Transit for Livable Communities, along with several other members of the Transit Partners coalition, sent a letter to Peter Bell, the Chair of the Metropolitan Council, to share concerns regarding the public process which led to the Council’s decision to increase transit fares. Among the concerns:
1. The summary of comments presented to Metropolitan Council members is far too brief, numerical and impersonal. The decision to simply tally over 429 comments in a matrix of yes/no responses to the different categories of fare increases failed to give appropriate weight to the extensive testimony that residents gave about the real-life impact of the fare increases on metropolitan residents and recommendations for funding alternatives. At a minimum, a full report of written comments should have been provided to Council members and should be available publicly (i.e. on the Metropolitan Council website). Finally, if the results of public input are to be presented in such an over-simplified manner, it would seem reasonable to highlight the fact that more than 75 percent of the comments received were in opposition to the fare increases.
2. The lack of a breakdown of expected revenues from the different fare increases at the start of the process severely limited the opportunity for informed input. Were Council members briefed on these details prior to the August 13th meeting? Raising fares for youth and seniors (when those riders would only make up two percent of total new revenues and a tiny fraction of total operating revenues) seems very shortsighted and unfair.
3. The hearings could have been structured to make it easier for working-class, transit-dependent individuals to participate. The lack of an evening or Saturday public hearing in either of the two core cities suggests that comments from transit-dependent individuals were not highly valued.
4. It is unclear what level of public input will be sought if, in fact, a 50-cent fare increase proposal is considered in 2009. We are pleased to see a commitment to some public input. But the failure to explicitly commit to public hearings is a concern. We would like to work with you to help ensure meaningful opportunities for public input.
5. It is unclear to what extent Metropolitan Council members could modify the fare increase proposal without requiring another round of public hearings. We are pleased that the Council retracted its proposal to extend the a.m. peak period. However, we were confused when staff told Council members that other changes in the proposal could not be considered without a further round of public hearings. This requirement was attributed to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regulations, but FTA’s regional counsel believes that to be inaccurate. Modifying the proposed fare increases could have avoided putting so high a burden on those least able to pay. We are frustrated that Council members were unwilling to explore these choices because they erroneously believed they could not.
Since the recent fare increase will only make a small impact “to lower an anticipated shortfall in 2010 and 2011," Transit for Livable Communities and the Transit Partners coalition plan to work with the Metropolitan Council to secure more money for the regional bus system in the coming legislative session. If you are interested in working on this issue, please contact Michelle Dibblee at 651-767-0298 or MichelleD [at] tlcminnesota.org.