City council sounds off on TRAC cutsThe Hastings City Council delivered a clear message to representatives of the Metropolitan Council Monday night regarding the future of the TRAC bus program: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
By: Keith Grauman, The Hastings Star-Gazette
The Hastings City Council delivered a clear message to representatives of the Metropolitan Council Monday night regarding the future of the TRAC bus program: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Met Council currently subsidizes the TRAC program to the tune of about $250,000 of the $400,000 it costs to run it each year. In an effort to streamline transit services and provide more equitable transit options to people across the entire seven-county metro area, that funding will be redistributed early next year and a new, county-wide dial-a-ride program will take its place.
Mayor Paul Hicks said he’d like to see the Met Council work with the city and incorporate TRAC into its new program, instead of getting rid of TRAC completely.
“I think we ought to work together instead of wiping it all away and starting over,” he said. “You don’t have to start over.”
Council Member Joe Balsanek echoed Hicks’ thoughts.
“Use Hastings as a model upon which you can build the rest of the system,” he said.
On Tuesday, a Met Council spokesperson said members of Hastings city staff and the city council would be meeting next week with Met Council staff to discuss the idea of working together in the implementation of the new bus program.
Arlene McCarthy, Met Council’s director of Metropolitan Transit Services, presented some aspects of the Met Council’s plan and gave some specifics regarding what the new service in Hastings and Dakota County would probably look like, but cautioned the Met Council had yet to make any final decisions.
Many residents have standing orders in place with TRAC buses, such as a weekly pick-up time at the same location, and those will be grandfathered into the new program, McCarthy said.
About 75 percent of the buses in Dakota County under the new program will be assigned to standing-order trips. The rest will be for “on-demand trips,” where someone calls with relatively short notice to schedule a ride.
Hours of operation will probably be from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, McCarthy said. Right now, the Met Council isn’t sure if it has the budget to operate the new program on weekends, and it hasn’t been decided yet whether there’ll be service on holidays.
Currently, TRAC buses offer door-to-door service, where TRAC drivers help riders from the door they’re being picked up at, to the door they’re being dropped off at. The new program would offer the same service to people who are certified under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and curb-to-curb service for those who are not.
The fares people pay would go up from today’s TRAC rate of $1.75 per ride to the Met Council’s minimum of $2.25 for dial-a-ride buses, and there would be a group discount for riders who coordinate trips with other riders.
One service the new program will offer that TRAC currently doesn’t are rides outside of the city, McCarthy said.
The Met Council’s plan is to have dial-a-ride services in all seven metro counties working in conjunction with each other and fixed route Metro Transit buses. For example, if you’re in Hastings and wanted to get to downtown Minneapolis, you could get picked up by a dial-a-ride bus here and dropped at a transit center where you could hop on a city bus and continue downtown. You’d do the reverse on the way back and get picked up by the dial-a-ride bus at the transit station.
The Met Council is planning to implement its new program in Dakota County in May 2010. Several council members suggested phasing in the changes to help with the transition.
With none of the changes set in stone, Hastings City Council members continued to argue their case that the TRAC program works fine, and the Met Council is proposing sweeping changes where they’re not needed.
“You’re trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer,” Hastings City Council Member Danna Elling Schultz said. Her comments elicited a round of applause from the approximately 25 members of the public who attended the meeting.
The Met Council in general drew the ire of Council Member Tony Alongi, who said it has far too much power for an appointed body.
“The Met Council continues to operate as an unaccountable, unelected body with no real connection to the people they serve,” he said.
Several residents of Oak Ridge Manor presented the city council and the representatives of the Met Council with a petition seeking to keep the TRAC bus program intact.
Al Risburg, manager at Oak Ridge, said now is the worst time to be making a change like this to the TRAC program, because seniors in particular, who make up a large majority of the riders of the TRAC buses, have so much uncertainty when it comes to things like their income and healthcare.
“How much more can you put on these people to worry about?” he said.
Several Hastings residents spoke at the meeting about how dependant they are on the TRAC buses, whether it be to get to work or to the doctor. The TRAC drivers were also in attendance, and asked what would happen to their jobs if the program were cut. No one had a good answer, but there’s a chance they could be hired to operate Met Council’s new program when it’s implemented.