June 12--Bob Tatreau plans to drive from his Woodbury home to St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood Saturday morning to protest the debut of the state's second light-rail service.
The chanting, picketing and other signs of solidarity by Green Line critics are expected to begin at 9 a.m. at University Avenue intersections with Avon and Grotto streets and to continue for at least an hour.
"Oh, that's nothing. I'd go from here to St. Cloud to do it," said Tatreau, a longtime opponent of the $957 million light-rail project. "It's a waste of money -- almost $1 billion, and it's going to cost $35 million a year to run it."
Tatreau said he believes light rail is better suited to the East. "Someplace like New York or Boston, where there's the density, it makes sense," he said. "We don't have the density out here."
Transit advocates argue that filling potholes, repaving streets and adding highway interchanges also is costly.
But efforts to launch new light rail and rapid-transit bus systems still are grappling with the political realities of the need for public subsidies.
The "farebox recovery ratio" -- or the percentage of the annual operating budget covered by fares -- varies widely across the country. Outside of major coastal cities such as New York or Los Angeles, passenger fares tend to cover 25 to 35 percent of costs.
Amtrak, which gets state and federal aid, covers more than 80 percent of its operating costs through fares.
The preliminary 2015 budget to operate the 11-mile Green Line is $35 million. Fares are expected to cover 25 percent of annual operating costs, with ads accounting for an additional 2 percent.
The Blue Line, which debuted in 2004 between downtown Minneapolis and the Mall of America, has outperformed ridership expectations. The original budget predicted 19 percent of operating costs would be covered by fares, but that number was 37 percent in 2012.
Steve Ellenwood of Woodbury is a lead organizer of the protest. He takes issue with the argument that public transit needs to expand because millennials are increasingly gravitating toward car-free urban living.
"They're planning on the expansion of all of these public transit (lines), but I really don't see the demand," Ellenwood said. "Along with all of the ... 'kids don't want to drive anymore,' has anyone looked into why they're still offering driver's ed in high schools?"
Transit advocates say local and national ridership numbers paint a different picture. Metro Transit reported its 2013 ridership at a near-record 81.4 million passengers, about 5 million more rides than four years ago. That included more than 59 million trips on urban buses and more than 10 million rides on the first light rail service, the Blue Line.
Express bus, suburban bus routes and the Northstar commuter rail make up the rest.
Nationally, more Americans used public transit last year than at any time since 1957 and took 10.7 billion trips in 2013, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
Copyright 2014 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.