Met Council eyes reserves to keep buses running in shutdown

Posted at 4:15 PM on June 24, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)
Filed under: Roads and transportation

The agency that runs Twin Cities public buses and trains says it can run the system for a few weeks on reserve cash if state government shuts down July 1.

But the Metropolitan Council is already mulling fare hikes and route cuts should an eventual budget deal reduce it funds. MPR News reporter Dan Olson writes that the council has set August public hearing dates to plan for service reductions and fare increases

Here's his story:

Met Council chair Sue Haigh says the agency would draw on reserves to maintain service at current levels for a few weeks.

"In the absence of a state budget, we're actually beginning the required and lengthy process of holding public hearings to implement the fare increase and a service adjustment reduction in the event that there is a $110 million reduction from the state general fund to Metro Transit," said Haigh.

Haigh is referring to the cuts in the Republican budget proposal.

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DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the GOP transportation bill because of the transit funding cuts, saying the cuts would result in a "service reduction of 241 buses, 30 percent of the service on the street, resulting in the loss of 20 million rides, 23 percent of annual ridership."

Met Council officials say they also plan to use reserves for at least a few weeks during a shutdown to keep Hiawatha light rail, Northstar commuter rail, Metro Mobility and regional dial-a-ride services running.

Buses and rail account for a very small share of daily trips in the heavily car dependent Twin Cities.

However, there are pockets of intense transit use.

In downtown Minneapolis, 40 percent of the people arriving as workers or visitors use bus or rail.

Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce President Todd Klingel wants the state's elected leaders to hold the line on and even reduce state spending.

However, he says transit fare increases and route reductions would be counterproductive, sending more bus and train riders back into their cars and on to the region's roads.

"Those people whether they're going to work or school are going to have to find other ways to get there if they choose to go and that means more cars on the roads. It's not like, 'oh it's not going to affect me,' it's going to affect everyone," said Klingel. "Our concern as a chamber is it affects our ability to move goods and services across the marketplace in the course of any day."

Another transit question posed by a state government shutdown is how it might affect construction of the Central Corridor light rail line, the state's largest public works project.

Nineteen Minnesota Department of Transportation workers are part of the building of the Central Corridor light rail line.

Met Council chair Sue Haigh says it's not clear how their potential layoff or furlough during a shutdown would affect the project.

"MnDOT staff and employees are part of the regulatory oversight of the project and we believe that the project can continue on a temporary basis without them but that's what we're exploring right now," said Haigh.

Haigh says she also doesn't know how a shutdown would affect the Met Council's road building and maintenance agenda.

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The Metropolitan Council is not a state agency.

It operates for the most part off user fees, local levies and federal revenue.

However, the regional planning body's transportation agenda includes the long awaited rebuild of the 169-494 interchange in the southwest Twin Cities, where state transportation workers are in key oversight roles.

Aside from transit and transportation, a state government shutdown would apparently not affect most other Metropolitan Council services including one of its biggest - sewage treatment.

Waste water treatment is funded by user fees and would continue uninterrupted.


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