How much time do you spend commuting on the average day? What if you spent three hours in your car each day? Would that take away time with your family? Could you take care of errands and important business? Would it affect your earnings?
For some, a long commute is merely inconvenient, but for people experiencing poverty it could be the difference between economic stagnation and upward mobility. In a Harvard-based study, average commute times had the strongest relationship to the odds of escaping poverty of the factors considered. Longer average commutes were correlated with less opportunity.
The average commute in the Twin Cities is 25.6 minutes, but a Brooklyn Center resident who works at the Mall of America, can spend 90 minutes getting there on bus route 5. We can change that. By investing in bus rapid transit (BRT) for this corridor, we would reduce commute times by about 20%. This would benefit all riders but could make a real difference for people of low income who make up 40% of area ridership.
Many transit users don’t have the choice to drive; these can include people without access to a car, youths, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Their time is no less valuable than the time of those with more transportation choices. We can provide faster service, and we should.
Features of BRT include stations to pay before boarding, traffic signal priority, buses designed for quick boarding and fewer stops.
D-Line BRT is planned for the 18-mile corridor served by bus route 5 and has already secured support from federal and regional sources. About 75% of the needed funds are identified. Now, the state is being asked to contribute. There are proposals to provide the remaining $20 million for the project, including a bonding recommendation from Gov. Tim Walz.
We often hear support voiced for buses at the Capitol and about how bus investments are cost-effective. Some say they’re skeptical of certain rail projects but can support bus service. Yet when the time comes, the financial support isn’t there. Last session a recommendation from Gov. Mark Dayton and efforts of legislators to fund this project went unheeded. In recent years, the state has backed further and further away from a fair contribution to this mode of transportation.
Bus route 5 provides more than 5 million rides per year and is the busiest route in the Metro Transit system. If we want to invest in a road that moved that volume of people, the benefits would be obvious to all. Transit is integral to the state’s overall transportation system and the efficient movement of people. It deserves state investment.
Investing in transit is akin to investing in the highways, roads and bridges, but with more public benefit. Transit moves more people in fewer vehicles, reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Bus route 5, for example, moves 20 percent of the people in the corridor while making up only 2% of the vehicle traffic. BRT has been shown to increase access to jobs and spur economic development.
Investing in transit increases a region’s attractiveness to employers and the future workforce. That is why transit investments are a priority to groups like the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and why employers like Allina Health are actively advocating for the D-Line BRT. (Allina also understands the relationship between reliable transportation and health outcomes.)
Providing the infrastructure for BRT goes beyond the day-to-day operations of Metro Transit and requires an additional infusion of capital. We urge the Legislature to step up to meet the state’s transportation needs.
Andrea Jenkins is vice president of the Minneapolis City Council. Angela Conley is a Hennepin County commissioner.