Surging ridership on Metro Transit's Northstar Line during the third quarter of 2013 mirrored a trend that saw a many of the nation's commuter rail lines post strong gains and fuel an increase in U.S. public transportation usage for the ninth time in the past 11 quarters, according to a report out last week by American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Ridership on the Northstar Line, which runs from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis, was up 15.1 percent for the first nine months of 2013 when compared with same time period in 2012. In total, Metro Transit provided 610,595 rides on Northstar trains, an increase of 80,143, said agency spokesman John Siqveland.

Twenty-two of the nation's 28 commuter rail lines saw ridership increases as overall commuter rail commuting rose by 1.9 percent, APTA said. Minneapolis was one of eight cities that saw a double-digit increases. The others were Austin, Texas, Anchorage, Stockton, Calif., Lewisville, Texas, Portland, Ore., Oceanside, Calif., and San Carlos, Calif. In Salt Lake City, the Utah Transit Authority saw more than a 100 percent increase with the opening a new line.

Overall, rides on all modes of public transportation were up by 1.5 percent nationwide, the report said. More than 2.7 billion trips were taken on bus, light-rail trains, commuter lines and subways/ elevate lines during the third quarter of 2013, or 39 million more rides than in the previous year.

"This continued demand for public transportation demonstrates the value of public transit to individuals and the communities they live in, no matter their size," said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

Northstar, which celebrated its fourth anniversary in November, attributed its gain to several factors. A $1 fare decrease that was instituted as a promotion to attract riders in August 2012 became permanent in April. Metro Transit also added extra trains for large-scale events such as last summer's Kenny Chesney concert at Target Field. Metro Transit set a record for pre-sale tickets for the July 12th show. Free Wi--Fi was added in the fall.

Average weekday ridership topped 3,000 for the first time in June, Metro Transit said. Since it's opening, customers have boarded Northstar trains more than 2.9 million times.

Across the nation, ridership on light-rail trains grew by more than 3 percent with the largest gains in New Orleans, Denver, Salt Lake City and Pittsburgh. Cities that have subways or elevated trains collectively saw a 2.4 percent ridership increase while bus ridership was up 0.7 percent, APTA said.

Melaniphy attributed the increase in all modes to new services along with fluctuating gas prices and recovering economies.

"When gas prices are high and volatile, more people decide to try public transportation to save money," Melaniphy said. "Nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transportation in the United States are for work commutes. When a local economy rebounds with new jobs, public transportation ridership increases in that community."

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