The metro area’s second stab at creating a rapid busway is working out better than the first.
The A Line transitway from Roseville to south Minneapolis has just reported ridership from its first half-year in business, and the result is a solid surge in ridership.
Transit planners have long worried about the brand image created by so-called BRT, bus-rapid transit, vs. LRT, light-rail transit, which smoothly whisks along tens of millions of riders each year.
BRT is billed as providing most of the benefit at a fraction of the cost. But the Twin Cities’ first effort, the south-metro Red Line, stumbled, failing to meet projections after its launch in June 2013.
The east metro A Line is the first “arterial” busway locally, meaning it runs along busy inner urban thoroughfares such as Snelling Ave. and Ford Pkwy. Several more just like it are being planned.
Last summer, Metro Transit reported that ridership in the Snelling corridor jumped more than 35 percent in the first weeks after its June 11 launch. A corridor with about 3,800 weekday rides rose to 5,150, with nearly 4,300 on the A Line and the rest staying with the slower Route 84 conventional service, which has more stops.
The latest word is that the two routes together continued to see modest growth over the last half of the year, averaging 5,400 weekday rides. The A Line accounted for about 830,000 rides during its first six months of service. The average weekday usage is reckoned to have risen to 4,521 riders overall during the period.
Scott Michaelis, general manager at Rosedale, where the A Line ends in the north, said he isn’t sure whether the new line is having an impact at the big regional mall.
“We don’t track those numbers,” he said. And though the mall did enjoy “a robust year of sales in 2016,” he added, it also underwent a renovation and expansion making it hard to measure the A Line’s impact, if any.
Tricky to compare
It’s difficult to evaluate the success or failure of public transit, which can be buffeted by rising and falling gas prices. Metro Transit calculates that a $1 drop in gas prices results in a loss of 300,000 monthly rides.
A big problem faced by the south metro Red Line busway, from Apple Valley to the Mall of America, with connections there to Blue Line light rail, has been the long pause needed to reach the Cedar Grove station in Eagan, near the new outlet mall in that city. The detour off the highway add about 10 minutes to the round trip’s length.
A new highway median platform with an enclosed skyway letting riders reach the station on foot was supposed to open this winter. But Robin Selvig, customer relations manager at the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA), said she’s not sure that’s still the timetable. A meeting is coming up with Metro Transit and other parties to plan for opening events, she said, but she referred questions to that agency on updates and the latest ridership figures. The agency couldn’t be reached for comment.
The latest published figure for the Red Line, contained in an MVTA annual report is 265,000 rides for 2015, far short of the 830,000 for the A Line in its first six months.
The two lines serve different markets — urban and suburban — but both have faced criticism. The Red Line mainly takes commuters to light rail, while express buses race down the shoulders of highways, drawing more riders. And the A Line doesn’t have its own lane, causing purists to complain that it isn’t truly Bus Rapid Transit.
The Red Line benefits from the outlet mall, Twin Cities Premium Outlets, which opened in 2014. But the A Line awaits the arrival of some major developments that should push ridership higher. A Major League Soccer stadium is planned in the Midway area of St. Paul, and the redevelopment of the old Ford plant should increase activity along Ford Pkwy.
In addition, there has always been the thought that the A Line would be extended northward beyond Rosedale to a pair of college campuses, to some major corporate installations such as the Land O’Lakes headquarters, now being expanded in Arden Hills, and to the hundreds of acres of development coming to the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site, also in Arden Hills.
Upcoming busways include the C Line, from Brooklyn Center to downtown Minneapolis, mainly following Penn Ave., and the D Line, on Chicago and Fremont avenues, from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America.