Faced with a ballooning deficit and following months of emotional debate, a Metropolitan Council committee recommended Monday that fares for most types of transit service in the metro area increase by 25 cents.
The full council won’t vote until Wednesday on whether to raise fares, but it is expected to approve the move. Should that occur, the hike would go into effect Oct. 1.
The recommendation came despite widespread opposition among local transit passengers. “This is a tough issue, a tough vote,” said Transportation Committee Chairwoman Katie Rodriguez.
The 25-cent proposal would include fares on local and express buses, light rail trains as well as Northstar commuter rail service. Metro Mobility, the federally mandated service for the disabled, would see fares increase by 50 cents, with an additional 75-cent surcharge for trips greater than 15 miles.
If approved, the increase would be the first since 2008.
There shouldn’t be a fare increase without “fixing the current problems,” transit passenger Shawanda Taylor said Monday afternoon. “Buses are never on time,” she said. “There are no benefits, so why am I going to pay more?”
Committee members see a fare hike as a way of dealing with the regional planning body’s anticipated $110 million deficit by fiscal 2020-2021. This is due to “inflationary pressures,” growing demand for federally mandated Metro Mobility service, and an anticipated reduction in revenue from the motor vehicle sales tax.
“None of us wants to be here facing this proposal,” said committee member Cara Letofsky. “We know this won’t solve our budget problem, but it sets us on the path of taking on our fiduciary duty.”
At the same time, committee members were quick to point out that a fare increase alone will not solve the budget bind. And efforts at the Legislature this session to gain passage of a half-cent sales tax for metro-area transit fell flat.
“We need a stable, sustainable structure for funding transit,” said committee member Gail Dorfman.
The fare hike would raise an estimated $6.7 million in 2018. But the trade-off in the first year following the hike would be a decline in ridership of 3.8 million rides, though the council expects passengers to return within an 18- to 24-month period.
Commuter Mudassar Rasool said Monday that even if fares go up, it still would be cheaper for him to commute by bus from Blaine than to drive and park in downtown Minneapolis. But he hopes increased revenue from the proposed hike would help expand bus service and park-and-ride facilities.
Metro Transit provided more than 80 million rides to passengers in 2016, down 4 percent from 2015. Lower gas prices and the prolonged closure of Nicollet Mall during renovation were blamed for the dip.
At public hearings and in a survey conducted by the council in recent months, some 6,000 people commented on the proposed hike. Most opposed it, saying their already stretched family budgets could not handle the added expense.
Metro Transit buses and light-rail tickets now cost $1.75 per ride, or $2.25 during peak hours.
The survey, completed by about 1,600 people, indicated 78 percent use transit daily. About half of those responding were between the ages of 20 and 40, and 57 percent were women.
The committee’s recommendation calls for a pilot program that charges $1 per ride for qualifying low-income riders to become permanent and possibly to be expanded.
Several evening commuters waiting to board buses Monday in downtown Minneapolis bound for the suburbs said their employer offers discounted transit passes, so the proposed hike wouldn’t affect them much.
“I don’t think I would notice,” said Amber Belfrey, who takes the Route 850 bus to Coon Rapids.
Another suburban commuter, Anne Glazier, who commutes by bus between Maplewood and Minneapolis, said, “They were bound to raise the prices. If they need to do it, so be it.”
Star Tribune staff writer Karen Zamora contributed to this report.