Transit at the Crossroads

 
Date: January, 2017

The future of transit in our region is at a crossroads. Our population is both growing and aging, adding new challenges for transit. The business community increasingly needs to recruit a younger workforce to replace retiring Baby Boomers. And the age and capacity of our physical transportation infrastructure are all coming to a point where we must act decisively to meet the region’s future transportation needs.
 
Council Chair Adam DuininckBy 2040 the population of the seven-county metro area will have grown by 750,000 people. Governor Dayton has been developing a plan to ensure our transportation system grows with the population and the economy, so our region remains economically competitive.
 
Transit is a big part of the Governor’s transportation plan. Today, regional transit provides almost 100 million trips a year, with 80 percent of those trips taken by people who are either going to work or school. Projections show that by 2040 the system will need to provide 180 million trips a year to keep up with the demand—and to keep congestion on our roads from increasing appreciably.
 
We are feeling the pinch from those population trends right now, and we are at a point where we must make decisions about the future of transit in our region.
 
As our population ages, Metro Mobility ridership is growing by 5 to 8 percent each year. This is a benefit guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which ensures that people with disabilities have access to transit. By law, we cannot refuse a ride from a qualified customer in our service area. But the cost of providing this expanding service is outstripping our revenues.
 
To keep pace with the growing transit demand we will have to do a good deal of expansion by 2040. We will need 47 new regular bus routes, and another 76 routes will need to be significantly expanded. We will also need to add another 17 rapid transit bus or LRT lines. Growing the system will ensure that another 500,000 Twin Cities residents will be within a 30-minute transit commute to their job. All the region’s chambers of commerce as well as a dozen CEOs from Twin Cities-based Fortune 500 companies have signed off on this plan.
 
Unfortunately, the funding for that expansion isn’t available now. In past years, Governor Dayton has asked legislators to authorize a half-cent sales tax in the seven-county metro area to fund this build out, but the legislature has not acted. This session, we will be working with the Governor and legislators once again to secure a stable funding source for regional transit. We’re at a crossroads. It’s time to take the path towards prosperity.