With ridership higher than expected on the Metro Green Line, the amount of money needed to subsidize the nearly year-old light-rail line is down.
Passengers dropped more than $6.21 million into fare boxes during the first six months Green Line trains ran between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, covering nearly 36 percent of the $17.36 million that Metro Transit spent to operate the 11-mile line that opened last June.
The farebox recovery ratio refers to the percentage of operation expenses that are covered by fares. The Green Line has a slightly higher recovery ratio than the national average of 31 percent for light-rail lines, said Virginia Miller of the American Public Transportation Association.
Among similarly sized cities, the farebox recovery ratio for Seattle is 28.1 percent; 56.7 percent for Denver; 59.3 percent for Boston and 41.8 percent for Salt Lake City, according to 2013 data from the National Transit Database.
“The Green Line had a strong showing,” said Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck.
The numbers, released this week by Metro Transit, have not been audited, but spokesman Howie Padilla said he doesn’t expect them to change.
Ridership had been predicted to be 27,000 to 30,000 a day on weekdays by the end of 2015, but has been closer to 34,000 to 40,000 per day, according to recent data. With more fare-paying customers, revenue has exceeded forecasts, meaning less money is needed to subsidize each ride.
The Green Line’s performance could have been higher if all riders had paid. A report released earlier this year found that 4.6 to 9 percent of Green Line riders rode without paying. That translated into $11,100 to $21,800 in lost revenue a week, or $1.1 million a year.
Doing better than buses
The Green Line outperformed the older Blue Line in the farebox recovery rate. Fares on the route formerly known as the Hiawatha Line covered only 31.8 percent of expenses, with passengers paying $9.19 million in fares compared with the $29.14 million it took to operate it.
Last year, passengers took 6.5 million rides on the $957 million line between June and December. In comparison, Metro Transit provided 9.5 million rides on the Blue Line between downtown Minneapolis and the Mall of America in Bloomington during all of 2014.
Both rail lines did better than local buses. Duininck said local routes typically have a fare recovery rate of 25 to 30 percent, while express service sees a recovery rate of close to 40 percent. That’s because express service runs less frequently and has a higher per-trip capacity.
Farebox recovery rates only apply to operational costs, such as personnel and electricity. It does not include capital costs, such as money spent to buy new rail cars or other equipment needed to run the lines.
While the farebox recovery rate is on par with those of other transit systems around the country, William Hume, a retired civil engineer and land surveyor from the Twin Cities, said the lines are still too dependent on public subsidies. Hume has written several articles on rail systems that have appeared in publications nationwide.
“In a perfect world, they’d make 100 percent of their operational costs,” he said. Both the Green and Blue lines “are very dependent on Minnesota tax dollars.”