Few Riders But Lots of Tax Subsidies for Public Transit Agencies

During the pandemic, passengers have avoided public transit like the plague with Metro Transit suffering a 60 percent loss in ridership alone. It’s hard to blame the public considering the harsh rhetoric and restrictions on many Minnesotans’ employment and movements in the last year under Gov. Tim Walz’s shutdowns.

Local transit authorities have not only lost ridership but millions of dollars in revenue.  Yet public transit continues rolling along for the most part, cushioned from significant cuts by ever greater public subsidies.  The Met Council, for example, plans to reroute millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid so Metro Transit can continue business as usual, according to the Star Tribune.

A $186 million infusion of federal stimulus money to the Metropolitan Council should help Metro Transit get through a challenging year after the COVID-19 pandemic devastated ridership on the region’s buses and trains.

“It is great news for us,” said Charlie Zelle, chairman of the Met Council, which operates Metro Transit.

The most recent funding lifeline, part of the national $900 billion pandemic stimulus package hashed out by Congress last month, will likely mean millions for Metro Transit — though the Met Council hasn’t yet determined how much.

Rather than significantly reduce service unless or until riders return, the city of Duluth has decided to raise even less revenue in the downturn by reducing fares. It’s a longshot stab at bringing back customers under the catchall of “equity,” according to the News Tribune.

“How can we make our fare process more equitable, more accessible?” said David Clark, spokesperson for the Duluth Transit Authority (DTA). “This is the first of many initiatives around that.”

Day passes will drop from $4 to $3; seven-day passes will fall from $17 to $15; and a 31-day youth pass will drop from $37.50 to $30 under the plan that has been approved by the DTA board of directors.

Despite a 50 percent drop in passengers, the DTA evidently expects to be able to ride out the pandemic as if it never happened. The transit agency expects to receive the same local and state tax support despite transporting far fewer riders.

Though the fare reduction could cost the agency in the short term, the DTA receives the majority of its revenue from the state based on ridership and received help from the federal coronavirus stimulus package early last year.

Out of a $19.5 million budget for 2021, about $13.6 million is expected to come from the state with another $1 million from the federal government.

The DTA, which is a special taxing district, asked for the same local levy for 2021 as it had in 2020 — about $1.67 million.

Easy come, easy go.