As Minnesota rolls towards budget impasse and probable governmental shutdown, it’s interesting to make note of some of what’s been going down in regards to transit. The legislature has slashed Twin Cities transit funding, although it’s hard to say if that slashing survives in the governor’s office. This is an easy vote to make for many legislators, since they represent outstate districts.
The Star-Tribune published the results of a Minnesota Poll about the budget this past Sunday. In it, many respondents targeted mass transit as a key area for cuts:
For budget cuts, nearly half set their sights on a single target: mass transit.
Asked to choose among several options, 48 percent of respondents favored transit costs as a prime target for cuts. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans said it should be the first area cut.
Luckily, in its analysis, the Strib also called out one truth about transit cuts:
Transportation was the most popular cut, but too little is spent there to achieve meaningful savings. Advocates howled last week when House and Senate leaders slashed Twin Cities bus and rail funding. The total savings — $109 million — is a tiny sliver of the state budget.
Much as outstate legislators can easily vote against transit funding, Minnesota Poll respondents include a proportional respondent base from outside the Twin Cities. Even many suburbanites who may be represented in the poll can easily point to transit to be cut if they themselves are not users of transit.
This “it doesn’t impact me” approach to cuts is short-sighted. Having solid transit within core cities is good for a state as a whole. Providing multiple modes of transportation within core economic zones allows for greater worker mobility. It gives employers access to a better labor pool. It makes staying in state a more attractive option for college graduates and improves the labor pool. It reduces pollution impact, which is systemic within a region, not just within municipal borders.
It’s also worth observing that some people don’t use public transit because reasonable transit is not available to them. That’s an investment issue. When more people can be moved in fewer vehicles, whether buses or vanpools or train cars, it reduces overall congestion versus single-user carriage on roadways.
Transit is actually good for the business climate. A good business climate in the cities lifts the state as a whole. It is actually that simple, even though you can go into a lot more economic detail — and urban planners can and do. And the relative subsidy of transit is nothing compared to the absurd level of subsidy built into gas pricing, let alone the cost of roads and bridges.
$109 million is also fairly minor compared to the amount the state and Ramsey County are proposing contributing to a football stadium that will require significant road enhancements — and that is served by no existing mass transit.
It’s hard to say where the budget ends up. But to be in favor of transit cuts because “I don’t use transit” is short-sighted and wrong. When more people can get around in more ways, the better it is for users of every mode.