Chart of the Day: Top 10 Metro Transit Bus Routes by Ridership, 2014

Metro Transit released some 2014 ridership data today. Here are their top ten bus routes, by ridership.

Source: Metro Transit

Source: Metro Transit

Kind of crazy how it drops off after the first few routes. The busiest route, Route 5, is more than twice as busy as the fourth busiest route, Route 6. Route 16 still holds on with just a half year of real ridership–much of the route was discontinued after the Green Line opened. Also conspicuous is the lack of St. Paul routes on the list–I would imagine a huge chunk of the Route 3 ridership is within the University of Minnesota and Como neighborhoods in Minneapolis.

So, looking at these routes with lots of proven, existing ridership, how are we investing in them for the future?

A Very General Key:

  • Route 5: Emerson & Fremont in North Minneapolis, Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis (N-S)
  • Route 21: Lake Street in Minneapolis, Marshall & Selby in St. Paul (E-W)
  • Route 18: Nicollet Mall & Avenue in Minneapolis (N-S)
  • Route 6: Hennepin Avenue in South Minneapolis (N-S)
  • Route 10: Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis (N-S)
  • Route 3: Downtown Minneapolis to University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Como Avenue in St. Paul (E-W)
  • Route 16: University Avenue between Downtown Minneapolis and Downtown St. Paul (E-W) Note: Greatly reduced service after Green Line opened June 2014)
  • Route 19: Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis (N-S)
  • Route 17: Northeast Minneapolis to Nicollet Mall & Avenue to Uptown to St. Louis Park (N-S)
  • Route 4: Johnson Street in Northeast Minneapolis to Lyndale Avenue in South Minneapolis to Richfield (N-S)

You can check out the details of all the routes on Metro Transit’s website here.

The numbers:

Route 2014 Ridership
5 5,701,197
21 4,297,883
18 3,737,512
6 2,740,260
10 2,635,130
3 2,598,147
16 2,342,947
19 2,198,387
17 2,110,331
4 1,981,129
Total 30,342,923

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.

18 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Top 10 Metro Transit Bus Routes by Ridership, 2014

  1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

    I guess on the good side, the areas served by the 5, 21, 18, 6, 10, and 19 are all slated to see improvements via aBRT routes (well, Nic-Central streetcar for the 18/10, maybe a better bus still?). The 16 saw the Green Line come in (debate good/bad for more local trips). The 3, 4, and 17 are the only major ones not getting direct upgrades, but I’d wager a bet the majority of 17 trips are in the downtown/Nicollet+Hennepin zone.

    1. Matt Brillhart

      I too wonder how much of the 17’s ridership is on Hennepin (Lake to 24th) and on Nicollet (24th to Washington Ave) and could simply be replaced by increased frequencies on the 6 and 18. I feel bad for anyone stuck taking the 17 between say, West Calhoun n’hood or eastern St. Louis Park all the way to downtown. That is a long, slow ride – in a corridor with no express option if you live east of MN-100. It really seems like the 17 should either run “limited stop” between Uptown and the river (as it is redundant) or be dismantled and reconfigured entirely.

      I could see if/when SWLRT opens, the 17 portion in St. Louis Park could be broken off into a local route that terminates at West Lake LRT Station (or continue to serve Uptown Station until Midtown rail is running). The portion of the 17 between Uptown and Downtown could be reconfigured into a local circulator of sorts, serving people traveling between Loring, Stevens, Eat Street, & Uptown, instead of being a redundant radial route. The 17 in NE Minneapolis would be interlined with a different route on the south side, or simply terminate downtown.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Or better yet, combine the SLP part of the 17 you note with the 27 (Uptown TS to Hi-Lake Blue Line) and try to get east AND west 27s on a two-way 26th Street (maybe rename the route the 26), this way SLP and Phillips riders would have access to both Green and Blue LRT lines.

      2. Cedar

        I’m a 17 regular (although these days mostly from Whittier to Uptown, while before I picked it up downtown) and agree that increased frequency on the 18 would likely solve some of the crowding issue. Still, my impression is that there’s a significant portion of people getting off between Nicollet and Lyndale; I often barely squeeze on at 24th, but usually have a spot by the time we get to Lyndale. I wonder if greater frequency of the 4 could help, too, although to some extent how useful additional 4s or 6s would be depend also on where one is getting on the bus — as the 4s or 6s have a significantly different route through and out of downtown than do the 17 or 18.

      3. aexx

        I’d be wary of getting rid of the 17, if only because it’s really the only way to go from northern Whittier and Stevens Square to the Uptown/Calhoun area. I’ve visited friends in Whittier and we’ve thought about doing something in Uptown, only to realize that the 17 would cut out earlier than we would like (or was at a bad frequency), so we just skipped out – driving wouldn’t be worth it (or maybe even legal if we’re drinking) and it would be too far to walk.

        I do kind of like the interlining of NE’s 17 with the rest of the route. The urban community in Minneapolis is very South Minneapolis-centric and therefore likes to promote route changes–especially those in NE–that they perceive as slowing down their routes. But it makes it a pain in the ass for those of us in the NE/SE area to actually get anywhere by bus if everything south of downtown requires a transfer. Because transit already takes way too long in this city, my rule of thumb is that if I have to transfer, I’ll either drive or skip out. Having all routes that terminate downtown can only exacerbate that.

  2. Froggie

    I have similar data for the month of June, 2006. Of note, the Route 16 was #3 that month, behind Routes 5 and 21. Presumably because it was summertime and so far fewer students at the “U”.

  3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Makes me think the 5 could very well be replaced by a subway (or maybe LRT down Park Ave in S. Mpls, alongside a project to two-way Portland Ave) and it could actually do quite well.

      1. Matt Brillhart

        A couple problems with Matt’s original comment and your reply discounting it.

