Disgruntled over what they say is inequitable bus service and the lack of a transit station, Rosemount City Council members on Tuesday seriously considered withdrawing from the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority but stopped short of voting to do so.

The council, however, was stern in its questioning of MVTA, which provides public transportation for Rosemount, Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan and Savage, and asked what value the partnership has if Rosemount doesn't see some local returns on its annual investment.

"If you look at our other four partners, they all have many park-and-rides, much better service than we have," said Mayor Bill Droste. "If we do not get a park-and-ride soon, it's just more and more problematic."

The council will reconsider the issue on Feb. 12, after the MVTA board meets.

The move to secede from MVTA comes as transit agencies across the region struggle with increased ridership and declining revenue as motor vehicle sales tax collections plummet. Rosemount is required to notify MVTA by Feb. 15 if the city is going to opt out at the end of 2009.

Rosemount has been a member of MVTA since the transit company formed after the Legislature gave suburbs unhappy with Metro Transit the power to redirect tax money toward local bus service. Since then, much of the funding for MVTA and other regional transit has shifted to money collected through the motor vehicle sales tax.

Rosemount's contribution to MVTA, funneled through the Metropolitan Council, was between $690,000 and $780,000 in 2007, said Beverley Miller, executive director of MVTA. The transit agency's annual budget is between $15 million and $16 million.

Miller said it's hard to say how much money MVTA would lose or Rosemount would gain if the city withdraws because the upcoming budget is still in flux.

But that's money that Droste, who represents Rosemount on the MVTA board, said may be better spent on locally planned transit options if the city reclaims it.

Two MVTA bus routes run through Rosemount. They stop at the community center because there is no transit station. One is a flex route that shuttles riders between Rosemount and various stops in Apple Valley. The other, an express route to downtown Minneapolis, started operating in September over objections from the Met Council, which said it wasn't sustainable. Through the end of 2008, that route had carried 5,023 passengers, with 980 boarding at the Rosemount Community Center.

City officials say commuters are reluctant to use the route because it heads south to the 157th Street Station on Pilot Knob Road before going north on Cedar Avenue to Minneapolis, Droste said. And some people can't find the bus stop; it's marked only by a sign in the community center parking lot.

"People who ride the bus do not like to get on a bus that's going backwards," Droste said, noting that many Rosemount riders prefer to drive 6 or 9 miles to other park-and-ride lots where they can find more direct routes.

Council Member Jeff Weisensel is one. He was among the first passengers to board the express bus at the community center this fall. He stuck it out for three months, wanting the route to succeed, but gave up because the southern detour was adding half an hour to his commute to downtown Minneapolis.

It's disappointing, he said, that after many years of partnership and investment, the riders who board in Rosemount don't even have a shelter at the bus stop. "I don't want to feel like pigs at a trough, but we should get some benefit for being part of that," Weisensel said.

Rosemount wouldn't be the first city to back out of MVTA. Prior Lake withdrew and started its own bus service in 2003. The city said opting out gave it more control over costs and routes.

Rosemount officials don't yet have specific plans for alternate bus service. But they said they would look at using the money they receive to operate their own service or contract with transit company -- even MVTA -- to provide the desired service.

Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, chairwoman of the MVTA board, said the agency is aware of Rosemount's desire for a transit station and wants to build one when there is funding.

"We would like to continue to have Rosemount as a part of MVTA," Kautz said. "It's better for government when we can collectively come together and leverage our resources to provide service."
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056