Come Oct. 1, passengers using public transit in the Twin Cities will pay a little more.
The Metropolitan Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a 25-cent fare increase for local and express buses, light rail and commuter rail, as well as a 50-cent hike for Metro Mobility, a service for disabled people.
The council said the fare hike — the first since 2008 — was needed to battle a $110 million budget deficit expected by fiscal 2020-2021.
This is due to an anticipated decline in motor vehicle sales tax revenue, “inflationary pressures” and growing demand for Metro Mobility, which is mandated by the federal government.
Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck, leading his final meeting of the regional planning body, called the vote a “tough decision.”
Duininck expressed frustration that state legislators failed earlier this year to address the council’s looming deficit with a sustainable form of funding for transit — which he says the region needs in order to grow and thrive.
The council has been mulling a fare increase for several months, holding more than a dozen public hearings and forums to assess the public’s appetite for a hike.
The action drew mostly negative response from some 6,000 transit customers throughout the metro. An earlier proposal to increase fares by 50 cents for bus and LRT failed to gain steam.
At one public hearing earlier this summer, more than two dozen people spoke, often passionately, about how the increase would sap their already strapped family budgets.
For a person taking the bus or LRT twice a day five days a week, the increase will cost an additional $130 a year — likely more if other kinds of trips are factored in.
“This will affect people in a very regressive way,” said Andrea Kiepe, of Transit for Livable Communities & St. Paul Smart Trips, an advocacy organization. “This is life or death for a lot of people.”
The increase is expected to raise an additional $6.8 million in its first year, a fraction of the council’s looming deficit. The hike also will mean ridership will initially decrease by about 5 percent, or 3.8 million rides annually, with passengers expected to return within two years.
Total transit ridership in the Twin Cities, including Metro Transit and suburban bus providers, decreased 2.6 percent last year to about 96 million rides.
Under the new system, local fares for off-peak hours will increase from $1.75 to $2; while rides will go from $2.25 to $2.50 for peak hours. Metro Mobility users will pay $3.50 to $4.50 per ride, as well as an additional 75-cent surcharge for trips greater than 15 miles. Transit Link Dial-A-Ride fares will increase, on average, by $1.60, and include a 75-cent distance surcharge.
The council will explore expanding a pilot program for low-income transit riders in coming months as a way of mitigating the financial pain of the fare hike. That program, made available through some community service organizations, could potentially reach 250,000 people, but could cost an estimated $3 million to administer.
Council Member Gail Dorfman said she received 200 e-mails in the past few days regarding the fare hike. Few favored the increase, but “people said ‘I really value this service.’ ” She said most cities have rolling fare increases over a period of years.
Bus fares in other metro areas vary widely, ranging from $1.25 in Omaha and Houston to $2.60 in Denver. The local off-peak fare of $2 enacted by the council Wednesday is the same as in Phoenix, Boston and Chicago.
No transit service cutbacks are expected related to the new fare increase.
“If people pay more they’re not going to lose service, so they can still get to work or get to school,” said Council Member Jennifer Munt.
A recent survey of 1,600 passengers found 78 percent use transit to get to work, while 22 percent use it for school.
“Two dollars for a ride is still a really good deal,” Council Member Cara Letofsky said on Wednesday.
Council Member Gary Cunningham, whose district includes Robbinsdale and parts of Minneapolis, introduced a last-minute amendment to the fare hike proposal that would have increased express bus fares by 50 cents.
He argued that riders on local urban routes ultimately subsidize the system at a higher level than express routes, some of which serve the suburbs. The move failed to win needed support.
Other council members suggested the overall service area should be reviewed as a way of improving efficiencies, as well as encouraging more businesses to subsidize fares to spur ridership, and addressing fare evasion.
Staff writer Tim Harlow contributed to this report.