The Quarterly Transit Report – March 2017

The retrenchment begins

With this quarterly schedule change, Metro Transit has begun trimming bus service, and this is probably the first of many cuts. There are two reasons for this:

After the longest run of annual ridership increases since before World War I, bus ridership has dipped. This appears to track with much lower gasoline prices. In addition, detouring buses off Nicollet Mall has reduced ridership on those routes.


The other more troubling reason is a looming budget shortfall estimated at over $80 million, due to lower than expected vehicle sales tax revenues. That’s a very big hole to fill and the latest cuts are just the beginning. Metro Transit is also looking at a fare increase later this year.

The long-term picture does not look promising. The legislature is now in the hands of anti-transit Republicans. According to the Star Tribune, a bill has been introduced to require the transit system to cover 60 percent of its costs from the farebox. It’s currently around 30 percent, which is better than in most large cities. A 60 percent requirement would gut the transit system. I don’t think anyone expects anything that drastic, but it gives you a feel for what they’re up against.

Getting back to the particulars of this schedule change, I counted the elimination of 120 one-way bus trips on weekdays, 48 on Saturdays and 34 on Sundays. This primarily took two forms. On major bus routes 4, 5, 10, and 63 and on heavy rush hour expresses 270, 355, 673 and 850, the schedules were thinned slightly and the remaining trips re-spaced.

On other expresses the cuts were concentrated on the more lightly patronized trips at the beginning and end of the rush hours. Expect more of both types of cuts as the year progresses.

If there was a cut that stood out, it was reducing the service on Route 16, the University Avenue local bus, from every 20 minutes to every 30 minutes. Route 16 has seen most of its ridership diverted to the Green Line, so this is not a surprise.

One small improvement

The only bright spot is the extension of weekend Route 7 service to historic Fort Snelling. It disappeared in 2004 when the Blue Line opened and Route 7 was diverted to 34th Avenue S., ending at Highway 62. There were no other buses that could be economically extended to the Fort, so anyone visiting by transit have faced a one mile walk from the Blue Line. Reworking the weekend Route 7 schedule resulted in sufficient layover to permit an extension to the Fort. On the way it stops by the Fort Snelling LRT station to provide connecting service.

Where it goes from here

When cutting service, Metro Transit tries hard to minimize the negative impacts on riders, using basically three categories of cuts:

  1. Thinning more frequent services where the cuts won’t lead to overcrowding. For example, a heavy local route might go from 7.5 minute to 10 minute frequency. This is happening on Route 5. It may be accompanied by assigning larger capacity articulated buses.

  2. Trimming the less productive trips on expresses that duplicate local bus routes. The remaining service will be slower, but riders can still get where they’re going.

  3. Cutting the least productive services with the highest subsidy per passenger. This tends to be evenings and weekends, often on suburban local routes. These are the cuts that most impact low income riders who are transit dependent, because they constitute most of the riders of these routes. Even if the routes are not eliminated, 30 minute frequencies may become hourly, greatly reducing convenience.

The above cuts will only be adequate if the funding shortfall is relatively minor. Even with a fare increase, which will raise money but reduce ridership, the above strategy can’t plug an $80 million hole. That would take something more drastic.


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.

23 thoughts on “The Quarterly Transit Report – March 2017

  1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    Whew, not good!

    Can we attach a rider to that bill that includes all roads must generate 60% revenue directly from users?

  2. N

    While it’s easy to throw R under the bus (symbolically, maybe literally), back in the 2013-2013 session the DFL legislature (with a DFL governor) punted on this issue, leaving us with a worse mess than if action had been taken and the legislature were now trying to roll back from that point. We need to hold the legislators that should have pushed harder back then accountable, because they actually serve the constituents that are more likely to use transit.

  3. Jackie Williams

    It can be easy or hard to use the bus system in the twin cities. It depends on which route your live by. I used to take the #5 to work and home. I never had to wait long and it was usually on time. Then I moved over to NE Minneapolis. I tried the #4 route for one year. The #4 route is only a block from my front door. I got tired of the bus either being 35 minutes late or just not showing up, so I bike year round now. I think more people drive because of the convenience and the low gas prices.

    1. Nick Minderman

      Disclaimer: this is probably an echo chamber comment – I think people drive because all of our policies are aligned to make driving socially desirable and transit socially undesirable. We hide the cost of driving in so many different ways and then we have grand discussions about improving farebox recovery in the interest of transparency.

