Transit for a Stronger Economy, a new broad-based, statewide coalition, today released polling results showing strong public support for transit, bicycling, and walking projects.
The poll, conducted in January by the bipartisan team of Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R), found that public transportation is broadly supported, even by those who do not use it. Key findings include*:
- More than 90% surveyed agree that public transportation is a good investment for the state.
- Over two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed favor including bicycle and pedestrian funding in transportation proposals.
- A majority support paying more in taxes to expand and improve public transportation.
- The top reasons for supporting transit focus on creating jobs, reducing traffic congestion, and making sure transit options are available to all.
Transit for a Stronger Economy to Push for Transit Expansion Funding
Transit for a Stronger Economy includes more than 40 organizations from across the state and unites unions, developers, people with disabilities, low-income and underserved communities, and active transportation, health, and environmental interests to promote funding for transit expansion this legislative session. The coalition’s vision for the Twin Cities metro region includes expanding transit, including bus and rail, and funding bicycle and walking projects, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. The coalition also calls for meeting transit demand in Greater Minnesota.
“The business community has been vocal about transit being needed to attract employers to this region and keep top employers here,” says Barb Thoman, executive director of Transit for Livable Communities. “Our coalition’s position builds on that, promoting transit as a way to create a stronger economy for working families, students, seniors, and people with disabilities. Expanding transit options has a high return on investment (ROI) for people stuck in traffic, people trying to get to jobs, and people who want healthier, more sustainable options.”
Transit for a Stronger Economy is advocating for an additional $300 million per year in the metro area and $32 million per year in Greater Minnesota to build out the transit system in 15 years, not 30 or more. The coalition seeks to build out and operate the metro-area transit system, provide funds to cities and counties for safer sidewalks, bicycle routes, local transit, and facilities for people with disabilities, and meet demand for transit in Greater Minnesota.
“Communities throughout the Metro Area recognize that making it safe and convenient for more people to bicycle more often benefits individual health, the environment, the local economy and their quality of life,” said Dorian Grilley, Executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. “This proposal would help them address some of their funding challenges, including the cuts in federal funding for bicycling, walking and safe routes to school.”
A bill incorporating the coalition’s vision will be introduced at the Capitol in the next week. For more about the campaign and a list of partners, visit www.transit4mn.org.
A Stronger Economy for Whom?
Transportation is the second largest household expense (after housing) and takes a larger share in low-income families. The build-out of the regional transit system in 15 years not 30 or more would create 30,000 full-time jobs, greatly improve access to jobs across the region, and attract top employers and employees. Expanding transit options benefits myriad of groups.
Given the high cost of transportation in family budgets, access to transit plays a significant role in making ends meet. But, with our current transit system, only 25% of metro area residents live near convenient transit.
A financial columnist, Liz Weston of MSN Money, commented recently that private auto ownership is “wrecking (the) retirement” of many Americans. “The average household shelled out $8,293, or 13% of its $63,985 pretax income, on transportation costs in 2011,” including $2,669 for costs and car payments, $2,655 for gas and oil charges, and $2,454 for other expenses, Weston wrote. At the same time, most Americans are failing to save enough for retirement, she said.
Transit for a Stronger Economy calls for expanding bus service, so that buses run more frequently, more routes operate seven days per week, and more areas are served. Expanded light rail and bus-rapid-transit (BRT) service, along the Southwest and Bottineau lines and in the east metro, also would give swing shift workers more options for getting to major employers, including hospitals.
Students at area colleges and universities often struggle with transportation. University officials have commented on this in recent years. An official at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, receiving a Commuter Choice Award, said, “For many of our students, things are pretty challenging economically. Providing affordable transportation options helps make them successful.” John O’Brien, President, North Hennepin Community College, has said, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that many of our students are a dead car battery away from dropping out of school,” adding that transportation is “a top challenge our students face in reaching graduation.” For students struggling with the high cost of college, transit can be a way to save money. Improving facilities for bicycling and walking also helps students, making it safer to get around affordably.
The Metropolitan Council reports that the region’s population of seniors will double by 2040. Developers already are seeing demand for senior housing near transit. Marvin J. Plakut, the CEO of Episcopal Homes, anticipates that new housing along the Green Line, aka Central Corridor, will fill quickly. “With more limited mobility that goes along with aging there needs to be increased convenience of transportation,” he says.
