Marketing efforts and line upgrades aim to lure more riders to state’s first fast busway.
It was 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, and Shyanne Sullivan was waiting for her ride to school.
Perched on a metal bench at Eagan’s Cedar Grove Transit Station, a cigarette tucked behind one ear, she was only partway through her long commute. One bus down, two to go.
Sullivan, 20, lives in Apple Valley and buses to school in Bloomington. In the middle of her commute is Minnesota’s first bus rapid transit system, the Red Line, which turned one year old this summer.
Data show total ridership in the first year was about 85 percent of the projected rate — a problem that a new marketing campaign and upgrades to the line are aiming to fix.
“There are all kinds of things that can be done to try and improve ridership, and it’s a number of different elements that are pulled together to work toward that,” said Kristine Elwood, transit and multimodal programs manager for Dakota County.
In certain ways, the Red Line resembles light rail: It offers platform boarding, interior bicycle racks and a gentle automated voice announcing each stop.
But it also has the bumpy stop-and-go of any other bus — a feature particularly apparent at a point about halfway through the route when the bus leaves the freeway to reach the Cedar Grove Transit Station.
A proposed Cedar Avenue median station with a weatherproof pedestrian walkway would cut about eight minutes from the round trip between the Apple Valley Transit Station and the Mall of America. Users have complained about the inefficiency of the Cedar Grove stop, and it’s expected that the upgrade would boost ridership.
“People just don’t like the idea of taking something like a bus rapid transit system if they actually have to leave the freeway that they’re on,” said Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan.
But the $14.6 million upgrade lacks the funding it needs. The Eagan City Council has committed $500,000 through its capital improvement program for 2015-19, but requests for both state and federal funding have come up short.
“We ended up holding our hat because we didn’t get what we were looking for,” Egan said.
Another site slated for improvements is the Mall of America station, where changes to pedestrian and vehicle routing could also cut travel times, Elwood said.
It’s the most heavily used Red Line station, with an average of 340 weekday boardings compared to about 50 to 200 at the other four stations. It’s also a destination for transit users drawn by the wide array of transfer options, or simply by the mall itself.
Keira Minor, 17, was waiting at the Cedar Grove Transit Station on a recent morning for a bus to Eagan. She frequents a few different suburban buses and the Red Line, which she takes to her job at the Mall of America. The ride is usually a manageable 20 minutes, she said.
“Sometimes I’m there quicker than I expect,” she said, “so that’s always nice.”
Beyond the delay at the Cedar Grove station, the Red Line is working well, Egan said. At this point, it’s a matter of attracting riders.
To that end, hopes have been pinned on the new Twin Cities Premium Outlets — located across from the Cedar Grove Transit Station — with the Red Line offering an easy connection between its more than 100 stores and the Mall of America.