Back in September, Metro Transit had its biggest ridership day ever when passengers took nearly 370,000 rides on buses, light rail and commuter trains. It happened on a Thursday when the Twins, Vikings, Gophers and Saints all had home games. The State Fair was in session. And all that was on top of regular commuters heading to and from work, shopping or anywhere else they typically go on a weekday.

A majority of the rides — 247,873 — were taken on local route or express buses. Light-rail ridership also hit a high watermark, with 117,063 rides taken on the Blue and Green lines. Even the Northstar had a decent showing, with 4,690 rides while baseball fans used the Twins express 378 times. Riders made 6,100 trips on the new A-line, a rapid bus service between Rosedale Center and the 46th Street Station.

As transit vehicles were packed, a few Drive readers wondered if the record ridership on Sept. 1 translated into an all-time one-day haul at the fare box.

That is still being determined, but the estimated $464,500 collected was “highest in recent memory,” said spokesman Howie Padilla.

Calculating fare records are tricky because customers pay different rates depending on the mode of travel and the time of day. The agency also offers special fares such as its All Day Pass, which allows riders to take unlimited trips from the time of purchase until 2 a.m. the next day, and round trip rides to the State Fair for just $5. With more riders taking advantage of discounted fares, total trips like on Sept. 1 could be higher than on a “normal” day when perhaps fewer people ride but pay the regular off-peak, peak or express fares allowing the agency to take in more moola.

Here is how Sept. 1 riders paid: 56 percent of riders paid cash (that includes credit card purchases for train rides) while 44 percent used their transit cards. Metro Transit collected 149,600 off-peak fares and 142,259 peak fares on light-rail trains and buses. It had another 5,129 off-peak and 30,529 peak fares on express services and commuter rail plus 39,509 fares on State Fair express buses.

Another 8,233 All Day Passes and 610 24-Hour passes were sold. Both passes — starting at $4.50 — get cheaper as the day goes on. Northstar Family passes — good for two adults and up to three kids (ages 6-17) or ages 65 and older — run from $11 to $20 depending on boarding location. On Sept. 1, 172 passes brought in $2,901.

Record or not, Sept. 1 was truly a one-day farebox windfall; the metro area’s largest transit agency could use a few more days like that.

Average weekday ridership on all modes in 2015 was approximately 276,400. Over the past 12 years, total annual rides have risen from 73.3 million to 85.8 million last year. But just as ridership has risen, so have costs. Yet fares have remained unchanged since 2008.

At $1.75 for an off-peak local bus ride, Metro Transit riders enjoy bargain fares compared to Milwaukee and Miami, where cash fare is $2.25. In Portland, Dallas, Atlanta and Salt Lake City it’s $2.50. Denver charges $2.60 and New York $2.75.

In 2014, Metro Transit had operating expenses of about $345 million and collected $93.6 million at the fare box, according to the National Transit Database. This month the Met Council said it’s facing an $89 million transportation deficit over the next two years. While nobody wants to pay higher fares, another quarter may not be too much to pay to keep the system robust and stave off service cuts.

 

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