from Bill Neuendorf, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Bills recently introduced in the MN House and Senate would raise fares on Twin Cities bus and train riders by at least 25 cents. After substantial cuts to state funding for transit in 2011, some legislators now hope to increase revenues by hiking the rates paid by most riders (seniors & disabled persons are spared).

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These proposals are heading in the wrong direction. Fortunately the House Transportation Committee accepted an amendment late Wednesday evening to abandon the across-the-board fare increase. This is a wise decision and we are hopeful that the Senate will act in the same manner.

For most metro families, transportation expenses are the second highest monthly expense, after housing. For lower-income families, transportation expenses are even higher than housing expenses. Considering that 80% of transit riders are going to school or to work, raising the fares places more of a burden on transit users. Convenient transit service is only available to 25% of metro area households; fare hikes discourage people from choosing the transit option when it is available.

Despite the modest size of our transit system, in 2011, transit ridership continued to increase, up to 94 million rides in the metro-area, according to Met. Council. A recent poll by the local Chambers of Commerce indicates that 69% of metro-area residents would like to use transit if it would be available. Meanwhile, MnDOT reports INSERT LINK that Minnesotans are driving less – for six years in a row now!

With transit trending upwards and driving declining, raising fares would further hinder people from having convenient and affordable transit options.

To make a simple point: convenient and affordable transit options are an essential part of a vibrant metropolitan economy. Government investments in transit (bus and rail) provide a high return on investment, measured in both social and economic outcomes.

The Minnesota Legislative Auditor 2011 report found that our transit services are very efficient. . . According to the National Transit Database, Metro Transit has one of the highest fare box recovery rates in the United States, meaning that fares pay a bigger share of operating costs than in peer cities. Operators of the six suburban transit agencies run similarly tight ships.

Let the professionals at the transit agencies determine fare structures that optimize revenue and ridership. It is unnecessary for the state legislature to micro-manage transit fares in opposition to capable professionals who effectively run an award-winning network of buses and trains.