Ridership continues unabated

Overall, Metro Transit has seen a hike in the use of its services over the course of a decade.

by Kristina Busch

Despite a decrease in bus ridership, more people than ever are using Metro Transit as a means to commute between work, school and home, according to a Metro Transit press release.
With a weekday average of more than 276,000 rides last year and a steadily increasing rider population, use of Metro Transit buses and light rail trains has continued to grow since 2005. Last year’s ridership eclipsed 2014’s record numbers by nearly 1.2 million rides.
The January Metro Transit report says nearly 86 million trips were taken in 2015 — a figure that was not expected to be met until 2030, said spokesperson Howie Padilla.
Part of the reason behind the increase is the June 2014 opening of the Green Line light rail.
“In 2014, the Green Line was only opened for half a year,” Padilla said. “But its popularity was noticeable from the beginning.”
At the same time, bus ridership decreased by about 9 percent. 
But considering that many of its major routes are currently blocked by construction, Padilla said, the decrease doesn’t reflect how well the bus system is doing.
He said bus ridership is expected to bounce back in coming years, helped by a new A Line route, improved bus stop signs and a new cellphone app.
As the Twin Cities’ population grew, so did its use of transit. Ridership for public transportation was up 3.5 percent in 2014. 
All-day, constant service and the capability to transfer from line to line downtown have nudged that figure along, according to a Metro Transit release. 
The development of businesses along the bus routes and light rail lines has also drawn people from suburban areas to consider public transit not only as a means, but as a destination, too, Padilla said. 
“We’ve heard of several people making housing decisions where one of the requirements is they want to be close to a transit-way,” he said.
When Metro Transit projected the Green Line’s ridership, it was far underestimated, said Yingling Fan, University of Minnesota director of Global Transit Innovations. 
“They didn’t recognize that students tended to use transit more frequently compared to the general population,” she said.
Students are a major part of the Metro Transit ridership population, she said, because they tend to lack other transportation options or can’t afford frequent parking.
According to University Parking and Transportation Services, 25 percent of students, faculty and staff regularly used public transportation in 2014. 
“The younger generation tends to be more inclined to use transit,” Fan said, adding that students embrace an “urban lifestyle.”
There is also less of a stigma with public transportation because transit systems have improved significantly compared to several years ago, she said. 
Since the buses and trains also offer Wi-Fi, students are able to work on homework or use their smartphones while they ride to school and back, said University Commuter
Student Engagement Adviser for Off-Campus Living Caitlin Herby.  
With 12 percent of students living at home last year and a majority of first-year commuters traveling from home, U-Pass purchases increased, she said. Last fall, she said, 19,000 U-Passes were sold.