Ramsey's midday bus, with rarely more than 1 rider, looks like a bust

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 23, 2014 - 10:36 PM

Eastbound-only commuter run rarely has more than one rider. It likely be shelved in June.

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The bus stop at the Ramsey train station was empty at 1 p.m. Wednesday, as it often is. “I’ve had as many as three riders get on here, but never more than that. This is typical,” bus driver Glen Wiemelt said.

Photo: Paul Levy • paul.levy@startribune.com,

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From now until June, the midday eastbound 852 bus out of Ramsey Station belongs to James Horvath. Most days, he’s the only passenger for the first four miles. Other days — like Wednesday — absolutely nobody gets on the 1:03 p.m. bus at Ramsey Station.

When Ramsey’s commuter rail station opened 14 months ago, Metro Transit agreed to extend Bus Route 852, once a day, four miles west to the train station, to give Ramsey residents a midday alternative to Northstar trains designed for early morning and late-afternoon commuters. But the added bus stop has turned out to be a little-used one that Metro Transit says has wasted fuel and manpower.

Come June, which will be 15 months into what was supposed to be an 18-month trial run, it’s likely to be the end of the line for the extension.

“Rarely does anybody get off here,” bus driver Glen Wiemelt said as he prepared to leave the Ramsey station Wednesday without passengers. “I’ve had as many as three riders get on here, but never more than that. This is typical.”

The 32-mile 852 express route is among Metro Transit’s busiest, averaging 1,100 rides per weekday. But the 2013 average ridership for the four-mile route extension was one customer per trip, Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr said.

Horvath, 25, a University of Minnesota student, is often the only passenger on the 1:03 p.m. bus to downtown Minneapolis until it reaches its second stop, at Anoka Technical College in Anoka, eight minutes later.

“I have my own seat, second row from the front, and I’ve had conversations with the driver,” said Horvath, who instead took a Northstar train to Minneapolis on Wednesday. “Sometimes, there’s also a security guard who gets on at Ramsey Station. I’ve gotten to know the other guy.”

Test began last March

There are a dozen eastbound 852 buses that begin routes at the technical college or farther west and finish downtown, but only the 1:03 begins out at the Ramsey Station. The north-metro city lobbied for the bus stop but now realizes the experiment, which began in March, was a mistake.

“I instructed Metro Transit that it would be OK to stop the service,” said Kurt Ulrich, Ramsey’s administrator. “We gave it a go. We don’t know why it hasn’t been utilized.”

Ulrich and Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland say the extension of the route to Ramsey Station will likely be discontinued in June, pending approval of the Ramsey City Council.

Ramsey residents are paying $295,000 a year to be in a transit taxing district — with taxes going toward Metro Transit services, including Northstar. The city does not pay extra to have Route 852 extended to the Ramsey Station. Metro Transit said it didn’t have an estimate of the cost of extending the route.

Horvath, who says he’s between his junior and senior year at the university, gets a ride from his home in Elk River to the Ramsey Station most afternoons. He’s not sure what he’ll do without the midday bus service.

“I like this bus,” he said. “I’ll miss the quiet of being by myself.”

 

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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