        To Matt’s subway comment, I think you’d first have to look at how rides are distributed along the 18 mile route. I’d guess that ridership between Brooklyn Center Transit Center and downtown is heaviest, followed by downtown to Chi-Lake. South Minneapolis density thins out very quickly and is almost exclusively single-family by 38th Street. I’d guess there’s a big stretch of the route between 38th-ish and 62 with relatively low ridership. Then things actually pick up again as you move into Richfield where there’s a decent mix of lower-priced apartments and workers heading to jobs around 494 and at MOA.

        I agree with Matt that a subway for *part* of the 5 should certainly be a consideration someday, though obviously not the entire route. Faster travel between say, West Broadway and Lake Street is a major need TODAY on every N-S bus route in the city.

        As to Adam’s averaging of ridership figures, a couple quibbles:
        1. Your 15.6k daily average is likely incorrect. If you were to control for weekends, I’d bet weekdays are a bit higher. Metro Transit can make this data available.
        2. Our region’s extreme rail bias. If the Route 5 were rail (combination of subway and surface), you could count on 50% higher ridership. If weekday ridership is already around 20k, were talking about nearly 30k rides a day on rail, and that’s on opening day. This would be a *very* viable rail corridor, but unfortunately we’re not at a point in society where we’re comfortable funding transit appropriately to build it underground (when ROW contraints make it necessary). That kinda gets at the problem we’re having with planning appropriate rail corridors. Any kind of ROW constraint whatsoever, and we immediately abandon urban corridors for the “easy” existing railroad corridors in the woods. That makes sense for commuter rail, but it’s no way to plan an urban-serving rapid transit system.

        That said, aBRT can’t be deployed on this route soon enough. That is a rock-solid investment that needs to get funded today

        1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

          I was not discounting rail along the corridor (if you notice, I did suggest that LRT is an option). However, I’m not so sure the cost-effectiveness is there for subway…which given my personal experience I associate with heavy rail.

          Regarding daily averages, I don’t disagree that weekday volumes are likely higher than weekend volumes. But since we don’t have that breakdown, all we can do for now is take the annual figure and divide by 365 days (which I did). Assuming the weekday/weekend breakdown isn’t much different than it was in June, 2006 (data I have which does break it down), a rough estimate would be ~17.7K on weekdays, ~11.5K on Saturdays, and ~7900 on Sundays/Holidays.

          On that note, it would be nice if Metro Transit did a better breakdown of ridership, both by route and by day of the week, and made it more publicly available. For the June 2006 data I have, I had to special-request it from the agency.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I’d be happy (at least in the interim) to see aBRT on the route, which I believe was a “low priority” and defunded for more park and ride money for SWLRT.

      In fact, Richfield plans not to include aBRT stop amenities in their Portland Avenue construction this summer since Metro Transit has no imminent plans — even though the basic stuff (platform, high curb) would be almost free to do now.

  4. Rosa

    I live on the 14 and near the 22, but a lot of times during off-peak hours I take the 21 to the 5 instead just because it’s so much less waiting. I’d love to see if they tracked where people are actually going, to see if they’re just getting routed to the most served lines instead of actually traveling the places those lines go directly.

  5. g bernard hughes

    it seems as though the busiest bus routes are in fact the busiest bus routes.

    these are also the routes with the highest frequency (i only have to wait abt 10 minutes for a 5, but i wait 1/2 an hr for a 9)

    so the question is: do these routes attract the most riders because they are the most frequent?

    or are they the most frequent because they attract so many riders?

    to find out, it would be interesting experiment to beef up other routes & see if they, too, attract more riders.

    otherwise, its like metro transit asserting that “most bus riders use the bus primarily to get to work” without qualifying that assertion with the fact that most bus routes exclusively serve that population.

  6. the other scott

    Sigh. I live within spitting distance of Lake (21) an Chicago (5) the two busiest (and I would add frustrating because of their lateness and crowdedness) routes. Yet Snelling Ave (and until recently) W 7th in St Paul were at the the head of the line for aBRT. Call me selfish, but I don’t get it.

  7. Keith Morris

    I think this proves that even with substandard service that places with high demands for mass transit will use it in high numbers regardless. Been awhile since I’ve ridden the 5, but are they all articulated buses? They should be if they aren’t.

    The 21 is low-frequency in St Paul: I’ve had to re-learn the hard way a number of times.

    The 18G ruins high-frequency for Nicollet south of Lake.

    The 6’s short cut-off points for high-frequency are well-known here.

    The 10 is pretty solid until 5:45 when it’s a 20 minute wait for the next one before resuing 15 min intervals in NE which is never fun in the winter (thank goodness Fair State opened up just off Lowry for a warm place to wait next door): are more people really using it from 1-4 than 4-7? Doubt it.

    The 3 should run at high-frequency if it’s going to do that stupid Kasota detour.

    The 16 was all but empty last time I took it from Raymond to Stadium Village: rarely do I use it with the Green Line there.

    The 19 I rarely use and am too lazy to look up, so I can’t comment.

    The 17 is way too infrequent in NE: supposed to be every 20 min but might as well be every 30 min with how late it is.

    Again, the 4 in NE is easily over 20 min between buses.

    And these are the top ten? The frequencies and capacities sure wouldn’t clue you in..So when are they going to fix those again?

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      The 5 is definitely not all articulated. Taking it from Richfield, maybe only 1 in 10 is articulated. There may be a higher proportion of articulated buses serving the more central part of the route, but I also bike a lot on the Chicago Ave corridor, and rarely see them even for the buses terminating at 38th or 56th.

      That said, I’ve only experienced bad overcrowding during the winter, between downtown and Chicago-Lake. The bigger problem on the rest of the route (at least from my perspective) is slow service and lack of on-time service.

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