By Barb Thoman, Executive Director
Transit ridership in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region rose dramatically in 2014, up 3.5 percent over 2013. Metro Transit, our region’s largest transit provider, saw an increase of nearly 4 percent, as did the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority in the south metro. While transit ridership has been rising steadily for years, this more dramatic jump was due in large measure to the success of the METRO Green Line light rail, which opened in June, in combination with improved connecting bus service.
In our region overall, riders took 97.7 million trips on buses and trains in 2014, an increase of 3.4 million trips over 2013! In addition to Metro Transit and Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, the regional system includes suburban providers Maple Grove Transit, Plymouth Metrolink, and SouthWest Transit. The University of Minnesota also operates the Campus Connector bus service between their Minneapolis and Saint Paul campuses. Ridership totals also include Metro Mobility and Metropolitan Council contracted service.
Photo Credit: Minnesota Valley Transit Authority
Bus ridership continues to account for the majority of transit trips throughout the region—about four of every five trips in 2014. Bus service in Saint Paul and Minneapolis was restructured significantly last year to improve connections to the Green Line. Metro Transit also undertook a major planning and public outreach effect to identify expanded service that could be implemented if investment in transit is increased. Approval of the final Service Improvement Plan is expected in March.
Light rail carried nearly 19 percent of Metro Transit’s customers last year. End-to-end travel times on the Green Line continue to improve and real-time arrival signage is now operating—a welcome feature for riders who now can see when the next train is due. The transformative power of the Green Line is made evident by robust ridership numbers as well as the continued pace of redevelopment along the line’s 11-mile route.
The ten-year-old METRO Blue Line provided 9.5 million trips in 2014. Earlier this month, it also received a glowing endorsement from Jeff Hamiel, Executive Director/CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). Speaking before the Metropolitan Council, Hamiel highlighted the importance of the Blue Line to the 2,000 daily riders who work at the airport, many of whom are recent immigrants and take the early trains to their jobs. Hamiel also noted the advantages of Blue Line service to travelers. He said that the Twin Cities is one of the nation’s few regions where a transit trip to downtown is faster (and a lot cheaper), than a taxi ride—a reason you see many people in business attire with roller bags on the train. In addition, he said the MAC is seeing more people booking longer layovers so they can hop the train to the Mall of America for a little shopping between flights.
As new Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck affirmed in a recent statement, “Investment in public transit pays off in ridership. . . . The more we invest in transit, the more convenient and reliable the service becomes and the more people use it.” Duininck also emphasized that a metro-area sales tax increase would “expedite the build-out of this region’s 21st century transit system and would be a smart investment in area residents, the economy, our workforce, and the environment.”