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County Board supports transit fare hike

If you ride the bus to work you'll likely be paying more to do so in the near future. And the Washington County Board of Commissioners is okay with that.

The board voted Tuesday on a resolution to support a Metropolitan Council-imposed 25-cent increase in transit fares that would go into effect Oct. 1. The resolution also expresses support for an additional 50-cent increase that Metro Transit has the option of instituting in 2009, if necessary.

The board voted 5-0 to support the resolution created by board chair Dennis Hegberg, who said at the meeting he decided to introduce the item after learning that Minneapolis officials were vocally opposing the transit fare hike proposed by the Metropolitan Council.

"(Officials in) Minneapolis indicated they opposed any increases," Hegberg said at the meeting. "Their ridership is much heavier than it is here, but as (Washington County Commissioner Dick) Stafford said 'We all pay for the system, but those who use it should pay their fair share.'"

Stafford reiterated the attributed statements and said that many Washington County residents who were opposed to the board's adoption of the metro-wide quarter-cent sales tax for transportation earlier this year would agree.

"One of the things opponents to the sales tax brought up was they'd like to see the users pay more," Stafford said. "The user-paid concept is the logical way to go."

Making up for rising fuel costs

Met Council officials have said the reasoning behind the transit fare increase is due to a combination of budget shortfalls and a recent dramatic rise in fuel costs.

According a recent letter published by Met Council chair Peter Bell, Metro Transit is trying to erase a $15-million budget deficit estimated for 2009.

Bell wrote that although Metro Transit ridership has increased by more than 8 percent over the last year, "fuel costs of Metro Transit and suburban providers in this region have more than doubled since 2005."

The Metro Transit attempts to maintain a 70/30 ratio of tax payer subsidies to fare revenue. The increase will aid in maintaining the balance, Bell wrote in the letter dated last month.

Although the board voted unanimously to support Bell's position, commissioner Myra Peterson expressed concern about the method the Met Council was taking in proposing the increase.

The Met Council held one public hearing on the 25-cent increase, but will not need to hold a separate hearing should it choose to institute the additional 50-cent increase sometime in 2009, a fact Peterson said she wanted to make sure her fellow board members understood.

Commissioner Gary Kriesel said the board's support for the transit fare increase reasonable, given the disparity in ridership numbers between Minneapolis and rural Washington County.

"Those same costs of gasoline that are impacting the cost of transit are impacting people that drive back and forth to work that don't have the opportunity to use transit," Kriesel said.