Metro Transit ridership so far this year is 60.6 million, or 2.1 million more rides than the same nine-month period in 2010, agency officials reported Friday. Buses the key

Bus ridership accounted for the year-over-year gain, posting a 4.5 percent increase to 52.3 million rides.

Ridership increased in all three types of bus service:

• Urban local routes - the heart of all-day service - increased 4.3 percent, or 1.8 million rides to 43.8 million.

• Freeway-oriented express bus routes were up 5.1 percent, or 351,000 rides to 7.3 million.

• Suburban crosstown routes grew 5.9 percent, or 70,500 rides to 1.3 million.

Train ridership lags

Both the Hiawatha light-rail and Northstar commuter rail lines saw slight declines in their January-September ridership.

• Hiawatha was down 1.6 percent to 7.8 million.

• Northstar was down 1.9 percent to 552,000.

Average weekday commuter ridership was up -- Hiawatha up 1.3% and Northstar up 6.6% -- but off-peak ridership was down. Metro Transit officials attributed the decline to fewer special-event rides to Twins and Vikings games and other downtown events. Northstar was further affected by a freight train derailment near Fridley in mid-July that halted rail service for several days.

Shooting for No. 2

Hiawatha light rail is on pace to deliver the second-highest annual ridership in its 7-year history, Metro Transit said. Last year was the highest, at 10.5 million rides.

Success in the cards

Through September, 221,000 individuals used Go-To Cards to pay fares on Metro Transit buses and trains -- more cards than were used in all of 2010, the agency reported. Go-To Cards now make up 41 percent of all fare transactions.