Nothing Sensical about Transit Cuts
Metro Transit is uncomfortably close to a $109 million budget cut. While Governor Dayton vetoed the legislature's funding decrease, the state budget is still unresolved. That has Metro Transit—whose critical services are still running during the shutdown—bracing for a cut of that magnitude, which would result in a 25% reduction of service and a fare increase, at the very least.
Preparing for this possibility, the Metropolitan Council held two public meetings this week to address the possible effects on service, and garner feedback. The meeting in the Central Library in Minneapolis was well attended with passionate transit riders, and it didn't always stay library-quiet.
Potential choices include cuts to Park & Rides, higher fares and reduced service. The main takeaway: 17 million annual rides could be lost as a result of the fare increases and service reductions necessitated by a $109 million cut.
Most of the meeting saw Minnesota nice behavior, with indignation indicated by disappointed head shakes, and vigorous agreement shown with subtle nods. Howerver, as soon as the floor opened for public discussion, the crowd became more animated.
One by one, frequent transit riders, retirees, people with disabilities, limited-income Minnesotans, or folks who simply like taking the bus spoke of how service cuts would affect them. People talked about topics ranging from the benefits of specific routes, to anecdotes of overcrowded buses, to the broader societal value of transit. There was even a burst of applause and cheers when someone mentioned raising the state's revenue with income taxes.
As the benefits of transit were enumerated, I had the same thought I have about the shutdown: "What a waste." No one wins from the shutdown, and no one wins from transit being cut—not even those solely concerned with the deficit.
While the cuts may reduce the deficit initially, the costs will come right back around like a baby boomer's post-grad boomerang children. The costs will be borne out through increased congestion—the expenses of which include pollution, wear on roads, lost time, and wasted fuel—as well as decreased mobility for those without cars, and the economic competitiveness of the region.
More cars and roads is not the solution. As we wrote in our report Foot-Powered Progress, owning a car costs anywhere from $7,600 to $13,000 annually, and as Kaid Benfield at NRDC recently pointed out, car costs could be the difference between people who save money and people who don't.
Road expansion has been proven to not provide much relief to congestion (thanks to something called latent demand), and the Met Council has put the brakes on highway expansion in the Twin Cities due to extreme lack of funds in the face of our existing roads being in dire need of maintenance. As a staff member for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak stated, the best path for economic growth in the Twin Cities is transit. Cutting a tool for economic growth and efficient mobility is not smart policy.