A blog to keep current on MPIRG'S fight for social and environmental justice.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Transit in Trouble

As students living on or near campus many of us often use or are at least familiar with Metro Transit. Some of us, who don’t have the money to afford a car or choose not own one, are even what could be termed transit dependent. I for one cannot afford to own a car and so use the bus to get from my apartment to Hamline, to get to my internship, and to go to Rosedale mall or Grand Ave. Transit allows people, especially those with low incomes, to get to work. It gives mobility to many elderly and people with disabilities. It grants students (high school an college alike) freedom from the expense of owning a car.

Transit, however, is facing deep cuts in the face of the state’s deficit. The bill which passed through the Senate Transportation Committee includes nearly 40% in funding cuts overall to Metro Transit. The likely results of such a funding decrease would be a reduction in route frequency with as many as 200 fewer buses running at peak transit times, an 18% reduction in whole bus routes, and a $0.25 to $0.50 fare increase. The cuts laid out in the bill which passed the House Transportation Committee could result in as much as a $4.00 fare increase or a 45% cut to regular bus routes, a laying off of 550 drivers and a reduction of Metro Mobility services.

The argument driving many of the proposed cuts is that reducing funding will increase efficiency. While this sounds appealing (who doesn’t want more efficient services after all) Metro Transit has already been rated the second most efficiently run transit system among peer regions. Also, our relatively small system has already been made smaller by a 10% contraction in size in 2002. Any proposed cuts to funding will result in a reduction of service across the state. Rural Minnesota, for example, is already underserved by transit despite the fact that a large number of elderly and people with disabilities (two demographics which rely heavily on transit) live outside of the Metro Area.

While it is true that the state of Minnesota faces a serious budget deficit, funding for our transit system, like education, is an investment in our future development. Not only do many people use transit to get to work (as many as 60% of riders are going to or from their jobs) but one major factor that businesses take into account when considering where to locate is the transit system in that state/city. Even the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce cautioned that deep cuts could hamper future economic growth.

Cutting transit this deeply will have a strong and lasting negative impact on students, low income earners, the elderly, people with disabilities, jobs, businesses, growth and even car owners. Congestion, for one, would be much worse if not for transit ridership on the several Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors we have on our roads and freeways. The economic loss due to congestion in Minnesota was pegged as high as $1.1 Billion back in 2008. The simple fact is that when transit is reduced, it pushes many people off of buses and rail and into cars, raising demand for gas, and increasing air pollution and congestion costing us huge amounts of time, fuel, and money.

Additionally, of those people who are pushed out of buses, not all have the option of owning a car. Many low income people simply cannot afford to switch from bus to car and as such, when we no longer offer them a bus, they must give up their job and livelihood. Without a healthy transit system people, especially the elderly, are often unable to go clinics for checkups or pharmacies for medication. In the end though, the state will pay for their transportation be it by bus, by ambulance, or by hearse. Make no mistake, such a drastic reduction in transit funding will hurt people and the economic vitality of our state.

However some people may frame the debate about the budget and about transit just remember this:

This is not a debate between bus riders and car owners.
This is not a debate between workers and business.
This is not a debate between wealthy and poor.
This is not a debate between rural and urban.

This is a debate between a short term budget and the long term economic and environmental viability of our state. We must decide now, as a state, how we wish proceed. Will we cut vital services in order to make a small dent in this year’s state budget? Or, will we bite the bullet and invest in a vibrant and equitable future which can only be brought about with a robust transit system.

Call your State Senator and your Representive today. To find our who represents you, and their
contact information, visit http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/

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