Thursday, April 28, 2011

Expenditure on Public Transit in the Twin Cities

Public transportation has been in existence since the early 1800s from the omnibus and the horse car, to cable cars and streetcars, to modern day buses, light rail trains and subways. It has been instrumental in shaping the urban form of cities and is paramount to social equality, environmental health and economic success. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), "for every one dollar invested in public transit, four dollars are generated in economic returns." (Kurtzleben 2011) In 2009, the Twin Cities spent approximately $660 million on capital and operational expenses for transit. (Office of the Legislative Auditor 2011) This is in comparison to extensive investment in road infrastructure, to the tune of approximately $3 billion in Minnesota in 2009. (Transportation 2009)

It is becoming ever more apparent that the pattern of development experienced the past 60 years in the United States is an unsustainable one. This is especially apparent in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. "Of the 20 top U.S. metropolitan areas the Twin Cities ranks 14th in population per square mile yet we are third in road miles of pavement provided." (Berg 2011) We have essentially built our way into an economic black hole that will be very difficult to get out of. In fact, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council reported in 2000, "that more efficient land use would lead to $2 billion in savings from avoided street and sewer costs over the next 20 years." (Transit for Livable Communities 2008)

With road infrastructure draining government financial reserves and hurting consumers with inefficient mobility options, high gas prices, and nefarious potholes adding to vehicle maintenance budgets, public transit is one very appealing alternative. For these very reasons public transit has been at the forefront of many debates and news stories over the last decade. Yet the Twin Cities, even with the Hiawatha LRT line opening six years ago, the Central Corridor set to open in 2014, and others in the planning stages, is lacking in its public transit investments compared to peer regions throughout the country.

From 2005 to 2008 Twin Cities ridership grew at twice the rate as its peer regions, yet the rate of increase in funding for transit for that same period was half that of peer regions. The region is just about average for miles of transit per capita, and is just below average for rides per capita. The region does have a higher farebox recovery than that of its peers, but this may primarily be due to the fact that fares are higher than in other metropolitan areas.

For capital costs most all regions are the same in that federal funding is the primary source of revenue. The Twin Cities are unique in operations funding, in that the primary source of revenue is the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax (MVST). "Prior to 2002, almost 50% of transit operating cost was funded by property taxes. In 2001, the legislature replaced property tax revenue with MVST revenue resulting in a sharp decline in transit funding in 2002 due to MVST being allocated on a fiscal year basis compared to property tax being allocated on a calendar year basis. The transition caused six months in lost transit funding." (Transportation 2009) Before this time MVST revenue was deposited directly into the general fund. Of 11 peer regions, as identified by the Metropolitan Council, only two others use MVST for transit funding, and it is not their primary source. Vehicle sales have been extremely low over the past 4 years, and in general provide for a volatile funding source.

While many regions are increasing investments in their transit systems, and expanding them in a comprehensive manner, the Twin Cities seems to be settling for the status quo. A less stable funding source has been designated to fund the transit system, and there is a seeming lack of prioritization of transit in general. Sorry Garrison, but when it comes to public transit, Minnesota is not above average.

Works Cited

Berg, Steve. MinnPost. April 18, 2011. (accessed April 23, 2011).

Kurtzleben, Danielle. "Politics." US News & World Report. February 8, 2011. (accessed April 23, 2011).

Office of the Legislative Auditor. Governance of Transit in the Twin Cities Region. Saint Paul: Program Evaluation Division, 2011.

Transit for Livable Communities. Transportation Performance in the Twin Cities Region. Bolger Inc., 2008.

Minnesota Department of Transportation. "Minnesota Statewide Transportation Plan 2009-2028- Draft." 2009.

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