Ridership on Metro Transit buses and trains increased for the fourth consecutive year in 2013, at nearly 81.4 million rides, according to figures released Thursday.
The number of rides was up 315,000 systemwide, agency officials said. That includes buses, light-rail trains and the Northstar commuter line.
"Only twice in 32 years has Metro Transit ridership reached this level," said General Manager Brian Lamb.
Light-rail traffic posted a surprising decline. The number of people using the Blue Line from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America dipped 3.2 percent to just over 10.1 million. But gains on the Northstar Line (up by 86,963 rides) and urban bus service (up by 565,266 rides) more than offset the drop in ridership on the light-rail line. Agency officials attributed the Blue Line decrease to weekend disruptions.
The new Green Line, which will run between Minneapolis and St. Paul, will begin service on June 14, the Metropolitan Council announced Wednesday.
The number of rides taken on Metro Transit's 53 freeway-oriented express routes rose slightly, from 9.459 million in 2012 to 9.488 million in 2013, while numbers on the agency's six suburban local routes fell 1.9 percent to 1.630 million.
The bright spot was the Northstar Line, where fares were slashed last year to improve ridership. Customers took 787,239 rides, the highest ridership since the line between Big Lake and Minneapolis began four years ago. Weekday ridership, the line's primary target, was up 17 percent.
"The line's weatherproof reliability, comfortable ride and new onboard Wi-Fi service offer an increasingly attractive package for work travelers," Lamb said.
After declining by 117,000 rides from 2011 to 2012, urban local bus service saw a resurgence in 2013. Total ridership on Metro Transit's 60 routes was 59,300,133 and accounted for 70 percent of all trips taken on Metro Transit vehicles.
Agency officials said the gains were largely because of extended evening and weekend service in the east metro and a partnership with Minneapolis public schools to provide bus service for students at South and Southwest high schools.
Earlier this month, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority also reported a ridership record in 2013. The agency, which provides bus service in several communities south of the Minnesota River, said more than 2.7 million people boarded its buses and eclipsed the old mark set in 2008 by 67,500 rides.
Much of that jump was attributed to the Red Line, the bus rapid transit line that runs along Cedar Avenue between the Mall of America and the Apple Valley Transit Station. The line, which opened in June, accounted for 130,733 rides, MVTA officials said.