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Tuesday Talk: What’s the future of public transit?

March 08, 2011 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

With the start of Central Corridor light rail’s construction and gas prices back up to $3.50, public transportation options become increasingly more viable. However, for many Minnesotans, these factors aren’t motivation or opportunity enough to hop on the bus or light rail.

What is the future of public transit and alternative transportation in Minnesota?  What options should planners consider to improve our local transit options? 

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  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 8, 2011 at 9:24 am

    The only public transportation we have in northern MN are the AEOA blue busses. We pay for them ourselves. How about you Citiots solving your public transportation problem without tapping our wallets for programs we never use.

  • Jim Ford says:

    March 8, 2011 at 9:25 am

    The price of oil may go down again, but in the long run (10 years?) it certainly will not.  So, do/will we have sufficient capacity when the time comes?  To the extent that we are facing huge debts (personal, corporate and governmental)cannot afford to spend on “extras” now, I foresee another crisis coming.

  • Jim Weygand says:

    March 8, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Given the choice most people would rather drive their own vehicle rather than use transit. If we want to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and increase use of transit, then it will be necessary to make transit more cost competitive with the automobile.

    Years ago most of the developed world decided that they wanted to reduce oil usage to protect their economies. To accomplish that they increased the taxes on gas and oil. This is why today gas is such a bargain in the US compared to the rest of the world. At the same time these countries invested in their transit systems.

    To increase transit usage and reduce automobile usage we need to increase gas and oil taxes. We do have to be careful not to suddenly jump the taxes, which would hurt the economy. However, if a plan was put in place to increase taxes gradually over a long period of time, the country could make the transition without economic collapse. It would also give families and companies time to transition. It would also give us time to invest in transit. I would suggest increasing gas tax $0.10 a year for 20 to 25 years. Doing this would also improve competitiveness of alternate energy sources.

  • Dale says:

    March 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

    I would love to have the option of public transportation but there isn’t any available near me.  There is a bus line (express service) a mile away if I needed to commute to downtown Minneapolis but for anything else I would need to get in my car and drive at least 3 miles to a park and ride.  Doesn’t make sense to do that when my destinations are usually less than a 6 mile drive.

  • Jim Ford says:

    March 8, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Rereading my earlier comment, I intended to ask whether we will have “sufficient public transit capacity”.  Remember the Fall of 2008 when it was hard to find a seat on a bus because of all the “newbies”? That was just a taste of what will happen over the next ten years.

  • Ressa says:

    March 8, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I have enjoyed the opportunity to use light rail in other cities of this country and world. It is a wonderful option. I wondered why a connection Mlp/StP was not planned at the beginning.
    The” Twin Cities” is just now experiencing the need felt by many other large communities. Trains or “subways” have been studied and implemented in most major cities of this country. Even oil focused cities like Dallas, have light rail. Los Angeles has begun light rail, as much as they love their cars out there.
    I would suggest the planers use a hub/spoke arrangement. This would allow for “filling in” as the population, rider needs either moves or expands. DC has a great design. I use it whenever I go there. Don’t need a car. Taxis’ fill in the gaps.

  • Bill Graham says:

    March 8, 2011 at 10:09 am

    To have good transit service, we need (a) a competent public organization to manage it, and (b) a reliable and adequate funding source.  The models exist in at least a dozen other cities, Portland, Dallas, Calgary, San Diego to name but a few.  A politically responsive transit agency encompassing the entire metro region would be a start, something akin to the old Metropolitan Transit Commission we once had.  A 20-year transit plan that includes specific, prioritized improvements would allow voters to see what they would be buying.  A sales tax within the transit taxing district of around one percent, approved by voters,  would pay for the improvements called for in the plan. 

    Our Metro Council under Ted Mondale’s and Peter Bell’s leadership has done a creditable job with transit, given the policy and funding limitations they must operate under.  To attain real success, however, the region must be responsible for managing and paying for its own transit system and not be entirely at the mercy and whim of the governor and the Legislature.  Many other cities have figured all this out already.  We need only look to their example.

    Bill Graham

  • Tony Rozycki says:

    March 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

    To illustrate the difficulty of predicting the answer to your question,
    the 5,000 plus year-old Chinese civilization appears to now be embracing the private automobile.

  • Pete Rivard says:

    March 8, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Philadelphia has a hub-spoke rail system. You can come into downtown Philly from any direction, change trains at the central hub (Market Street?) and head in any other direction. I use it to ride from the airport to downtown, and from downtown to the western ‘burbs.

    As a resident of Hastings who works in Minneapolis, I would welcome such an arrangement, and would happily ride light rail to either downtowns. Light rail to St. Paul, Central Corridor to Mpls. Beautiful.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    March 8, 2011 at 10:28 am

    If you progressives were truly forward thinkers, you would back something “Greener” like MonoRail. Monorail makes you think lighter not heavier, it puts the mode of transport off the ground and reduces, (to ZERO), impact with those of us critters walking or roaming around. Ahh you say, but it’s not labor intensive enough for labor you see and it doesn’t provide as many public employee jobs. The list goes on as to why we insist on using 300 year old killer technology. Mag drive it on a monorail, off the ground, for a quarter of the energy or less. That’s forward thinking.

