LRT Beats Bus in the Central Corridor

A Green Line train on Cedar Street at Exchange in downtown St. Paul.

A Green Line train on Cedar Street at Exchange in downtown St. Paul.

Yesterday Metro Transit put out a press release that Central Corridor ridership has doubled since the Green Line started up. That’s a true statement, but there’s more to it, so here are some additional numbers.

Before Green Line construction started, Routes 16, 50, and 94 together were averaging 650,000 riders per month. During the construction period ridership declined each year, so by 2014 the three bus routes were hauling 573,000 per month, a 12% drop from before construction. All of that reduction occurred on Routes 16 and 50. That was no surprise, given the disruption to businesses along University and the bus detour away from the center of the campus via Dinkytown. During this period, the Route 94 express actually increased ridership by 6.7%.

Although there was a big ridership increase when the Green Line opened in June, the September numbers tell a more complete story. They include the U of M startup, which upped the August numbers by 11%, not unexpected. Also, by September, the novelty ridership by people who were simply curious had probably tailed off. The Green Line total was 1,063,500 in September (37,178 per average weekday), for a corridor total of 1,185,000. Only 10% of the corridor ridership is still on buses.

As of September, the corridor total had increased 107% over the first half of 2014, but only 82% over the pre-construction level of ridership.

It’s interesting to see what happened to bus ridership. Route 50, the limited stop service, is completely gone of course. Express Route 94 lost about half of its service, but retained 55% of its pre-Green Line ridership, a testimony to its faster speed between the downtowns.

The truncated Route 16, which still runs every 20 minutes from downtown St. Paul to TCF Bank Stadium, is only hauling 15% of its pre-construction total. That means that the Green Line is carrying 85% of the former Route 16 riders. There were those who felt that low income transit dependent riders might resist the switch to LRT. Clearly that hasn’t happened. The addition of the half-mile stations at Hamline, Victoria and Western undoubtedly had a positive impact on the shift from local bus to LRT.

A ridership footnote: Although I haven’t seen any numbers to document it, the Green Line ridership increase is even more impressive because I believe it is carrying fewer students between the East and West Bank U of M campuses than the buses did. The U runs a frequent campus shuttle, but in the last several years before the Green Line many students had shifted to Metro Transit buses to cross the river. This is because they can use their unlimited ride UPasses, so they began taking whichever bus–Metro Transit or campus shuttle–came first. That has changed for two reasons:

  1. Now that Routes 16 and 50 are gone, the campus shuttles run more frequently than the Green Line and the West Bank bus stops are closer to the campus buildings than the LRT station.

  2. The shuttles stop at Coffman Union and at Oak & Washington, which the Green Line does not.

Distribution of Boardings

It’s interesting to see where people are boarding. According to data from the first half of September, here’s the breakdown:

9200 at the four downtown Minneapolis stations (Target Field to Downtown East)

9000 at the three University of Minnesota stations (West Bank to Stadium Village)

4400 from Prospect Park to Fairview Avenue

9500 from Snelling Avenue to Rice Street

5300 at the four downtown St. Paul stations (Robert Street to Union Depot)

To slice it another way, it was split almost evenly between the cities, 19,000 in Minneapolis and 18,400 in St. Paul.

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

15 thoughts on “LRT Beats Bus in the Central Corridor

  1. Joe

    Where’s the station by station data? Is there a link we can follow to access it? (Does anyone have the planned volumes at stations?)

  2. Jim

    It’s great to see the big ridership numbers. But I would also like to see the revenue numbers as well. How much in fares is it collecting? I’m very curious to see how it compares to the 16/50 and the Blue Line.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs Post author

      The boarding riders are counted automatically by the fare machines. I don’t know if the trains has automatic passenger counters in the doorways. In the past the off counts were made through manual sampling. Here’s a station boarding count for early September:

      1,124 Target Field Station & Platform
      1,720 Warehouse Station & Platform
      2,897 Nicollet Mall Station & Platform
      1,327 Government Plaza Station & Platform
      2,099 Downtown East Station & Platform
      2,168 West Bank Station & Platform
      5,105 East Bank Station & Platform
      1,772 Stadium Village Station & Platform
      782 Prospect Park Station & Platform
      1,301 Westgate Station & Platform
      1,195 Raymond Ave Station & Platform
      1,119 Fairview Ave Station & Platform
      2,346 Snelling Ave Station & Platform
      1,507 Hamline Ave Station & Platform
      1,503 Lexington Pkwy Station & Platform
      737 Victoria St Station & Platform
      1,460 Dale St Station & Platform
      744 Western Ave Station & Platform
      1,213 Capitol & Rice St Station & Platform
      695 Robert St Station & Platform
      844 10th St Station & Platform
      2,611 Central Station & Platform
      1,115 Union Depot Station & Platform
      37,385 Green Line Total

      1. Grant

        It’s great to see that Nicollet Mall is still the most popular station on the line, I heard foot traffic has increased by 20% on the mall. It’s going to be interesting to see what retail goes in Nic on Fifth and 4marq because obviously they’re going to be seem by many people every day.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          I’ve been really surprised at how busy the Nicollet Mall station has been on game days (obviously, a rather different thing). I guess those people must be transferring from buses or something? It doesn’t seem like a great area to park and ride from.

          1. Monte Castleman

            When we went to the Metrodome, usually once every couple of years, we’d always park in the Nicollet Mall area, it’s logical coming in from the south and parking was cheaper. Maybe people are doing this and hopping on the train instead of walking, especially since it’s now at TCF.

      2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        Compare those numbers to the 2030 ridership projections in the 2008 FEIS coupled with the infill station projections found here

        Target Field Station 400
        Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue 3,700
        Nicollet Mall 6,690
        Government Plaza 1,050
        Downtown East / Metrodome 4,120
        West Bank Station 1,200
        East Bank Station 6,680
        Stadium Village Station 970
        29th Avenue Station 960
        Westgate Station 1,130
        Raymond Avenue Station 1,250
        Fairview Avenue Station 1,900
        Snelling Avenue Station 2,930
        Hamline 600
        Lexington Parkway Station 930
        Victoria 400
        Dale Street Station 710
        Western 600
        Rice Street Station 1,200 + Capitol East Station 390 = 1,590
        10th Street Station 1,860
        4th and Cedar Streets Station 1,200
        Union Depot Station 2,120
        Total Daily Boardings 42,960

        1. Nathanael

          – There’s been diversion of ridership from East Bank (predicted) to West Bank (actual), and from Union Depot (predicted) to 4th & Cedar (actual).
          – There are far fewer people in the downtown Minneapolis segment than predicted.
          – Every other area (outside downtown Minneapolis) is getting significantly more riders than predicted.

  3. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Very good, but unfortunately as expected there’s little indication of reduction in automobile traffic on I-94.

  4. Pingback: Green Line Getting Up to Speed in Fits and Starts |

  5. Nathanael

    Soooo, with route 16 having an anemic fraction of its former ridership, how long until Metro Transit proposes getting rid of it and using the money to run other, more popular routes?

    I understand that they had to keep route 16 around to satisfy people’s worries… but now that it’s clear that people are using the LRT, it doesn’t make much sense to keep it around any more.

Comments are closed.