By Tom Hauser
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law Monday will send about $6 billion to Minnesota, including an estimated $818 million for public transit. That means the debate will resume over where to invest public transportation dollars.
Ridership on public transit has plummeted since the pandemic began in March 2020. In 2019 more than 82 million passengers used light rail, commuter rail and buses. In 2020 it plunged to 38 million, a 53% drop. In the first nine months of 2021, there have been about 23 million riders, compared to nearly 29 million in the first nine months of 2020.
"You don't base decisions only on one year," Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said. "It is true more people will be working from home ... but there's still a significant part of our workforce that goes into work every single day and will continue to do that. So this investment is not just in light rail, it's in things like rapid buses, commuter lanes."
Metro Transit says its most recent statistics indicate transit ridership increased for six straight months from April through September. In September they reported more than a million light rail riders for the first time since March 2020. Bus ridership exceeded 2 million for the first time since the pandemic started.
Republican state Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, is a frequent critic of spending on North Star Commuter Rail and light rail. He thinks North Star should be mothballed and light rail should not be expanded until more is known about when passengers will return.
"It's our job to make sure we do spend the money in the most responsible way," he said. "Make sure that it's getting commuters where they want to be in the mode that they want to be in."
He says the legislature passed a provision in the transportation bill that requires a study about public transit usage by the University of Minnesota. That study is due in time for the 2023 budget cycle.
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