By Katie Rodriguez
As it stands, the Transportation Bill that was just passed at the State Capitol could have devastating impacts on commuters. In particular, on senior citizens and people with disabilities who rely on transit services like Metro Mobility and Transit Link programs to remain independent.
Here’s the problem. For several years, legislators have ignored systemic funding issues for transit in our region. State funding for transit has remained flat, while costs to provide the service have grown by 3 percent annually. Additionally, as our population ages, the cost of providing Metro Mobility service has been increasing by 5 to 8 percent a year.
Those unaddressed funding issues have led to a $74 million funding shortfall for transit services. But instead of addressing those issues, the House of Representatives bill adds more cuts, ballooning the deficit to $140 million.
The House bill requires fare increases well above the fare increases already under consideration. That would be unaffordable for many riders and price them into their cars, further snarling traffic. It will also mean deep service cuts, as much as 40%. Thousands will need to scramble to find new routes to school and work, particularly in downtown where almost half of commuters depend on transit.
A cut of that size will also have a ripple effect on other services. Transit Link is a discretionary program that the Metropolitan Council funds to connect people in suburban and rural areas to the regular transit system, including areas served solely by the suburban transit providers. Cuts of the magnitude passed by the House would likely force the Council to eliminate this program in its entirety. This will hit suburban communities particularly hard. Likewise, Metro Mobility currently provides rides beyond requirements. A large deficit will force the Council to limit or discontinue some rides to absorb growth in required rides that might have otherwise used regular route transit.
If passed, the House Transportation Bill will devastate the region’s transit system and will harm commuters, senior citizens and individuals with disabilities in our community. At this critical junction, it is more important than ever that we tell the legislature why well funded transit service is important for all our communities.
Katie Rodriguez is Metropolitan Council Member for District 1, representing Dayton, Greenfield, Independence, Maple Grove, Medina, Rogers and Corcoran.