Shortly after the Metropolitan Council announced its proposal for a fare raise in June, Transit for Livable Communities published our statement opposing the fare hike. We knew there was a very real budget shortfall, and we proposed several alternative funding streams. We also asked you, our members, to contact the Metropolitan Council with opposition to the proposal. Many of you did, at public hearings and over email, citing concerns ranging from the ability of low-income people to pay (including some of you), your hopes to keep new riders on board, and the need for a sustainable transportation system focused on new opportunities to take transit and increase ridership.
Others wrote back to us with concerns about our stand — some thoughtful, some strident, and mostly focused on the rising price of gas, citing the fare hike as a necessary step to keep the buses running. The media jumped in as well, comparing the cost of gas for a suburban commuter (driver) to the cost of the increased express fare for the same commuter on the bus, and concluded that the bus is still a better deal.
So why would Transit for Livable Communities take such a bold stand at a time when many people, including some riders, are resigned to the possibility of spending an additional 25 cents this year and 50 cents more next year for each bus or train ride? Here's why: Transit for Livable Communities believes that we can do better by Minnesota.
* We can do better than raising fares to the point where they are among the nation’s highest for a transit system that is relatively small.
* We can be clear with the legislature that transit will need additional funding in 2009 since transit’s primary funding source – a sales tax on motor vehicles – has declined so dramatically
* We can create a transit expansion plan more like those of Seattle, Dallas, Portland, and Denver that will meet the challenges of rising gas prices, climate change, and an aging population.
* We can recognize that roads and parking are heavily subsidized by local property taxes and that government investment in public transit makes good sense.
The Metropolitan Council has long planned to expand our region’s bus systems, believing that an expanded system is needed to address our state’s growing population. This expansion has been delayed every year since 2000, and (despite any fare increases) will be delayed once again.
Why? Fare increases are designed to plug part of the hole in a much bigger problem: the lack of a reliable source of funding for our bus system.
Right now, the primary source of funding for our bus system is the sales tax on cars. With rising gas prices and a tough economy, fewer people are purchasing cars and more people are turning to transit…which, oddly enough, means less money for the bus system.
We have a duty to address our transportation challenges now, rather than passing the buck to our children and grandchildren. There is a reason that the Metropolitan Council is looking at fare increases, but we need to creatively address the long-term problem that is causing the Council to seek fare increases in the first place.
In a new era of high gas prices, we must ensure that transit remains affordable and accessible to Minnesotans. This sometimes requires bold moves.