Chart of the Day: Metro Transit Ridership vs. Seats

Via Star Tribune reporter Eric Roper’s twitter feed, here’s a chart showing ridership vs. seats on Metro Transit buses, sorted according to express and local routes:

metro transit ridership chart

Roper quipped:

Interesting MT graphic shows express transit services have more seats than riders during peak hrs. Local is opposite


You don’t have to have a planning degree to notice some of the inequities in how our bus system operates, with often cushy deluxe amenities and buses for suburban express routes, and (charitably put) “some things left to be desired” for local routes.

But  hey, at least we’re not Atlanta.

8 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Metro Transit Ridership vs. Seats

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Not only are we spending enough to provide more seats than rides on express routes at every hour of the day, but at more expense: Those buses, and the drivers required to operate them, are only demanded for a few hours at two distinct points during the day (midday express demand is negligable compared to overall demand). Local routes have significantly stronger midday, evening, and weekend demand. The most appaling gap to me is the lack of adequate seats mid-day outside the peak, in the hours from 10 AM until afternoon rush. Because the seats clearly exist, they’re just not being provided.

    1. Matt Brillhart

      I agree with you of course, but I do have to express some skepticism with that data. Do we really believe that rides > seats during the mid-day hours of ~11am-2pm? That seems a little suspect. Perhaps mid-day overcrowding does occur on a few select routes, but even then I have trouble believing it’s not balanced out by all of the empty seats elsewhere on less busy routes…

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        Yeah I’d really like to dig into the source for this. Is it really all buses, or just a sampling?

        Also, we should be careful in passing judgment on empty seats. It may make a lot of sense to extend local bus route hours further into the evening knowing full well that there will be fewer riders than seats, in an effort to provide a better all-hours accessibility.

        1. Wayne

          Also let’s not forget the huge amount of part-time workers (voluntary or otherwise) who would be commuting at midday.

      2. Wayne

        local routes in the city serve a lot more diverse base of people than rush hour express buses. There are plenty of service workers that take local routes who work 2nd shift or other ‘non-traditional’ hours that would have them on buses at midday. it’s been a while, but I do remember being on some pretty full buses in the middle of the day.

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  3. John Charles Wilson

    This graphic is interesting. Note that the seat deficit on local routes isn’t all “midday”, it runs from 11 AM to 5 PM, so the first half of the PM peak is also underserved.

    I have always thought that “load factor” (ratio of passengers to seats) is a better metric of the need for bus service on a given route than passengers per hour or per mile. A typical non-articulated bus has about 38 seats. I would consider 25 people about the maximum “comfortable” load on such a bus (where most people sitting together are doing so because they want to). That is a load factor of about 0.65.

    25 people on an express bus to Maple Grove provides lower numbers on a per hour/per mile basis than 25 people on average being on a local route like the 21 which has a lot of “churn” (people getting on and off), even though the load factor is equal.

    There are many local routes that rarely carry 25 people at a time, except at peak hours or when school lets out, which is often technically “midday” (2-3 PM) by Metro Transit’s rules.
    One example is Route 46. Don’t get me wrong, I love the 46 personally. It’s one of my favourite routes and I depend on it twice a week, Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. However, I rarely see it with more than 7 people on it except when school lets out. Often it’s more like 1 or 2 people. If I was a Metro planner, I would recommend cutting the 46 to once an hour, except for the school runs, and adding the extra buses (this should free three of them) to an overcrowded route like the 17, 18, or 21.

    My goal would be to even out the load factor among all routes as much as possible while still maintaining clock face headways (exact divisions of an hour: 60/30/20/15/12/10/6/5/4/3/2/1 minutes). Would thinning out some of the less-used locals in the peripheral areas be worth it for 6-minute frequencies (or better) on the 17, 18, and 21? I think so.

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