"We need the Southwest Light Rail to benefit the people who ride it most," said NOC leader Caleb Murphey, unveiling in-depth results of a bus rider survey conducted over the past three months. "We've talked to over 500 transit riders in north Minneapolis. We can't build a light rail that goes through north Minneapolis without meeting the needs of the people who need it most. The Met Council must meet the bus shelter standard in racially concentrated areas of poverty, develop a single standard for bus shelters among cities and suburban communities, connect existing bus routes to the light rail line, and lower fares. These are steps toward equity the Met Council can take today."
"There is strong agreement with the city in alignment with these residents, and the 500 surveys that augment what we've been hearing. The Southwest Light Rail stations that are in Minneapolis don't serve a huge number of residents. The benefit will be in connectivity, increasing service and how those access points connect to SWLRT," said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. "I think these are reasonable expectations, knowing the Met Council still has work to do to determine how that will happen."
As the Southwest Light Rail moves closer to a final agreement, the Met Council has not included any concrete steps toward towards these simple steps in the package. Instead of making new commitments for shelters or bus service to connect to SWLRT, they have repackaged existing commitments into an "A Transportation Equity Approach." Over the past several months, NOC has organized 500 transit riders and held a public community meeting with four Met Council members, who pledged to work with the community and champion an advisory committee of people of color for major decisions like SWLRT. But no new equity commitments have come out of the negotiation process.
In particular, transit riders and clergy gathered Tuesday say the Met Council has the authority to guarantee some initial concrete measures that would help increase equity for riders in North Minneapolis where the rail alignment requires better connectivity and improved amenities to mirror those in the suburbs. These include:
• Meeting 100% of the need for bus shelters in RCAPs (racially-concentrated areas of poverty)
• Standardizing the criteria for bus amenities across the region
• Ensuring bus service connects ALL the stops, including those in North Minneapolis, to SWLRT
"Southwest Light Rail is an important transit connection, but it bypasses our city's neighborhoods," said Council Member Lisa Bender. "For the system to work for Minneapolis residents and not just suburban commuters, we need safe, dignified and efficient transit connections. We should expect a commitment to frequent bus service to north Minneapolis stops and a commitment for safety and shelter at 100% of the identified locations within the Metropolitan Council's identified Regionally Concentrated Areas of Poverty. We are here in full support of the asks that are coming today from the transit riders."
"We need to make sure where there is the greatest need there is the greatest investment," said Rev. Kelly Chatman, Pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis. "Fill the gap in the map."
Virdell Brown, a NOC transit leader, works a minimum wage job twenty hours a week, and spends an entire week's wages a month just on bus fare to get to and from work and school. "As a student and a person who uses the bus as my main source of transportation, I need to see a fare decrease," said Virdell. "We want the Met Council to take our needs seriously right now."
"Fairness and a good system are really one," said Council Member Kevin Reich. "If a bus stop isn't safe, if it isn't welcoming, if it isn't comfortable all months of the year, it's really not an access point to the system. We support that at the city and will do so moving forward. At the city, at the policy level, we are committed to have those conversations, get it done, and make sure this is a line that supports our system."
"It's time we look at those communities that are under served, and we bring service to them," said state Rep. Raymond Dehn, who represents north and downtown Minneapolis. "This is the right and reasonable thing to do."