As bus cuts pile up, Southwest routes reduced

Metro Transit will cut 5 percent of its bus service this year, eliminating 17 routes and altering 40 overall, in response to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed regional transit cuts.

However, only two route changes will affect Southwest.

One eliminated route is Route 25, which goes from northern suburbs through downtown, then through the Lowry Hill, Kenwood and Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhoods, ending on the Minneapolis-St. Louis Park border at West Lake Street and France Avenue South.

Route 9 service, which goes through part of Southwest, will be altered but not eliminated. Route 9 branches E, H, J, K and L head west from downtown through the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. Service for those routes will be altered on weekdays, when service on Cedar Avenue, west of Park Place in St. Louis Park, will be eliminated.

In addition, Route 9 service going to Norvartis in St. Louis Park and Target Financial Corp. downtown will run less often. Non-rush-hour trips would operate every half hour.

Southwest state Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) criticizes the overall cuts, as well as rush-hour fares that will rise as much as 50 cents (see chart, right). "We have one of the most pathetic transit systems in the region, and our Governor is only seeking to shrink it," said Dibble, who serves on the Senate Transportation and Budget Division committees.

Dibble termed the proposed service cuts "short-sighted and foolhardy." He said there are other ways to support transit, such as a gas tax, regional sales tax or a motor vehicle tax.

Gibbons said no one at Metro Transit wants to cut routes just like no one wants to cut police or fire personnel, but because the state is in a $4.2 billion budget crisis, everyone has to take a cut and share in the budget problem. "We can't say that everyone besides us should be cut," he said. "The state is facing a huge problem, and transit can't just take a bye on this."

Pawlenty has proposed $18.8 million in regional transit cuts.

Gibbons said Metro Transit estimates the state will cut $11.4 million over the next two years from $76.6 million it now appropriates. He said Metro Transit is also facing a $19.2 million shortfall for the 2004-2005 funding cycle, because of inflation, lost revenue due to earlier route cuts, and a $4.3 million cut by the last legislature.

That leaves Metro Transit with a $30.6 million budget gap to be made up from service cuts, fare increases and staff and programming reductions.

Metro Transit is also proposing increases in local express and rush-hour bus fares, in addition to a Metro Mobility fare increase.

Proposed fare increases

Proposed fare increases would go into effect, July 1 if approved by the Metropolitan Council, which governs Metro Transit.

The increases include a 25-cent fare increase on local rush-hour and express routes. Express route fares during rush hour would be boosted 50 cents.

Gibbons said express routes were targeted for hikes because they are the most expensive to run, with the bus running empty in at least one direction picking up suburbanites at park-and-rides.

Prices would also go up on discount passes, bus cards, Metro Mobility service and the transit schools program, offering discounted rates for adult students, staff and faculty.

Prices for local, non-rush-hour rides will not change, remaining at $1.25, which Gibbons said constitutes 55 percent of all trips. The higher fares, he said, are expected to bring Metro Transit $11.5 million in revenue.

What now?

Gibbons said Metro Transit is also trying to absorb some of the funding gap internally. He said Metro Transit is eliminating all radio and TV advertising for this next year and is considering future layoffs.

The public hearings on the proposed changes ended April 9. Gibbons said public hearings were held so soon after the proposed changes because Metro Transit needs to capture revenue by July, the beginning of their 2004 fiscal year. Delaying cuts would mean higher fare increases, he said.

Still, the Met Council will accept comments until Saturday, April 19. For more information on details and how to comment and details about specific route and fare changes, see www.metrotransit.org.

Met Council member Peggy Leppik has represented Southwest since March. She said Metro Transit is making as many internal cuts as possible, but raising fares is the only way to make up for the gap in funds.

The Metropolitan Council's Transportation Committee will vote on the proposed changes April 28, and the full Met Council will vote soon after.

For specifics on Metro Mobility route changes, see www.metrocouncil.org/transit/service-fare_change/service-fare_ADA.htm.