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Transit Cuts Hurt the Poor, Smaller Communities.

Our friends over at Growth & Justice write about a new report by Transportation for America which found that service cuts and fee increases disproportionately affect the poor and people living in rural areas. It makes sense when you think of the two types of riders who use public transportation systems — those who ride by choice and those who are "transit-dependent."

Especially in urban areas, there are two types of transit riders — those who ride by choice and those who are transit-dependent. Bus service cuts and fare increases may drive the "choice" users back to their cars, but for the households without a vehicle their options shrink. In rural areas, where transit may be their only link to employment, medical care or other services, the impact of underfunding goes far beyond "transportation."

As someone who has been "transit-dependent" in the past, I can tell you that fare increases add up, especially when they’re coupled with reductions in services and/or changes in the transfer policy. Many service reductions translate into even longer commutes for transit riders. For working parents, a transit service cut could mean the difference between getting home. in time to tuck the kids into bed and getting home long after they’re asleep. More from Transit for Livable Communities:

"Transportation services are not a luxury for people living in rural areas – they are a necessity," says Jeanette Porter, Transit Director with Western Community Action. "When transit providers are forced to shift so much of the financial burden onto our passengers, or agencies helping their clients, it creates a devastating cycle that is already beginning to take effect. Services are meaningless if people can’t access them and when people can’t afford to get to social events, medical appointments or jobs, their quality of life is compromised. Often people must move to a larger area where more options are available. This not only affects those who depend on public transportation, but the economic and social vitality of their communities, as well."

In 2009, the Minneapolis/St. Paul area faced the 5th highest fare increase in the country, with bus fares going up 25 cents over the past 10 months. Governor Pawlenty also unalloted over $1.7 million from Metro Transit’s budget on Friday. Although this won’t immediately result in service cuts or fare increases, it further demonstrates the lack of a long-term funding plan to maintain, let alone grow, the bus system.

“There is absolutely no excuse to cut transit service or raise fares,” said Sarah Mullins, a member of ISAIAH. “The success of our region depends on a transit system that works for all of its residents, ensuring that all can access opportunity and participate fully in our communities. Our state agencies have developed a long-term transit plan, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we dedicate the long-term operating funds needed to make it happen.”

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