 31 percent of Twin Cities bus costs in 2010, it was more than Portland, Denver, Pittsburgh, Miami, Baltimore, Boston, Atlanta and some other cities. Hiawatha fares recovered 40 percent, more than Portland, St. Louis, Denver, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas and other cities.

The Northstar commuter rail is less competitive with commuter systems in other cities, and its fares recover 16 percent of costs.

Deal invoked

The Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, said the proposal to raise fares would break a deal between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans last year that ended the state government shutdown.

"We had agreed we were not going to raise fares during this ... budget cycle," said Judd Schetnan, a lobbyist for the Met Council. "We'd like to abide by that agreement."

That budget deal runs until the end of June 2013. Schetnan said the agency would be willing to consider fare increases after that.

A Senate version of the fare proposal would increase fares next January. A House version could do it as early as July.

The initiatives come as Republicans give greater scrutiny to financing by the Metropolitan Council.

Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, says he hopes the proposed fare increase can provoke a broader debate over transit funding.

A 25-cent hike -- the same increase as in 2008 -- would apply to peak and nonpeak fares. Regular route and express route bus service would be affected, as well as commuter rail and light rail.

The increase would not apply to discounted fares, including Metro Mobility.

The base fare for bus and light rail now is $1.75 but rises to $2.25 during rush hours.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504