Metro Transit plans to expand a pilot that provides all-you-can-ride passes to residents of apartments, condos and multiunit buildings with their rent.

Randi Myhre participated the Residential Pass program during a six-month trial in 2019, and said she is thrilled it will be coming back this fall.

"It's a wonderful perk," said Myhre, who lives in Oaks Station Place, an apartment building adjacent to the Blue Line's 46th Street station in south Minneapolis. "It's a top amenity," she said, ranking it higher on her list of priorities than having access to the building's fitness center, party lounge and theater room.

Oaks Station Place was one of four buildings along light-rail lines and high-frequency bus routes in the Twin Cities where Metro Transit tested the program. Building owners paid Metro Transit $14 per month for each unit and offered one pass per household as part of their leases. (A regular Metropass for unlimited rides costs $83 per month.)

"Residents absolutely loved it," said Jennifer Hall, regional manager for Oaks Properties, which has three properties near the Blue Line and one near Union Depot in downtown St. Paul. "We have lots of people who rent here because of the light rail. Instead of paying for parking and the hassle, they like to take the light rail."

During the six-month pilot, more than 60% of residents living in the four test buildings used the Residential Pass. Bus and train trips taken by residents who did not have a monthly pass rose by 78%, said Michael Krantz, a development analyst with Metro Transit's Transit-Oriented Development Office.

"The key impetus was that it was easier to take transit," he said. "We are very encouraged by those results."

Metro Transit this fall will work with 20 property owners to offer the passes, and will look to offer the program more widely in 2022, Krantz said. The agency is already getting inquiries from officials in Bloomington, Richfield and St. Louis Park wanting to offer passes there, he said.

These kinds of bulk residential pass programs are becoming more common, Krantz said. Transit systems in the California cities of Oakland, San Mateo and San Jose offer similar programs.

Besides being a way for Metro Transit to boost ridership that slumped during the pandemic, the pass program could be a good tool to recruit new residents. Hall, who plans to offer bulk passes to tenants at the four properties her company owns, said they can be a "big incentive," especially as parking becomes more difficult.

This spring, the Minneapolis City Council eliminated parking requirements on new developments citywide. St. Paul followed suit in August. Both cities are trying to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads while encouraging walking, biking and transit use.

"When we build close to the light rail, our ratio of parking to apartments is less than one-to-one," Hall said. "The transit system is fantastic for attracting new people; they don't necessarily want to drive. It saves people money and makes it easier going downtown or to Mall of America."

Providing on-site parking can be costly for builders, too, and in turn can make it hard to provide affordable housing, Krantz said. The pass, he said, can be a tool to offset a parking shortage.

Myhre, a heavy transit user, sees another benefit. "Taking transit is a key to reducing our carbon footprint."

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