Rooted in the Twin Cities since my first breath, I’ve been voyaging the expansive metropolitan area on Metro Transit my whole life.
Like so many kids, “no” was the only word in my vocabulary as a toddler. But, with my fingers interlocked with my mother’s, I discovered the word “yes” scattered across the pavement as we hustled to our bus stop in Brooklyn Park. Later, as a chronically online teen who envied those delighting in the spots of Minneapolis and St. Paul, I followed them by jumping from bus to light rail to sidewalks to another bus.
Entering the bus, my ears tune into the various conversations, some in my native tongue and others not. I scooch over to leave an empty seat for a stranger, or a friend you randomly encountered or just made. Transit allows us to foster a community, to connect with others we might never interact with outside of that collective movement. From those who just finished a work shift to those who are about to start one, from those who are going to a Vikings game to those who are heading to the grocery store, transit encompasses the cultural and social landscape of the Twin Cities.
At its best, transit is a vibrant and practical arena where our cultures are visible to each other. It’s a way to save money, protect our climate, and make our communities more connected. And, now, thanks to historic investments from the state legislature, we have the opportunity – and the obligation – to tap the full potential of transit in the Twin Cities.
This session, state lawmakers passed a transportation bill that will raise new revenue to close Metro Transit’s operating gap and electrify the fleet so it can transition to renewable energy. For less than a penny on the dollar, we’ll have buses and trains that come every five to ten minutes, and the capacity to build out a robust bus rapid transit network that includes suburb-to-suburb transportation. We now have the funding for a transit ambassador program to make our rides inclusive and safe for everyone, and an eliminated fares pilot program on two high-traffic lines.
But money alone isn’t enough. To turn those resources into quick action and lasting change, we need strong, visionary leadership at the regional level. Right now, the Metropolitan Council is filling key positions – including the Metro Transit general manager and regional administrator. It will be up to them to inspire staff, infuse the agency with a sense of possibility, and act with the level of urgency and innovation needed to meet the needs of our people and our climate.
It won’t be a quick or easy task. Because of decades of disinvestment, our system is disconnected. Because of infrequent bus and train schedules a 20-minute car trip can take an hour and a half on transit. Even people like me, who want to take transit, are driven to car ownership to have access to the mobility we need to get to jobs and make our lives work.
Though my mom was the one who introduced me to the bus, her goal was always to get a driver’s license and purchase a car. With two jobs and two kids, it was simply too time-consuming and stressful to rely on transit. I soon learned that lesson myself. In high school, I worked at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Maple Grove – a 13-minute drive from my home in Brooklyn Park. But without a car, that trip turned into a two-hour bus ride with three transfers and a 20 minute walk at the end. I needed to purchase a vehicle in order to freely move, otherwise I would’ve been stuck in Brooklyn Park, with no easily accessible job in sight.
Now, my sister is facing the same challenge. With limited job options because she’s often stuck at home, her economic and physical mobility are limited without a car. Like my mother and I also experienced, she can’t access our region’s opportunities without taking on the immediate and ongoing financial burden of car ownership, which the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics pegs at more than $10,000 per year to operate and maintain an automobile. Currently, a transit pass costs less than one-tenth of that.
Decades of underinvestment in our transit system has given me and my family no real choices, no real freedom. Now we have the financial resources to change that.
For our future, for our freedom, for our collective prosperity, we need Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle, members of the Metropolitan Council and Gov. Tim Walz to appoint leaders who will rapidly deliver an outstanding transit system that works for everyone. Let’s make sure every little kid has the chance to fall in love with the cities, one bus ride at a time, like I did.
Grace Bassekle is a transit legislative intern at Move Minnesota. She is a community organizer who is passionate about the intersectionality of climate justice through a different lens.