Transit ridership in the Twin Cities continued to fall last year, due partly to the declining popularity of local bus service.
Overall ridership on public transportation in the Twin Cities reached 92 million in 2019, marking a decline of about 3% from the previous year. But bus ridership — the workhorse of the region’s transit system — declined 5% last year with 53 million rides provided, according to the Metropolitan Council, which released annual ridership figures Friday.
The decline in bus ridership is part of a national trend that has caused some hand-wringing among transit officials. The council said people here may be opting to drive instead of using transit due to cheap gas and low interest rates that make it easier to buy a car. Potential riders could be switching to ride- and bike-sharing services and scooters, as well.
Moreover, road construction in urban areas — including downtown Minneapolis, where many riders transfer — has created detours and delays for several of the system’s busier lines.
“We have heard from some downtown bus riders that construction reroutes have caused them to use their cars more,” said Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. But, he pointed out, “we continue to see increases when we invest in high-amenity, high-frequency service,” such as light rail and rapid buses.
Light-rail ridership on the Green Line, which links the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, set a record last year with 14.3 million rides, an annual increase of 3%.
Ridership on the Blue Line, which connects the Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis, was essentially flat with 11 million rides provided.
Metro Transit has launched several initiatives to improve the customer experience on its light-rail trains, including cleaning them more often and boosting the police presence following a spike in serious crime.
The three-year-old A Line, which connects Rosedale to the Blue Line’s 46th Street Station in Minneapolis, provided about 1.7 million rides, an increase of 3%.
The C Line, which began service about six months ago between downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, tallied 1.2 million rides.
The Met Council is lobbying state lawmakers for $55 million in bonding money to build two more rapid bus lines in the metro: the B Line connecting Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood to Union Depot in St. Paul, and the D Line linking Brooklyn Center to the Mall of America.
Several cities, including Houston, Seattle, Indianapolis and Austin, Texas, have increased bus ridership in recent years by adding service and improving the quality of existing service, according to Ben Fried, spokesman for TransitCenter, a New York-based advocacy group.
“The Twin Cities can do the same,” Fried said. “The features that make the rapid bus lines so attractive — frequent service, better bus stops, dedicated lanes, longer spacing between stops — can be applied more broadly throughout the network to save riders time and improve the experience of waiting for the bus.”
Northstar commuter rail service between downtown Minneapolis and the northwest exurb of Big Lake declined 2% to 767,767 rides last year.
“We’re really talking about how we move people around and get them where they want to go, like reaching good jobs,” said Met Council Chairman Charlie Zelle in a statement. “It’s not just about one transit line, it’s about the whole network. We choose to invest in lines that best build out the system and where riders get what they need.”