Metropolitan Council’s draft transit equity plan sparks criticism

The Metropolitan Council’s proposed regional transit equity plan is facing criticism from leaders working on a vision for investments in North Minneapolis as part of the Southwest LRT project.

Adam Harrington, director of service development for Metro Transit, briefed the City Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee on highlights of the plan today, which calls for 75 to 100 new bus shelters focused on racially concentrated areas of poverty by the end of 2015. Another 75 to 100 shelters would also be replaced.

There are also plans for five arterial Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines between 2015 and 2020, beginning with the A Line along Snelling and Ford Parkway.

The Metropolitan Council will be collecting comments from the community this summer on the proposed equity plan and is expected to vote on it in the fall.

“I think we’re making good progress,” Harrington said, adding Metro Transit will continue to look at ways to improve services.

He said Metro Transit is also applying for a $3 million federal grant to improve bus stations by adding heat, solar-powered lights and transit information at 125 to 150 existing locations. 

Anthony Newby, executive director of the North Minneapolis-based Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said he’s “totally confused” by what the Metropolitan Council has revealed so far about its equity plan at today’s City Council committee meeting.

He said he’s concerned that the changes the equity coalition have been pushing for as part of Southwest LRT negotiations won’t be part of the final plan.

He said given Southwest LRT’s nearly $1.7 billion price tag, there should be enough money to invest in more transit and infrastructure improvements in North Minneapolis.

The People’s Transit Coalition, which includes Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, ISAIAH and other groups, has been pushing for an equity agenda that includes bus lines connecting people to light-rail stations at Van White and Penn, more BRT routes, modern streetcars and lower fares.

The coalition has also been asking plans for a diesel train storage station next to the Van White station be taken off the table, and new momentum on the plan to transform the Bassett Creek Valley from a largely industrial area into a vibrant neighborhood with new housing, open space and commercial buildings.

In a statement released today, ISAIAH, a coalition of more than 100 congregations in the region, cast doubt on whether the Metropolitan Council’s equity plan will have much of an impact.

“So far, the Met Council’s announced ‘Transit Equity Initiatives’ seem to substantially address only the demand for bus shelters, and incompletely at that,” the organization stated. “Even by the Met Council’s own standards, only 74 percent of stops that warrant shelters will have them by 2015 in predominately people of color neighborhoods. This is in spite of rising ridership, and is also based on a current inequitable need for shelter. In the central cities, stops must have 40 riders per day to warrant a shelter, while suburban stops only require 25 riders.”

Meredith Vadis, director of communications for the Metropolitan Council, said the proposed equity plan “is just the beginning.”

“It is a high level regional approach and first step in developing equity and taking action,” she said. “This is a summary of how our service performs today, how transitways strengthen (racially concentrated areas of poverty) access and connections to jobs, and outlines action steps to be implemented by the end of 2015. … We ask that ISAIAH and others join us in the process moving forward to assure it meets the needs identified.”