      Somehow we (as a group, as a society) need to find a way to get people who just care about how much they ‘pay’ for transportation to realize that, when you look at the all-in prices, driving shouldn’t universally be the socially desirable path. The example I always use is adding freeway lanes to serve rush hour. Those lanes are, from a social perspective, the LEAST desirable outcome because they only reduce time losses for a few hours of the day. They don’t produce any benefits at noon or midnight (or a lot of other hours). Yet people are constantly clamoring for more lanes. Something needs to change in that conversation. I have my opinions and I’m sure everyone here does. In then end, transit will never “win” until our society solves this dilemma

    2. Steve Gjerdingen

      I’m also near the 4. To take it to work requires a reverse commute that would take probably 40-60 minutes depending on which buses were taken (note I said buses, because a transfer would be required regardless). It takes that amount of time to bike there, so of course I’ve biked there more than taken the bus.

      I’ve taken it downtown a few times. It was very convenient for those times, but most often biking downtown makes more sense. I wonder if time of day or day of the week makes a difference? I usually don’t head downtown on weekdays.

      It’s too bad they are cutting back on it. 30 minute headways during off-peak has allowed me to use it a few times, but that will be annoying if it comes even less frequently than that.

  4. Kelvin Drupaul

    Commuter routes are very expensive to operate . Mpls #27,39,111,113,114,115,133,135,141,146,156 all have corresponding local routes.
    St Paul #134 262 452 need to be cut.
    PLY AVE is mostly duplicated yet this route operates 5am to midnite daily with several buslines intersect Ply Ave many buses have no riders.
    SE MPLS combine 4/6 can create a high frequency line.Rt6U is mostly duplicated.
    #16 doesn’t need to run at night after 8pm too many trips are empty cut back to Fairview.
    #87 on Cleveland is mostly duplicated with very low ridership..
    ,#46 St Paul segment is wasted services mostly duplicated with very low ridership.

    1. John Charles Wilson

      Agreed with some of this but not all.

      #27 could be extended west to Hennepin and be a useful – faster – alternative to the #21.

      #39 could become a branch of the #5

      #111/3/4/5 U of M routes are too popular to eliminate. Alienating customers isn’t a good idea.

      #133/5 I don’t know enough about

      #141 could become a Limited version of the 4G (There used to be a lot of “Express” buses – nowadays they’d be called “Limiteds” – that ran on regular streets, often following local routes, but with restricted stops. Time to bring some of them back.)

      #146 could become a 2-seat ride via #535 to #46 but the routes need coordinated timing. I don’t think #146 riders would go for this with random or long waits.

      #156 is probably still needed thanks to East-West operations on the loop. If the #535 stopped at Diamond Lake it could become a shuttle.

      #134 is a duplication but has too many fans to eliminate.

      #262 is needed for the Circle Pines/Lexington area. Bad enough it only runs twice a day now. The equivalent North Suburban Lines route in the 1980s had midday and Saturday service!

      #452 is a very popular route but stops in downtown Saint Paul could make it more useful and efficient.

  5. Sam Martins

    Run Sat schedules on MLK,President,Veterans day,New Years eve.Commuter routes run fewer trips.
    ON Friday fewer riders on Commuters routes so consolidate trips.
    Fridays before holidays reduce some trips.
    Eliminate all UM routes ,there many buslines connecting to GL,#2,3 that serve UM.

  6. Linda Barran

    Police should be focusing on the LRT to recapture the $1m from fare evasion.Too often they are riding empty buses at night .I saw them 6 times at night on my bus which as low ridership at night.

  7. Mark

    I’ve started commuting to work daily the past few months, which means taking Route 4 downtown from Northeast Mpls and then the Green Line to St. Paul. It’s been pretty reliable for the most part, but one thing I’ve noticed a lot when going from Green Line to bus for the trip home is there seem to be an awful lot of free ride (routes 10 and 18) and downtown-only buses running on Hennepin Ave. at the same time in the evenings. I often see a downtown-only 4 running practically alongside the 4 I catch to get home, which not only seems wasteful, but it’s confusing for folks who aren’t regular riders.

