How Duluth dealt with shrinking transit dollars

Since 1969, Duluth, Minn., which skirts Lake Superior, has had a small, but efficient public transit system serving a population of 160,000.

Recently, however, federal budget cuts in transit and other areas left the city staring at a $3.4 million deficit, says Mayor John A. Fedo. It could not make this up by increasing property taxes because of a statewide limit. This hit the transit system because Duluth had been subsidizing it to the tune of $1 million annually.

''To address the transit situation, we took four types of actions: increasing the system efficiency and reducing cost; reducing service; increasing fares; and seeking an increase in the mill levy,'' says Mayor Fedo. Tokens were increased from 40 to 50 cents. Alternate routes were planned. Administrative staff was cut. By shopping the market, the city saved an average of 4 cents a gallon on diesel fuel.

''Most importantly, however, we needed a 1 point increase in the mill levy which, this year, will generate about $280,000,'' the mayor says. Because of a legal prohibition, the city could not spend money campaigning for the issue. But the mayor convinced Duluth's business community of the importance of this measure. As a result, the Chamber of Commerce ran the transit tax increase campaign.

''The result was surprising. The people voted 2 to 1 for the measure. I think this bodes well for the future of public transportation,'' Mayor Fedo says.

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