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Transit governance concerns raised

Published (1/28/2011)
By Mike Cook
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A new evaluation report notes that the transit system throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area has performed well compared to peer cities, but there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to transit governance.

“Reform is needed, but it won’t be easy to accomplish,” Legislative Auditor James Nobles told the Legislative Audit Commission.

Released Jan. 21 by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the report recommends that the Legislature should restructure the Metropolitan Council; the transit taxing district should be extended to all areas under the council’s jurisdiction; and the Legislature should clarify transit priorities and goals for the region.

“This is a very important blueprint for legislative action, hopefully on a bipartisan basis,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls).

Nearly $319 million was spent on transit operating expenses in 2009, a 24 percent increase since 2005.

The report notes that government operation of transit “is complex and fraught with distrust.” It indicates coordination between the Metropolitan Council, the planning agency for the seven-county metropolitan area, and other transit organizations has been difficult when the different groups must work together.

For example, when state voters passed a constitutional amendment to allocate additional motor vehicle sales tax revenue to transit, suburban transit providers expected the money to be allocated based on a formula. Instead, according to the report, the Met Council distributes the supplemental money based on regional priorities.

“Because the process for developing transit ways in the region relies on local initiatives and funding, there are multiple transit corridors being evaluated without a common understanding of the region’s transit priorities,” the report states. “Each community considers its transit project to be a priority, but the project may not be a priority for the region.”

State statutes do not prioritize transit goals.

“The Met Council’s lack of credibility stems from the governance structure of the Council itself,” the report states. Because the 17 council members are appointed by the governor, some outsiders believe the council is more focused on pushing the governor’s agenda, rather than supporting the region as a whole or the district from which they were selected.

The report suggests making the council a mix of appointed and elected members, all serving staggered terms.

“This is a first step to lead to a more streamlined governance,” said Judy Randall, the project evaluation manager.

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