Route 54 Ridership and Why We Cannot Skip the Route to the Airport

Recently, posts about the Riverview Corridor have been generating a LOT of comments on One of these posts suggested that, in order to ensure the old Ford factory in Highland Park develops in a way that would not be thoroughly suburban, that the Riverview Corridor should be rerouted through Highland Park on the old freight line which served the factory. This in and of itself was not the worst idea, but several commenters started remarking about why the line should even go to the airport? Some have declared that the only reason the goal is the airport is because the bourgeois who are planning this line would never see themselves on transit unless they were trying to skip out on a cab fare to or from the airport. This is a horribly inaccurate sentiment. The reason for serving the MSP Airport and the Mall of America is that transit dependent, lower income ($10/hr) and existing riders have jobs in these locations, go shopping in these locations and commute from lower income housing along West Seventh, especially those JUST across the river, such as West 7that Maynard or Madison.

Gold bars show the combined number of boardings and alightings at each stop.

These are eastbound boardings for each stop, ranked from highest to lowest. MOA and the airport are busier than any of the downtown stops.

The next map shows the low and moderate income housing surrounding the Sibley Plaza shopping center at West 7th and Maynard Drive.

A horrendous mashup of Microsoft Paint and Google Maps. Pretty much, just across the river from the Airport, in Saint Paul there's a LOT of low income housing.

Red Hashed Area = Low income housing, Yellow = Single family, but still not expensive housing, White = W. 7th, Purple-y/Blue = Bill’s routing along CP tracks, and yes I used paint… just because.

These lower income apartments house a lot of people, and these bus stops always have people waiting at them. When I was commuting home from teaching swim lessons at the nearby JCC at 6 on a Sunday I would get on with invariably 5 other people or more, who were headed to the airport for evening or night shifts. And when I would take the 54 to get to the JCC at noon? Someone who had been working since midnight sorting packages for some freight company, or cleaning bathrooms, or SOMETHING was getting off work and got off just across the river.

A bar chart shows how many people ride the bus between each stop on the 54's route, a slow increase from MOA, a jump at the airport, some variability, then once the bus reaches downtown people disembark rapidly and the last 6 stops have seemingly no one riding.

This chart shows the number of people actually on the bus at each stop, subtracting the ones that got off and adding the ones that got on.

Going from the Mall of America towards Downtown Saint Paul, the chart shows there are about 1450 riders who need to get from south of the river across to Saint Paul. There’s some major turnover at each stop, so this number is beat by a few segments around Grand Avenue and Saint Clair. But it’s pretty clear from looking here that if we want to avoid serving an area, let’s not run to Union Depot. Once the bus passes Minnesota Street there is no one riding it anymore, but we cannot avoid running to the Airport and MOA.

If we want to run to the Ford site, it will be an extra 7 minutes (that number is from thin air) or so for workers to get to the airport from Saint Paul. Maybe the Ford site redeveloping densely is worth it. But when all is said and done, the line MUST continue south to serve the riders who already rely on the 54. Let’s amplify their service, not go chasing other markets. Let’s serve those who actually need transit. Those of us with the means to not ride it can make it work when we decide to do so.

Joseph Totten

About Joseph Totten

Joe is a graduate of Civil Engineering-Transportation and Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota, and has a masters degree from Portland State University. Born and raised in Saint Paul, Joe has worked with nonprofits and public agencies in MSP and Portland.