According to a University of Minnesota report, residents living in the poorest 20 percent of neighborhoods in the region would have access to many more jobs with the build-out of the proposed 2030 system of Twin Cities transitways. An additional 45,000 to 55,000 jobs would be accessible within a 30-minute transit trip. More frequent bus service and schedules that operate seven days a week would also benefit low-income workers, especially given the high cost of transportation.
Hashi Shafi, executive director of the Somali Action Alliance, sees “great opportunity within multi-racial and multi-cultural groups as we work together to make sure that transportation in and around the Twin Cities becomes more equitable and reliable.”
Congestion relief scores high among voters for reasons to build out the regional transit system. Surveys of current riders indicate that nearly half of all train riders and a third of bus riders would otherwise be driving, according to the Metropolitan Council. A statewide poll conducted in January indicated that more than two-thirds of voters see transit or better planning as the best solution for traffic.
According to Metro Transit’s recent report of 2012 ridership, the biggest increases are on suburban routes, up 6.4% in 2012. The build out of the regional transit system, including light rail, BRT, and additional express and local service will bring more commuters in range of transit. The average commute in the metro is 13 miles, with 38% of commuters crossing at least one county line. A complete transit system will mean that those drivers will have options. Someone commuting from West Saint Paul to Minnetonka, for example, could be riding on transit rather than stuck in traffic. The Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition also calls for funding to help local communities—many of them suburban—provide bicycle routes, safer crossings, and ADA-compliant facilities.
People with Disabilities
“After leaving my job last year, I am very sensitive as to what it feels like to be truly disabled—low income, needing to be close to home and medical services, but wanting to travel and take part in life just as much as anyone,” say Val Escher, a Minneapolis resident. “If you are unable to drive, you rely on biking, walking, and public transit to get around.”
For people with disabilities, expanding transit options has several benefits. Light rail, BRT, and enhanced bus service (also called rapid bus) all operate with vehicles with lower boarding, making it easier for people using wheelchairs or with other disabilities to board. Longer hours for local bus service and wider coverage also serve people with disabilities, making easier connections between housing and jobs. In addition, service areas for paratransit services are tied to regular bus service hours and locations, so transit expansion means more paratransit service. The Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition also calls for more funding to go to local cities and counties to help pay for better sidewalks and crossings as well as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Workers and contractors for construction of the Central Corridor come from all over the state of Minnesota, according to the Metropolitan Council. Funding to begin the Southwest light rail line and to build out the rest of the regional transit system would bring more jobs.
Transit use is growing in Greater Minnesota and makes a huge difference to seniors, people with disabilities, and to residents in cities like Duluth, Saint Cloud, and Rochester. In 2010, 100 million trips were taken on public transit in Minnesota. Our state’s residents rode to work and school on systems large and small. They caught the bus to the doctor in Roseau and to a summer community education class in Rushford. Yet, two counties have no transit service at all; in many cities evening and weekend service is extremely limited if it exists at all.
Transit for a Stronger Economy calls for providing $32 million per year in additional funding in Greater Minnesota to expand routes to meet demand in existing transit systems, add service in counties and communities currently without transit service, and add evening and weekend service in key areas.
Better Health for Everyone
Expanding transportation options has the potential to have great health effects. If half of all short trips in the Twin Cities were done by bike in just the summer, each year 300 deaths and $57 million in medical costs would be averted, according to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives. People who use transit walk 19 minutes per day versus 6 for those who don’t. Transportation contributes 27% of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 60% of this comes from personal vehicles. Transit uses half the energy and emits a fraction of the pollution of driving alone.
“I walk everywhere,” says Edna Bernstein, a senior who moved to St. Louis Park after she retired. “I have some assistance: a cane and shopping cart. I use these devices and it’s very wonderful exercise to walk around.” When she lived in Golden Valley, Bernstein says, “I used to drive many, many miles to everything I had to get to.”
*From a statewide telephone poll of 500 registered Minnesota voters, conducted Jan. 6-8, 2013, for Transit for Livable Communities and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership by the bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. The margin of sampling error for the full statewide samples is 4.4 percentage points, plus or minus.