Southwest bus routes spared, but reduced

The Metropolitan Council, the governing body for Metro Transit, decided May 14 not to cut Southwest routes in the wake of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed $18.8 million reduction in transit spending.

Two routes slated this spring to be cut -- Route 25 and Route 9 -- will see service reductions instead, beginning in September, according to Metro Transit spokesperson Bob Gibbons.

All bus riders will face fare increases July 1, which the Metropolitan Council also finalized May 14. (See fare increase chart.)

Route 25 goes from northern suburbs through downtown, then through the Lowry Hill, Kenwood and Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhoods, ending on the St. Louis Park border at West Lake Street and France Avenue South. Only Saturday service, previously scheduled to be cut, will be retained.

Route 9 branches E, H, J, K and L head west from downtown through the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. The approved change will reduce weekday service west of Park Place on Cedar Lake Road to certain midday and evening trips.

It will also reduce service to Novartis and Target Financial via 26th Street and 4th Avenue South downtown, and will eliminate westbound morning, midday and eastbound evening service via Glenwood Avenue west of Penn Avenue in Bryn Mawr. Off-peak service will be reduced from every 15 to every 30 minutes.

All told, Gibbons said 5 percent of Metro Transit service would be cut this year.

As for fares, rush-hour prices will rise by as much as 50 cents. Monthly bus passes will rise as much as $19.

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 $4.3 million cut by the last legislature.

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

In addition to increasing fares and cutting bus service, Metro Transit is also trying to absorb some of the funding gap internally. For example, he said Metro Transit is eliminating all radio and TV advertising for this next year, and has a hiring and travel freeze.

While Gibbons said he's not feeling positive about the cuts and increases, he said he does feel good about the process and public meetings that were held preceding the Met Council's vote.

He said 2,245 public comments were received for this round of bus changes and service increases, which they tried to incorporate into their plan, while staying within the parameters of their budget.

Gibbons said that's a huge change from the 225 public comments they received about 1996 bus fare increases. He said he attributes the increased participation to Web and e-mail technology, in addition to their flyering and legwork informing the public.

With the new route cuts effective in September and the fare changes taking effect July 1, Gibbons said bus riders should rest easy until the January 2005 legislative session where again they'll fight for state aid. "Hopefully the economic picture for the state will be sunshiny and robust," he said.

For more information on details and how to comment and details about specific route and fare changes, see http://www.metrotransit.org.