Metro Transit ridership skyrockets

Metro Transit starts off the year with a considerable increase in ridership.

As gas prices skyrocketed around the country this past week, Metro Transit unveiled its own skyrocketing numbers. According to the transit agency, first quarter ridership was 19.2 million, marking the highest level since 1984. Certainly the gas prices played a role in the astounding numbers, but this is no fluke. The trend in Metro Transit’s numbers deserves recognition; mass transit must play a significant role in the Twin Cities’ future.

This recent news follows last year’s ridership numbers which were the highest in 25 years. Recently, transit has become more appealing as oil prices rise and the Twin Cities continue to experience road congestion; congestion which has been exacerbated by Crosstown and Interstate 35W bridge construction. But the real message is that we can’t ignore mass transit. People will use buses and rail, and future urban planning must take this into account.

The most significant increase for Metro Transit was related to the light rail. The number of riders on the Hiawatha line was more than 2 million for the first time. The line has completely outperformed expectations, and this only provides more evidence that the light rail can attract riders who won’t use buses.

The numbers also make Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of Central Corridor funding all the more embarrassing. There’s no reason to believe that gas prices will decrease even to the levels of the late ’90s, and all the construction projects in the world can’t prevent roads from becoming congested (see Los Angeles).

Recently, the largest areas of growth have been in outlying suburbs, but the cost of commuting into the cities is rapidly growing. If metro-area cities and counties will commit to transit as a long-term solution, it will promote smarter development in our suburbs and urban core. Investments in transit options will ensure that the Twin Cities continue to have a high quality of living.