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Metro Transit Still Rolling During Shutdown

However, a long shutdown could deplete reserve funds and cause problems for riders.

Good news for commuters: Riders of Metro Transit, the Hiawatha light rail line and the Northstar commuter rail can expect service to continue uninterrupted—though not indefinitely—during the current state government shutdown.

Other contracted services operated by the Metropolitan Council, including Metro Mobility, could also run without interruption for at least several weeks during the shutdown. The Met Council operates most transit systems in the metro, including several bus routes servicing Edina.

"All transit service will continue operating as normal beyond the potential shutdown date,” said Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland Thursday afternoon.

Construction on the Central Corridor in St. Paul can also continue for a period of time. Why? The Met Council is a political subdivision, not a state agency, and can run independently to some degree, with its own administration and reserve funds. However, nearly a fifth of funding for regional transit through the Met Council comes from the state general fund, according to Siqveland.

“The goal is that all transit, the transit network, will operate as-is for that entire period,” Siqveland said of a shutdown.

However, reserve funds won't last indefinitely without a state transportation budget resolution.

“It’s not known exactly how long (the funds will last) because we don’t know exactly what the different forces are going to be changing over the next few weeks,” Siqveland said.

A specific plan hasn't been worked out for what would happen if reserves are tapped out, Siqveland added. That plan will be developed over the next few weeks, if necessary. Transit authorities are also watching the outcome of any budget that resolves the shutdown.

In the transportation-funding package passed by the Legislature and vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton in May, state general fund support of transit is reduced by $110 million—84 percent of current levels—according to a statement by Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh. The Met Council could deplete other funds to backfill that loss to some degree, according to a report by the Minnesota Budget Project.

By contrast, ridership was reported to be 19.5 million in the first quarter of 2011, up two percent. The rise in gas prices experienced over the past year has likely contributed to increased use of transit.

While nobody can predict the size of cuts to emerge from budget negotiations, fare increases and service reductions would occur in response to any major reductions.

A series of public hearings on the proposed transit cuts is scheduled to begin July 6.

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