Transit riders, drivers team up to fight proposed cuts, fare hikes

A rally in Leif Erickson Park urged investments – not cuts – in transit services statewide.

Transit riders and operators rallied at the Capitol light rail station in St. Paul yesterday, looking to derail House Republicans’ plan to cut funding for bus, rail and Metro Mobility services by $122 million over the next two years.

The Metropolitan Council, which operates Metro Transit and Metro Mobility, has warned the budget proposal would force both fare increases and a reduction in service by as much as 40 percent.

The prospect of paying more for less frequent bus and rail service didn’t sit well with more than 150 riders who joined the rally. One by one, they stepped up to the podium to describe the role transit plays in their lives – whether it’s getting to work or school, or simply getting around town.

“These drastic cuts would have a devastating impact on the elderly, low-income workers, communities of color, people with disabilities and all who are dependent upon transit to get around,” Jessica Treat, chair of the Transportation Forward campaign, said. “This is not what Minnesota needs.”

In addition to steep service cuts and fare hikes, the House proposal would mean layoffs for Metro Transit operators and maintenance staff, who are members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005.

ATU Local 1005 President Mark Lawson

Mark Lawson, president of the local, warned job losses would impact communities of color and immigrant communities at a time when the state is trying to address troubling income disparities between white workers and workers of color. Metro Transit and Local 1005 have partnered in recent years to recruit new workers from neighborhoods Metro Transit serves, Lawson said.

“The workforce is looking more and more like our riders, which is a good thing,” Lawson said. “And did I mention these are union jobs with good pay, good benefits?”

Operators and riders also pointed to a Met Council report showing the service targeted by lawmakers for especially steep cuts – light rail – operates at the lowest public subsidy, about $1.84 per passenger, compared with more than $7 per passenger for bus services from Shakopee and Prior Lake.

“Why are they trying to get rid of the workforce that provides the best value for the Minnesota taxpayers?” Lawson asked.

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