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Legislation would steer funds toward boosting metro bus service

Improvements to the Twin Cities bus system could give riders 40 hours of their lives back.

That’s the estimate of annual time savings per rider with signal priority systems and dedicated bus lanes, according to Sam Rockwell, executive director of Move Minnesota.

Creating a working group to deploy service improvements is one provision in HF4708, sponsored by Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Mpls). It would appropriate funds to improve bus stops, purchase electric vehicles and support ridership in the metro area.

As amended, the bill was laid over Friday by the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

“People deserve a better transportation system, and this is an investment in that,” Jordan said.

Rockwell said low-cost improvements called for in the bill would be a critical bridge between a full bus rapid transit system and the current transit system, which he called too slow and infrequent. One of the features of bus rapid transit, he said, is signal priority extends green lights and shortens red lights when a bus is near.

HF4708 would appropriate:

  • $15 million to buy zero-emission buses;
  • $3.6 million to replace and improve bus shelters;
  • $1.5 million for the Met Council to subsidize $1 fares in July and August 2022 to build ridership by encouraging people to try the bus; and
  • $500,000 to plan for arterial buses on the J, K and L Line projects.

Additionally, $1.3 million would be available for grants to suburban micro-transit programs. These provide on-demand first-mile and last-mile rides similar to ride-share apps Lyft and Uber.

Provisions subsidizing transit operational costs drew questions from Republicans.

“Just because we reduce fares doesn’t make the trip cheaper,” said Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca). “It means someone else is picking up the tab.”

He said he understands the benefit for people who need it, but that it is also a benefit for people who could pay more.

Sen. Ann Johnson Stewart (DFL-Minnetonka) sponsors the companion, SF4443, which awaits action by the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

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