  • Helen Heitz says:

    March 8, 2011 at 10:38 am

      Public transportation is a state-wide issue. It involves not only decreased use of fossil fuels and less air pollution. 
      As Minnesota’s population ages, more people will be unable to drive but still need transportation. Without alternate transportation to medical appointments, shopping, social events, “seniors” and disabled people are prisoners in their own home, whether   in the metro area or in greater Minneota.
      Transportation is vital to the job market. When jobs opened at a bus manufacturer near St Cloud, many people in the area who needed jobs couldn’t apply because th factory wes 3 miles from any public transportation. Transportation can be a major factor in moving manufacturing to new areas.
      The “blue buses” throughout greater Minnesota are an important part of our transportation system. The state government needs to undergird this system. Communities need to cooperate in developing a more complete transportation network.  “Just me” does not lead to progress, individually or communally.

  • Bob E says:

    March 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Public transportation is an excellent idea if you live in the St. Cloud-Twin Cities-Rochester corridor.  For those of us who do not live in that corridor, it is not a viable idea beacuse of our population areas and geography.

  • wayne says:

    March 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    except for the rich,private cars are on the way out. the public may bitch now about the cost of developing mass transit, but can you imagine the bitching if it is not there when they need it.the lead time for developing projects is long in our messy democracy. better get as much done now as we can.someday the the proposed new bridge in stillwater will be used mostly as a place to catch asian carp. perhaps the public transit carried by the bridge can be connected to the water to make em jump as it passes over.

  • Janet says:

    March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I finally got tired of driving 35w to 62 to cedar so on and so on…I have been riding the Train for about two years now, What a difference in my life, yes i had to give up some personal space but i surely do not miss all the crazy driver’s everyday, I sit back and relax on my trip to work, read or take a nap or visit with other riders it is very peaceful and yes sometime those lovable crazy twin’s fan’s make alot of noise or those crazy young teenagers but the money is the big difference and no wear and tear on my car for everday driving, The gas is gonna continue to rise and the climate, well besides that I truly enjoy my train ride. So it is up to the individual when they may try it or may not but so this is just one opinion and i truly do not like to argue with people who want to disagree, it is up to each person’s preference.

  • Rick says:

    March 8, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    When I lived and worked in Europe, I commuted via rail/high speed rail . I loved it. I did own a small car and drove it occasionally when I needed to. I wasn’t about to pay $6-$8 a gallon for gas and put up with traffic. That’s exactly what is going to happen here. Gas will be expensive and jet fuel isn’t going to get any cheaper. Anything this state and surrounding states can do to expand rail is fine with me. If Representative Bachmann is willing to spend 700MM of our money on a new bridge in Stillwater, i would much prefer she take that money and start expanding rail instead.

  • Bob says:

    March 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    i agree with the comment about needing a car to get to mass transit.  In Shoreview, we have only a few morning and evening buses.  For retirees, there needs to be a regular, frequent network with no more than a mile to a connection.  It’s too bad we can’t afford to build a good subway system.  It’s also unfortunate that there is so little desirable housing close to the downtowns.  I would prefer the Paris model of moving industry and slums out to the suburbs.

  • Margaret says:

    March 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Personal Rapid Transit is the only form of public transportation that can get people out of their cars because it is convenient (little or no waiting at neighborhood stations), direct to destination with no intervening stops, safe, and sustainable (both footprint and use of renewable resources for power). We need light-weight circulator systems, with computer control. PRT is now feasible. Countries around the world are adopting it, with studies indicating it will reduce traffic congestion substantially.

  • Ian Bicking says:

    March 8, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    We could double our transit system—itself no easy task—and we still wouldn’t be moving a significant amount of traffic on transit.  Transit has fallen so incredibly far behind that even what is touted as big increases in transit have little effect on transportation. 

    In the city buses are 2-4x as slow as driving, and in the suburbs most trips are barely even possible unless you are following a commuter path.  Light rail is fabulously expensive, and we are running out of reasonable right of ways to build new lines.  Building two or three more lines isn’t going to provide service to most locations in the city.  Light rail is never going to give us a dense enough and fast enough network to serve even a significant portion of people’s transportation, primarily trips to and from downtown.

    Cars are coming up against some challenges, but it’s a poor bet to expect transit to win just because something else loses.  We need a radical improvement in transit if it’s ever going to compete seriously with cars.  Personal Rapid Transit might be one model.  Maybe Bus Rapid Transit can fill in some places.  Maybe there’s some form of mass rail transit that can be cheap enough and non-intrusive enough that it can be built at a much larger scale than we have now—but no current mass rail systems satisfy people’s needs.  We *need* to pursue an untested untried model if we want to make transit work—it’s better to take a risk than keep pursuing models we know won’t work.

  • Tony Rozycki says:

    March 9, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Several comments mention rising gasoline prices, an important factor in trying to predict & plan for the future needs of public transit.  Naturally the equation & public vs private mix may change if & when electric cars become more affordable & popular.

  • Ian Bicking says:

    March 9, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Electric cars have many more challenges in our climate than in, say, California.  Batteries need to be warm to perform well, and there isn’t any heat byproduct to keep the passengers warm.

  • Alice G says:

    March 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    We have a long way to go.  Those of us not living in the Twin Cities area still have no easy or cheaper option to come to the cities and visit different regions of the cities other than using our cars.  We need good public transportation throughout the state.

  • Tony Rozycki says:

    March 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Re Alice’s comment, we should have a reasonably priced, efficient convenient comfortable fast state-of-the-art train of some sort running:

    1) from Duluth to the Twin Cities

    2) Rochester to the Twin Cities

    3) Moorhead to St Cloud, Bemidji or Brainerd to St Cloud to the Twin Cities

    4) Worthington via Mankato to the Twin Cities

    Last century Amtrak had a surprisingly efficient and busy line running between San Diego & LA.  Much bigger population base, lots of US subsidy & probably many illegal alien riders.