Metro Transit reported Thursday that ridership on its buses and trains increased in the first quarter of the year, a boost attributed in part to rising gasoline prices.
For the year's first three months, the total of 19.5 million rides represents a 2 percent increase over the same period last year, the transit operator said.
Northstar Commuter Rail's rush-hour service between Minneapolis and Big Lake showed the highest year-over-year gain at 6 percent. Northstar customers chose the rail service more than 146,000 times in the first quarter of 2011.
For all of 2010, Northstar's 710,400 rides fell 21 percent below expectations. Transit officials attributed that to high unemployment and a resulting reduction in trips downtown.
"We're off to a very encouraging start in 2011," said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. "Rising gas prices have certainly played a role in encouraging new customers to give transit a try."
Comparing the first quarter of 2010 with the same period this year:
Express bus ridership was up 3.5 percent, urban local service rose 2.3 percent and suburban local service increased 1.5 percent.
Ridership on the Hiawatha light-rail line was down 1.8 percent from the first quarter of last year but trended upward in February and March.
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