St. Paul residents speak out against transit cuts coming from state budget battle

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The first public hearing on possible cuts to Metro Transit drew more than 50 residents to the Metropolitan Council Office chambers in St. Paul on July 6.

While it remains unclear how much funding for mass transit the final state budget will contain, said John Levin, Director of Service Development for Metro Transit, the cities are planning for the worst. If the most recent proposed budget of the Republican legislature is passed, Metro Transit will lose $109 million over the next two years, about 85 percent of its state funding.

That cut would require Metro Transit to make an “unprecedented” 50 cent fare increase, Levin said, in addition to a 25 percent reduction in hours of bus service. More than 130 of 146 bus routes would be affected. Some would have less frequent bus trips, while many less popular routes would no longer run on weekends or be eliminated entirely. The cuts would not be implemented until January 2012.

Levin promised that the cuts would be planned to minimize loss of ridership and harm to those most dependent on public transit.

However, he told the crowd, “With a funding shortfall of this magnitude, we cannot really stay true to any of those principles.”

Although they were speaking before members of the Metropolitan Council, many residents expressed anger at the state legislature.

“We don’t have to be in this position,” said Bill Neuendorf, Director of Policy and Advocacy for non-profit Transit for Livable Communities. “The monies are there.”

Neuendorf criticized the Republican legislature’s proposed budget for putting more money into road construction while underfunding public transit. If those priorities were reversed, he said, cuts would be unnecessary.

“It’s extremely ironic because there are more highway lane miles per person in the Twin Cities than in L.A,” he added.

Other organizations represented at the hearing included faith-based group ISAIAH and the District Councils Collaborative, as well as the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents many Metro Transit employees.

About 500 jobs would be eliminated if the cuts are implemented, Levin said.

Many speakers at the hearing told the Council that they were dependent on transit for their livelihood.

“I work on Saturdays,” said resident Vaghn Larry. “I’ll lose a portion of my income I can’t get back.”

Still other residents complained that the cuts would put more cars on the street and contribute to pollution.

“I own a car, but I ride the bus for environmental reasons,” said Ron Struss. “We have to make it attractive to folks that have other options.” Fare hikes and service cuts would only discourage car owners from taking public transit, he added.

Between the fare increases and service cuts, the plan would cost Metro Transit about 17 million rides per year, according to Levin.

More public hearings will be held in August after Metro Transit has a preliminary plan for its cuts. The plan will be finalized by September, and cuts would go into effect in 2012, Levin said.

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.

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