By DEB BARBER
As the Metropolitan Council Representative for District 4, I am fiercely dedicated to working to advance our region and to represent my district. When I see something that could be detrimental to either of those, I feel it is critical to speak up. Right now, we have an issue that could impact many people in a very negative way.
The Transportation Bill recently passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives could have devastating impacts to those who use transit. While some are viewing this as a primarily an urban issue, it is important to understand that these impacts will also be felt in our communities with the brunt taken by senior citizens and people with disabilities who rely on transit services like Metro Mobility and Transit Link programs to remain independent.
So how did we get here? For several years, legislators have ignored systemic funding issues for transit in our region. State funding for transit has been flat for years, while costs to provide the service have grown by 3 percent annually.
Additionally, as our population ages, the demand for Metro Mobility service has been increasing by 5 to 8 percent a year. Those unaddressed funding issues have led to a $74 million funding shortfall for transit services. Instead of addressing those issues, the House of Representatives bill adds more cuts, ballooning the deficit to $140 million.
A cut of that size will have a ripple effect on other services. Transit Link is a discretionary program that the Metropolitan Council funds to connect people in suburban and rural areas to the regular transit system, including areas served solely by the suburban transit providers. Cuts of the magnitude passed by the House Transportation Bill would force the Council to eliminate this program in its entirety. This will hit suburban communities particularly hard. Likewise, Metro Mobility currently provides rides beyond federal and state-mandated requirements. In fact, 30 percent of its rides are not required.
A large deficit will force the council to limit or discontinue some of these rides. Additionally, the House bill requires significant fare increases across all modes of transit well above the fare increases already under consideration, making transit services unaffordable to some riders on fixed incomes.
I believe a well-connected transit system is vital to our region’s people and economy. The House Transportation Bill eliminates that possibility. Further, it is a mean-spirited approach that will not only devastate the region’s transit system, it will harm senior citizens and individuals with disabilities in our communities.
At this critical junction, it is more important than ever that we tell the legislature why well-funded transit service is important for all our communities, urban and suburban.
Deb Barber is the Metropolitan Council member for District 4, representing Belle Plaine, Carver, Chaska, Cologne, Hamburg, Jordan, Mayer, New Germany, Norwood Young America, Prior Lake, Savage, Shakopee, Victoria, Waconia, and Watertown.