The claim by the soccer stadium builders that transit will substantially reduce the need for parking hasn’t been subjected to much analysis and was just sort of thrown out there. It’s true that the stadium will be directly served by the Green Line, the Snelling Avenue A Line BRT, a reduced Route 84 Snelling Avenue local bus, and the Route 21 Selby-Lake bus. The real question, however, is “Does the transit service go where the fans live?”
If the fans live within Minneapolis, St. Paul, Falcon Heights, and Roseville, then the answer will be ‘Yes.’ It may be that unlike the suburban-oriented Twins and Vikings, a higher percentage of the soccer crowd will be city residents. There is reason to think that may be true, because soccer has special appeal for the local immigrant population, which tends to be less suburban.
I tried to contact Eric Durkee, Director of Public relations for Minnesota United, to ask if he has any data on immigrant or urban attendance at the existing games. He never called back, so this commentary is missing some important data. Because the team currently plays at the National Sports Center in Blaine, which has no public transit service, the results should be different than for the Midway site, but at least it would give some indication of immigrant or urban attendance.
The experience of the Twins and the Vikings offers some clues. Before the Hiawatha (now Blue Line) LRT opened, bus ridership to the Metrodome for either team was pretty minimal. I observed it on occasion and witnessed a couple of busloads headed back to the center of downtown Minneapolis to transfer to other routes. Also, there appeared to be a busload or two coming from St. Paul on the 94 Express and the 16 University Avenue local. And that was it.
I was on staff at Metro Transit when the Blue Line opened and we were surprised by the huge crowds that appeared for sporting events, because nothing like that had ever happened on the bus system. The ticket vending machines on the LRT platforms were overwhelmed. We quickly installed ticket booths at the big park-rides with agents to manually sell fares before the games and introduced 6-hour passes so no separate fare had to be purchased for the trip home. Since then it has worked well.
There is no question that the ridership is driven by the big park-rides at Fort Snelling and at 28th Avenue in east Bloomington. Although park-riding is officially discouraged at Mall of America, the sports fans do it anyway. I see sports ridership at the city stations, but it’s modest compared to the Blue Line park-rides.
When Target Field opened, Metro Transit saw another opportunity to tap the suburban market at very little cost. Commuter express Route 673 connects downtown Minneapolis with a big park-ride at I-394 and County Road 73 in Minnetonka. For a typical weeknight game, the park-ride empties of commuters just when the Twins fans need the spaces and the buses deadhead back to Minneapolis at just the right time for the game. All it took was a little tweaking and extra service to tap the game market and Route 679 was born. It runs every 15 minutes before and after the game. It’s a fast trip and the buses unload and load at a normally unused freeway-level station located on I-394 across the street from Target Field.
South West Metro Transit also runs special non-stop express buses to Target Field from Eden Prairie. Northstar Commuter trains serve every Twins and Vikings game, adding 700 or so riders to the transit mix.
The Green Line has no park-rides and serves no suburbs. I don’t have the exact figures, but when I’ve observed it, Green Line ridership to the Twins appears to be maybe a fourth of the Blue Line.
Put all these services together with modest game ridership on city local buses and they carry roughly 20% of the Twins’ crowd.
Back to the soccer stadium. Even though the transit access will be good, it is nowhere near as good as what the Twins get. None of the transit already committed to the Midway will serve a park-ride lot. The only suburban destinations are Falcon Heights and the HarMar/Rosedale area of Roseville. Anyone who uses the Blue Line park-rides will have to transfer and their rides will take longer than a trip to Target Field. Here are the comparative travel times from the Fort Snelling park-ride, assuming 5 minutes for a transfer.
26 min. to Target Field, no transfer
17 min. to US Bank Stadium, no transfer
32 min. to soccer stadium via transfer at 46th Street Station to Snelling BRT
40 min. to soccer stadium via transfer at Downtown East Station to Green Line
Will they put up with the transfer and the longer trip?
There’s always the possibility of special service from suburban park-rides to the games, but I doubt it will appear until the location and demographics of the soccer fans has become clear.
Future LRT is the key
Suburban soccer transit ridership is really dependent on the light rail lines yet to be built. The 2016 legislature will decide if the Green Line gets extended to Eden Prairie. If so, it will tap park-rides there and in Hopkins and St. Louis Park. That should more than double the present sports ridership, since it will serve a larger suburban population than the Blue Line. Also the extended Green Line will directly serve all four stadia. If the Blue Line Bottineau Corridor extension to Brooklyn Park happens, that will further increase ridership.
In the meantime, I can’t see soccer ridership exceeding the 20% achieved by the Twins, and it will probably be less.