Bus riding and routes

by Erin Ghere

Although spring is traditionally a time when commuters walk and ride bikes, this year the bus-riding trend is on the rise.
The number of riders on metro buses rose more during 1998 than any time in the past two decades, according to the March/April issue of Council Directions, the Metropolitan Council newsletter.
“It has been an important year for Metro Transit,” said Bob Gibbons, director for customer service.
Not only has the agency recorded its highest percentage ridership increase in 21 years, it also recorded its highest number of trips in the past five years, Gibbons said.
Metro buses logged a 6.4 percent increase from 1997, which translates to slightly more than 66 million bus rides.
The increase is attributed to several factors. A big part is additional funding from the Legislature, according to Council Directions.
The 1997 Legislature gave Metro Transit $4.7 million, but stipulated that the number of riders increase at least 3 percent by June 1999. With this mandate came extra funding for the agency’s programs.
“(The Legislature) gave us the funding to allow us to grow,” Gibbons said.
As a result, the agency restarted their 24-hour service on key routes — a service that hasn’t been operational since the 1960s.
A route from Woodbury to downtown Minneapolis and an additional limited-service — and faster — route along University Avenue also sprang from the additional funding.
Overall, service increased 3.8 percent, compared to the 6.4 percent growth in ridership.
“Any time you can increase your ridership more than your expansion, that shows demand,” Gibbons said.
One reason ridership numbers increased is because Metro Transit changed its transfer policy last July.
Before, a rider could take four buses going one way over the span of two and a half hours with the transfer pass. Now riders have the same time limit, but can take as many buses as they need in any direction.
Finally, the agency began programs in employer outreach.
During the summer of 1998, Metro Transit joined the Metropass program, which offers discounted rates to employees of companies who participate.
The companies subsidize most of the cost of the bus pass and the employees get a $74-per-month bus pass for $25.
The two most recent companies to join, TCF Bank and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, begin their programs today.
Metro Transit expects the number of riders to continue to rise along with the population of the Twin Cities. The Metropolitan Council expects 650,000 people to move to the area in the next 20 years, Gibbons said.
“We expect our service to double in size in that time,” he said.