Fresh off record-setting ridership in 2013, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) saw even more passengers last year.
The agency, which provides service in several Twin Cities suburbs south of the Minnesota River, provided 2,812,265 rides last year. That was up from 2.7 million in 2013, an increase of 3.9 percent.
The opening of the Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan, the addition of Wi-Fi on buses and more frequent service to the University of Minnesota contributed to the increase. Ridership on the Metro Red Line more than doubled.
"The economy proved stronger in 2014, and gas prices plummeted, but ridership remained strong," said Beverly Miller, MVTA executive director.
Express Route 460, which runs between Burnsville and downtown Minneapolis, accounted for 15 percent of MVTA's riders, while express Route 477 between Apple Valley and downtown Minneapolis carried 13 percent of the load.
Among routes with the biggest growth:
• Local Route 438, a circular route through Eagan with a stop at the Cedar Grove Transit Station across from the Twin Cities Premium Outlets, saw a 76 percent jump from 7,376 in 2013 to 12,996 in 2014.
• Local Route 440, which serves Apple Valley and the Cedar Grove Transit Station, was up 50 percent from 28,786 in 2013 to 43,039 in 2014.
• Express Route 477, which serves the U and the Cedar Grove and Apple Valley transit stations, increased 29 percent from 48,843 in 2013 to 60,698 in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Metro Red Line bus rapid transit service between the Mall of America and Apple Valley on Cedar Avenue opened in June 2013, and the route saw ridership rise from 130,733 the rest of that year to 265,514 during its first full year in 2014. Average daily ridership peaked at 11,198 in September.
"The MVTA is very pleased with our 2014 ridership growth," said Clint Hooppaw, the MVTA board chair and a member of the Apple Valley City Council.
This year could bring even more growth. The agency recently merged with BlueXpress and expanded service into Shakopee and Prior Lake. The MVTA also started service from those communities to the U, plus new express service from the Marschall Road Transit Station to downtown Minneapolis. And it added more peak-period service between the Rosemount Transit Station and downtown Minneapolis.
The agency is also commissioning a study to look at how to serve the needs of riders in northern Scott County.
MVTA serves Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Prior Lake, Rosemount, Savage and Shakopee.