UMN researchers look to make Twin Cities transportation more cost effective

The future of transportation in Twin Cities means incorporating ride sharing, hailing options with public transit.

Courtesy of Metro Transit.

Courtesy of Metro Transit.

Katie Salai

Improved shared transportation options and expanded transit systems are coming to the Twin Cities, according to University of Minnesota researchers. 

While current legislative actions support the expansion of light rail and bus rapid-transit systems, the University’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering is looking into the impact of shared transportation. A research team is working to improve efficiency of transit, especially connecting suburban regions.

Alireza Khani, a University transportation researcher, said the team hopes to show the benefits of integrated stations — a more cost-effective plan that would connect mass transit and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed 70 percent gas tax increase would allocate around $77 million for spending on roads and transit over the two-year course of the state budget. 

Current suburban bus transit routes have low ridership and can cost around $40 to $50 per passenger, Khani said. 

“We are looking at the alternative, which is to outsource the service in the suburban area where density is low and demand for transit is low,” Khani said. “So, to outsource the service to shared mobility systems [such as] Uber, Lyft, then invest that money to where there is a greater potential for higher ridership.” 

Khani said sometimes they hear people drive long distances to park at locations with better transit amenities. 

“There’s so many aspects to transportation … an important aspect of it is the social aspect,” Khani said. “We need to learn about users’ needs and their behaviors, and then we provide options suitable for their needs.” 

Metro Transit is currently looking to improve existing train stations to become mobility hubs where people can take transit, but also use car share and ride-sharing services to reach their destinations. 

“This may involve looking at the way that we accept fares, working with other partners to maybe package fares … you use the same app to pay for a ride on a bus and pay for a ride on a shared bike,” said Metro Transit spokesperson Drew Kerr. 

Kerr said that as the region continues to expand, transit is going to be increasingly important in moving a growing number of people around efficiently. Greater efforts to decrease car usage and alternatively use ride-hailing systems to access transit are at the forefront of the city’s shared mobility initiatives. 

Nonprofits such as Move Minneapolis have already been working to advocate for Metro Transit’s efforts in package transit deals to make them more accessible to a wider population. Executive Director Mary Morse Marti said people often don’t realize the expense of owning a car compared to transit. 

“Personally, cars are costing each of us anywhere from, you know, $5,000 to $9,000, every year.  That includes everything from gasoline and insurance to depreciation,” Marti said. “And at the same time, we need to understand that we’re paying tons of money for roads and bridges.”

Recent city statistics regarding car sharing have shown access to the option has helped encourage people to either reduce or even sell their personal vehicles, said Josh Johnson, advanced mobility manager for the City of Minneapolis. 

“But there’s a lot of work we have to do as a Midwestern car-centric city to kind of help people rethink what that means,” Johnson said. “How we can make shared mobility more equitable, not only in where vehicles are located, but how people are able to access them.”