June 11, 2019 10:16 PM
After record-breaking ridership numbers for bus, light rail and commuter rail in 2017 and 2018, the early figures for 2019 are down nearly across the board.
Bus ridership is down nine percent (1,030,518), North Star commuter rail is down eight percent (15,913) and light rail down four percent (210,667). In all, ridership is down seven percent, or just over 1.4 million riders.
"I think it's a pretty easy explanation actually," says Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla. "Super Bowl ... We had ten days of events that attracted how many hundreds of thousands of people here?"
Padilla says those Super Bowl numbers helped spike ridership in the first quarter of 2018. Conversely, snow and cold weather caused schools to close several times in the first quarter of 2019.
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"Each time that happens it's not only the students we're talking about," Padilla said. "It's (also) their parents who maybe aren't going to work because they have to be home with their children."
Relatively low gas prices are also a factor that make people more willing to drive their cars instead of taking mass transit.
Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, is a frequent critic of light rail and commuter rail, even thought the North Star line runs through his district.
"Commuters in my area, this train does them no good if their work destination isn't downtown Minneapolis," Zerwas said.
Zerwas says the North Star's own annual report indicates it costs nearly $13,000 per rider in taxpayer subsidies to operate the line.
"We'd be better off mothballing this thing and leasing everyone a brand new car," Zerwas said.
The debate over light rail and commuter rail will continue even as construction is underway on the Southwest Light Rail line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. The Minnesota Legislature also just authorized a $650,000 study of extending the North Star from Big Lake to St. Cloud.
Updated: June 11, 2019 10:16 PM
Created: June 11, 2019 06:21 PM
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