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Suburban mayors call for support for transit funding

If we want to support vibrant, diverse communities we need a robust transit system that ensures our communities are open to everyone, regardless of whether they have the means or the inclination to drive.

Target Field light rail transit station, Minneapolis
MinnPost file photo by Peter Callaghan

We are local elected officials from across the metropolitan region committed to investing in the transit system that ties our region together. When it comes to building the safe, reliable and convenient transit system our region deserves, there’s no substitute for ongoing investment. A modest sales tax of less than one percent can provide the sustained investment we need to support a more connected, prosperous metro.

How we get around shapes our lives in ways we often take for granted. Our transportation infrastructure connects our homes where we live to the places we work, eat, shop and play. It impacts our health, our communities and our budgets. If we want to support vibrant, diverse communities we need a robust transit system that ensures our communities are open to everyone, regardless of whether they have the means or the inclination to drive.

Transit helped shape our region. The old metropolitan streetcar system built thriving commercial nodes across the metro area supported by high-frequency fixed routes that brought thousands of people to their shops each day.

Improved transit makes our communities and economies more accessible for everyone, like the many high school and college students who rely on public transit to get to their classes and to work. That access is all the more important given structural issues like the affordable housing shortage which make it harder for people to get to and from their jobs, and access groceries and other vital goods and services.

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Transit also provides benefits to the health of our communities and of the water, air and land we love. The transportation sector is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, and electric vehicles are an important but incomplete solution, shifting strain onto our electric grid. From an environmental and climate standpoint our region must make transit a realistic transportation alternative to cars.

A majority of Minnesotans want to drive less and replace those trips with transit. While ridership of many transit lines continues to grow, there’s work to be done before our transit system can truly be said to serve everyone. Reliability, speed and convenience make the difference between a desire to use transit and a reality where that is the case for anyone with a choice. Many of our constituents will be familiar with wanting to make use of transit, but knowing that between infrequent buses and trains, unreliable schedules and missing connections, they can’t consistently rely on public transit to get them where they need to go on time.

A modern transit system that works for everyone looks like never having to check a transit schedule again, because the next bus or train is only ever minutes away. It looks like more bus rapid transit and light rail lines so no matter where you are or where you’re going there is a transit route that can get you there efficiently, in roughly the same time as a car and at less cost to you and the environment. Urban centers across the world have this figured out. We can do it too.

In spite of all of these benefits, and the thousands of Minnesotans who still use and rely on public transit every day, we have failed to give our transit system the public value and the funding it deserves. We cling to an outdated funding formula that leads to chronic operating deficits and the reduced frequency and reliability that come with that. Less convenience means fewer riders, creating a negative feedback loop that leads to us losing this invaluable resource. The state of our transit system is so bad that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a C- in their latest report card, just narrowly missing a failing “at risk” grade. This sobering analysis should be the spur we need to reinvest in this critical resource.

Access to opportunity should not be premised on affording a car, or being able to live in the same area where you work, learn, and play. Putting just $.75 of every $100 spent in the metro toward transit networks and transit safety efforts would make the difference we need to expand opportunities and reconnect our communities, an investment that will pay back for generations.

Marylee Abrams is the mayor of Maplewood, Mike Krachmer is the mayor of Vadnais Heights, Shep Harris is the mayor of Golden Valley.