Cold Omaha, East Dakota

Dire news for the hundred thousand Minnesotans who use transit on an average weekday.  The legislative conference committee passed a bill that would cut $109 million from Metro Transit’s general fund allocation, and $8 million from outstate Minnesota transit.  That’s just under a third of Metro Transit’s entire 2009 operating budget, and could result in a quarter fare increase and huge cuts in service, including eliminating all weekend service.

Bad news, but made worse by the Minnesota Poll released by the Star Tribune today, which found that by far the most favored target for spending cuts is mass transit.  Dayton will probably veto the transportation bill, but ultimately, how much will he prioritize a service that apparently has a narrow base of support?  Chances are that any budget negotiation would result in less draconian cuts to transit, but Dayton himself originally proposed a fairly hefty cut, so I think we can assume at least that will be on the table.

It’s not surprising that the average Minnesotan, struggling with oil addiction, would be least supportive of transit.  But the degree to which people can ignore the future, even when it is becoming more obvious than ever that the era of cheap energy is over, is always amazing to me.  Of course, Americans have a long tradition of hating their fellow Americans, and since transit puts Minnesotans into frequent and close contact with their neighbors, they have a subconscious incentive to bury their heads in the sand and hope that technology will save them from their dependence on disappearing dinosaur bones.

By now, most transit riders are used to service cuts and fare increases.  But there’s only so much you can cut transit before you don’t have any riders left to cut.

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