Twin Cities (March 6, 2015)– This week, a bipartisan group of twenty-five Minnesota state legislators signed on to the #HowWeRollMN Transit Challenge, riding the bus and train to experience the realities of today’s transit system. On Friday, transit riders and community groups were joined by Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith, Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininick, Rep. Frank Hornstein, and Rep. Carolyn Laine for a bus ride and press conference to highlight the need for increased funding for transit in the metro area and in Greater Minnesota.

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#HowWeRollMN Transit Challenge press conference to highlight the need for increased funding for transit in the metro area and in Greater Minnesota.

Addressing a crowd gathered at a bus stop on University Avenue, Smith said, “We are at a crossroads and the only question before us is, ‘Are we going to roll toward progress?’ or ‘Are we going to roll to a stop?’ I have heard a lot of people talk about how important transit is for the cities and for the metro area but I want to add in that I have been in Marshall and Brainerd and Bemidji and I have been hearing all over the state how important transit is in every corner of the state. So the great thing about what we are proposing is that it helps everybody in the state have great access to transit.”

Rep. Laine spoke about her experience taking public transit and what she heard from constituents who rode the bus with her: “I learned that sometimes people stay on the corner waiting for the bus and buses go by that are full, so you have to wait for one that has room for you. I heard that in Greater Minnesota the main barrier for people taking buses is that there is not enough funding for students and seniors and people getting to work – or for every day life. Our transportation system is disabled. We need to get it funded.”

Reverend Paul Slack, president of ISAIAH, spoke about the importance of transit for people of color and for every Minnesotan: “We have heard from people all over the state who need a fair, accessible and more reliable transit system. These problems impact people of color most severely. We need an equitable solution right now that doesn’t turn a blind eye to these facts. We call on the legislature to pass a comprehensive, long term funding solution this session to build the transportation system that all Minnesotans deserve.”

Lt Gov Tina Smith

Lt. Governor Tina Smith.

Over the past decade, funding for bus service has been flat, while ridership has been growing, in the metro and Greater Minnesota. There are  several transportation funding proposals before the legislature this session. Proposals from the Governor and Senate would increase funding for transit as part of comprehensive, multimodal funding packages.

During the week-long challenge, legislators who rode the bus or train posted photographs and comments on Twitter, using the hashtag #HowWeRollMN. Legislators rode in from suburban locations and rode buses and trains in the core cities. One legislator rode his bicycle to the train. Some rode transit for the first time. Many met constituents as they rode. And some were on the late running Green Line trains after late nights at the Capitol. Greater Minnesota legislators also signed on, including Senator Senjem (Rochester), Representatives Schultz and Simonson (Duluth), and Representative Mike Sundin (Elko).

For Representative Mike Freiberg (Golden Valley), the transit challenge was the spur to get a bus pass–known as a Go To Card–for the first time. He said (on Twitter): “My most favorited tweet in recent memory is a picture of a bus pass.” Rep. Freiberg took his children on the 705B bus from Golden Valley to day care in New Hope, then continued on to the Capitol. Along the way, he met his constituents, including a student from New Hope who depends on transit to get to the University of Minnesota.

Senator Eric Pratt (Prior Lake) rode a Minnesota Valley Transit Authority bus from Shakopee to Minneapolis, Tweeting “MVTA does a great job.” Representative Melissa Hortman (Brooklyn Park) took the #768 from Noble Park & Ride to the Green Line to the Capitol and called it “a fast trip.” Representative Dave Pinto (St. Paul), a regular transit-rider, Tweeted: “”Knocking out email while heading to work. Try doing that while driving. (Actually, don’t.)”

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ISAIAH President Paul Slack.

Not only legislators were riding. Several Metropolitan Council members took the challenge, including new Chair Adam Duininck, as well as staff at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. MnDOT Chief of Staff Eric Davis rode the #54 bus to the airport for United States Air Force Reserve duty in Washington, DC.

As the week went by, other transit riders picked up the hash tag, making the challenge an on-going conversation about how people use transit–to get to school, to get groceries, to visit friends, and for the daily commute. Students from Macalester College turned their bus stop into a photo booth. Some comments using the #HowWeRollMN hashtag spoke of long waits and crowded buses. One rider tweeted, “21 takes an hour from Nicollet to DT St. Paul. Non-major routes are slow and infrequent.” Another person said, “”Just moved from Brooklyn Park to St Paul because couldn’t get to my job in St. Paul by bus. Can’t afford a car.”

Tuesday’s snow did not stop the challenge, nor did the extreme cold that followed it. Tweeting about the snow, Representative Jennifer Schultz (Duluth), who rides transit daily during session, said: “When there are flurries and you’re in a hurry you cannot fail by taking the light rail.” Another person tweeted that they wished they had not driven, “white knuckles behind the wheel today – fender bender on route 2 SP wish I’d taken the Train.”  And someone on the bus agreed, “We passed lots of cars slowed down by the snow while on the 250 express. What a good morning to be on the bus.” On Thursday, Representative Raymond Dehn (Minneapolis) tweeted: “Cold morning on the Greenline. Hats off to those who ride public transit everyday.”

Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck.

Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck.

The Transit Challenge wraps up in the metro this Saturday, March 7, but advocates are urging legislators to take the challenge home over the break. Transit ridership in Greater Minnesota is growing, but transit systems lack funding to keep up with demand. This leaves students, seniors, and workers stranded as schedules or service areas fail to match up with work hours, class times, and health care appointments.

The March 1-7 Transit Challenge was issued by transit advocates and organizations including Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Catholic Charities of St. Paul & Mpls., Fresh Energy, MPIRG, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Transit for Livable Communities, TakeAction MN, ATU Local 1005, MN Center for Environmental Advocacy, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Summit Academy OIC, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, ISAIAH.

To celebrate the week, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change is hosting a barbecue Friday evening for legislators who took the challenge.

The bipartisan group of twenty-five legislators participating in the #HowWeRollMN Transit Challenge:

Senator Scott Dibble (61, Minneapolis)
Senator Eric Pratt (55, Prior Lake)
Senator David Senjem (25, Rochester)
Senator Patricia Torres Ray (63, Minneapolis)
Representative Connie Bernardy (41A, Fridley)
Representative Jim Davnie (63A, Minneapolis)
Representative Raymond Dehn (59B, Minneapolis)
Representative Laurie Halverson (51B, Eagan)
Representative Alice Hausman (66A, St. Paul)
Representative Frank Hornstein (61A, Minneapolis)
Representative Melissa Hortman (36B, Brooklyn Park)
Representative Mike Freiberg (45B, Golden Valley)
Representative Sheldon Johnson (67B, St. Paul)
Representative Clark Johnson (19A, North Mankato)
Representative Carolyn Laine (41B, Columbia Heights)
Representative John Lesch (66B, St. Paul)
Representative Leon Lille (43B, North St. Paul)
Representative Sandra Masin (51A, Eagan)
Representative Rena Moran (65A, St. Paul)
Representative Dave Pinto (64B, St. Paul)
Representative Jennifer Schultz (7A, Duluth)
Representative Erik Simonson (7B, Duluth)
Representative Mike Sundin (11A, Esko)
Representative JoAnn Ward (53A, Woodbury)
Representative Ryan Winkler (46A, Golden Valley)