People used Metro Transit more than 82 million times in 2016, to go to work, to school or just to get around without adding to congestion. The Metropolitan Council will vote next Wednesday on whether to raise fares on those tens of millions of trips.
It’s clear that the Met Council is in a difficult position. There’s a sense that increasing fares will somehow appease legislative leaders who, for years, have either ignored or attacked transit funding. But on this issue, many in the Legislature are simply out of step with what the public wants and needs.
The overwhelming majority of people who commented during the Met Council’s monthslong public engagement process spoke out against fare hikes.
This opposition aligns closely with what our organization heard throughout the recent legislative session. Again and again, the Minnesotans we talked to were concerned and baffled that fare increases were being considered. We shouldn’t even be talking about that, they said; instead, we should be talking about how to make transit more affordable, more accessible and more appealing.
The revenue that a fare increase would generate is a drop in the bucket compared with the funding our region’s transit system really needs.
Transit fares have been raised 10 times since 1988; in the same period, gas taxes have been raised once. Enough. Stop.
Raising fares yet again would hurt people who can least afford it, and take our system and our region in the wrong direction. A fare increase would exacerbate long-standing racial disparities and income inequalities; do nothing to improve our health, climate or economic competitiveness; and set back years of progress on ridership.
According to Met Council numbers, raising fares 25 cents would reduce transit ridership by a whopping 3.8 million riders per year.
Think of it this way: People in St. Paul love the new bus rapid transit A Line, which is on track to serve 1.6 million riders this year. Met Council’s proposed increase would wipe out more than two years’ worth of A Line ridership. Doing so would waste what the region’s taxpayers have invested in transit already and make it harder for tens of thousands of people to get to work.
Is there a good reason to make it harder for people to get to work this fall? No. Metro-area transit will not face a deficit until 2020. Now is the perfect time to look carefully at how we can maximize the return on our substantial investment in transit, keep it affordable for working families and in fact make it work even better.
Ultimately, we need both state funding and regional innovation to improve service and grow ridership.
A fare increase is not the right solution for our underfunded transit system. Other regions are raising revenue by increasing ridership — not cutting it. Houston redesigned its bus network in 2015 and increased ridership on both bus and rail networks, adding revenue from the same budget inputs. Sixteen regions around the country are following that lead.
We have time to do the same.
Jessica Treat is executive director of Transit for Livable Communities and St. Paul Smart Trips.