Light rail transit: a new alternative for U students

Alan Butterworth

Since the grand opening of the light rail transit system, University student Sara Benning said her rush-hour commute to school has been cut from 45 to 30 minutes.

“It’s a great thing,” she said.

Benning is one of many students using the light rail transit system, and Metro Transit officials are seeing more people use the system than they predicted.

Officials estimated 462,463 people used the light rail in July, which is nearly double what the organization expected.

Although overall use has been higher, officials said they have not been able to track how many students have used the system.

Officials can estimate how many students use the bus lines because of the magnetic strips on the back of U-Pass cards, Lori Ann Vicich, the University Parking and Transportation Marketing manager, said.

Light-rail riders do not swipe cards, making data collection more difficult.

It is expected that student use will increase in December, Vicich added, when the line extends to the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport.

Light rail transit began operating in late June with an eight-mile track and 12 stations between downtown Minneapolis and Fort Snelling.

When the second phase extends the line, free rides will be offered to encourage people to try the commute with the light rail transit system, Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said.

Several people at the University said they’re looking forward to seeing the light rail transit system expand.

“I will probably take it to the airport to pick people up,” University staff member Kate Seager said. “It will be much easier than driving.”

The Downtown East/Metrodome station has become the main station for University students, faculty and staff. From the station, light rail users can bus to campus for free on routes 16 and 50.

Students with the U-Pass can use the light rail and will soon be able to use the new Go-To system, which is a reusable fare card that tracks stored value on a microchip. The new card will work on both trains and buses.

Future expansions to light rail are in the planning stages. This fall, officials will decide whether to develop a possible light rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Steve Morris, the Central Corridor project manager, said the line would run 11 miles east and west between Interstate 94 and University Avenue, with possible stops in the East Bank, West Bank and Stadium Village.

“Transit is very important to the University of Minnesota,” he said. “Everybody at the University would appreciate greater access, but there is never enough parking.

“One would expect the University to grow, but most people don’t expect this growth to happen by building new roads,” he said.