Metro Transit is out with its third-quarter ridership figures and the numbers continue their downward trend.
Through September, ridership for the year totaled just over 63.9 million. That translates into a 2 percent drop from the 65.4 million rides taken during the first nine months of 2017.
Transit officials will present the ridership report at Monday’s Met Council Transportation Committee meeting ahead of some big service adjustments that take effect on Saturday.
Metro Transit makes schedule changes every quarter, but this time the list of affected routes is longer than usual. It’s cutting early morning express bus trips from the southern suburbs to downtown Minneapolis, scrapping a downtown shuttle service and pruning underperforming local routes.
Express bus ridership is down 8 percent this year. Local bus rides have dropped 4 percent. With the area’s largest transit agency still grappling with a bus driver shortage — 90 vacancies according to spokesman Howie Padilla — and a multimillion budget deficit looming, something had to go.
Some are obvious, such as Route 20. The shuttle connecting Northstar riders from Target Field to the south end of downtown Minneapolis saw only 20 riders a day, so it’s ending.
Metro Transit is pulling several express and limited-stop runs from the southern and western suburbs that arrive downtown before 6 a.m. They were added to entice downtown workers affected by the I-35W construction to go to work earlier, but “they have not been too attractive,” said Adam Harrington, Metro Transit’s director of service development.
Other cuts are a bit surprising. Route 16 will no longer run west of Fairview Avenue in St. Paul and not at all after 9 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays. (Riders can complete their trips using the Green Line.)
Northbound Route 84 will no longer serve Rosedale Center and will end trips at Snelling and Como avenues. Riders can take the A-line to get to the shopping center.
Route 67, through St. Paul’s West Minnehaha area and Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood will run only every 30 minutes during rush hours and less often on nights and weekends.
On the heavily used Route 21 along Lake Street, service will be scaled back from every 7 minutes to every 10 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays and every 15 minutes on Sundays in Minneapolis. On the St. Paul portion of the line, service will run every 20 minutes on weekdays and Saturday and every 30 minutes on Sunday.
On the upside, a number of local and express runs abruptly suspended in August because of the driver shortage have been added back. Among them is a 7:10 a.m. weekday Route 270 from Maplewood Mall to downtown Minneapolis and a 6:36 a.m. northbound Route 587 from Bloomington.
In all, riders on more than 60 routes will be affected when the changes kick in Saturday. New schedules are posted at metrotransit.org.
Metro Transit says last year’s fare increase and industry trends — transit ridership is dropping nationwide — are the primary factors in its ridership decline. The agency hopes eliminating overlapping service, axing runs that serve few riders and continuing to recruit more drivers will rightsize the system. The aim is to end up with fewer canceled trips.
“How do you get ridership back? Reliability and efficiency,” Harrington said. “Our goal is to make service reliable and this will help that.”
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