Last year, Metro Transit provided a record-setting 85.5 million rides, which on the surface sounds like good news.

But a look at the data shows that not everything was rosy in 2015. The number of bus rides dropped by 8.6 percent as the area’s largest transit agency gave slightly more than 62.1 million rides.

Some of that decline can be attributed to the fact that more customers are boarding trains. More than 10.6 million trips were taken on the Blue Line, the most since its 2004 debut. Transit riders took nearly 12.4 million rides on the newer Green Line, and its average weekday ridership of 37,400 was nearing the 2030 forecast of 41,000. Even the Northstar commuter line saw a slight uptick in ridership.

But the bus system is the backbone of the transit system, and Metro Transit is taking steps to make sure the one-year drop in bus riders does not become a trend.

Metro Transit’s efforts to boost ridership include the launch of the region’s first urban Bus Rapid Transit Line, also known as the A Line. When it opens in June, buses will run from the 46th Street Station to Rosedale Center via Snelling Avenue with fewer stops and faster trips than the current Route 84. Last year the agency installed new shelters and put up signs featuring stop IDs, route maps and instructions for getting real-time arrival information. By midsummer, there will be a new app that allows riders to pay their fares by phone, plan trips and access schedules. That’s all good, but nothing makes up for actual service.

With the goal of providing an additional 100,000 rides this year and attracting new bus riders, Metro Transit is beefing up service on its high-frequency network and adding weekend and late-night service on others.

Currently Metro Transit has 10 high frequency routes on which buses run every 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. That will grow to 15. The latest addition was part of Route 11 between 29th Avenue NE. and 46th Street Station.

Want to make it ‘easy to use’

Other existing routes such as Route 721 from Brooklyn Center to Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park now have buses that run earlier and later on weekdays and more frequently on the weekends. Route 643 from downtown Minneapolis to Minnetonka will operate more frequently on weekdays plus have Saturday service. Route 30, which runs from north Minneapolis along West Broadway to the Westgate light-rail station in St. Paul will also get Saturday service. Owl service has or will be added on parts of Routes 3, 10, 17, 18 and 54, which serves the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.

“We hear from customers who would like to do something on weekends but don’t have service frequently enough or don’t have service,” said Adam Harrington, director of service development. “We’re looking at how we can improve service to the existing customer base and grow that base.”

Metro Transit is sending mailings to those who live within a half-mile of lines getting enhanced service and marketing the improvements through revamped social media campaigns and other forms of advertising.

“When you know that you just have to walk to the bus stop and that a trip will be coming shortly, that’s a great convenience without having to plan every trip,” Harrington said. “When it’s frequent, it’s easy to use.”


Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail, tweet@stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.