    Anybody know how Metro Transit decides how to assign/schedule those? I’m sure it wouldn’t be a huge savings overall, but spreading those out a bit might help avoid cuts to other routes?

    1. Nick Minderman

      Hi Mark,

      As a fellow NE Mpls 4 rider I can explain. A couple years ago Metro Transit started breaking rush hour 4 trips because of consistent delays on the fairly long route. So that DT only 4 that you see came from South Minneapolis while the 4B or 4G (right next to it) that you’re getting on just started at MCTC. Someone that is trying to ride “through” from South Mpls to NE Mpls actually has to transfer in DT even though they’re on the same route. It’s far from ideal.

      1. roy

        Route 4 to NE every other bus will run thru.It would have been beneficial to run all rt4 thru with a new routing thru SE follow rt6U to 10th AVE SE .This new routing still provide coverage for the riders along 8th St SE .RT4/6U are duplicated at nights .Weekends both 4/6 operates every30mins in SE this will reduce interval between buses and reduce cost with fewer buses and with more people on the buses..
        Rt2 already provide coverage for most of rt6U with a connection to GL .
        There are too many bus routes competing for the same riders in SE .
        This area are already served with #2-3-4-6-10-11-17-25-61 and some express buses peak plus UM buses.One less route will have no impact.

      2. roy

        They will reinstate the thru routing on SAT.It would be nice to run all the 4 thru to SE/NE instead of waiting 30mins midday.Get rid of the 141 and fill in the gaps on rt4 Johnson.

  8. Keith Morris

    Maybe it’s time for Metro Transit to start a gofundme page? I guess transit supporters wanting to make a donation today could just buy a ticket/pass and leave it for whoever wants it or just pay with a larger bill at the fare box. There are only so many cuts that can be made before the overall quality of service causes loss in ridership and of course, loss of revenue and then rinse and repeat.

    I’m not so sure lower gas prices are to blame, since riding mass transit is now so much easier with the Transit app; I never stand outside long because I get real time arrivals and I will sometimes take a different route depending on if I can time it up for a brief wait. That’s something I would never do before. Also, car sharing services might have made a dent. With how easy it is to get around, buying a car instead is a pretty hard sell in the city.

  9. roy

    SELL naming rights at train stations ..
    Medium of the train stations can be used for ads,this wasted space that can generate revenue.There are too few ads on the trains and stations.
    Have businesses sponsor the bus shelters and stations.

  10. nick

    One would think Metro Transit will improve #4 with shorter intervals midday .This route serves many high density areas and 2 shopping centers .

  11. eddie

    Fill the many and almost empty buses by consolidating routes and trips.Every other routes can reduce some late trips and early weekends but provide access for riders nearby .
    NE #17W eliminate some trips late and early weekends riders can walk to #11 or 10 .

    S Mpls # 18G eliminate all Grand Ave trips #4 and 18 are still available .

    Ply Ave 7C can be eliminated with #5-19-22 operate at PENN ,LYN and Freemont on PLy so riders till have access.
    Lowry 32 and Broadway 30 buses are mostly empty on weekends

    1. John Charles Wilson

      The #18G I can attest to. Usually, 90+% of the people get off at Lake when the driver announces it is an 18G. Few people actually want to go to Grand Ave. except at rush hour. I have two possible solutions:

      1) Convert most 18G trips to 18A, except for those with actual significant usage at rush hour.

      2) Turn 18G trips into a new route, let’s call it “#18P”. It would be an unofficial “express” to Bloomington, bypassing Nicollet between 31st and 46th by going Grand instead. There would be no stop restriction, but few stops would actually be made on Grand due to lack of demand. The extra distance probably cancels out any time saving, but the ride would be extra pleasant, hence the “P”.

  12. devin

    It’s highly unlikely the Republicans will ive g MetroTransit additional money ,with the proposed 60% recovery rate will be one of the highest in the country.

    There are some routes that should be trimmed is good time to do some restructuring where there are excessive services .

    METRO TRANSIT service base to peak ratio is excessive with mostly non-revenue services on the express buses with surcharge of 75cents is too low.Most transit Agencies have distance based fares.Below are ways to reduce some routes and focus on the local routes where the transit dependent riders need them.

    Route spacing can be 1/2 mile for some routes .Cut these routes below will save millions
    North Mpls one less routes Ply Ave ,Broadway 30
    South Mpls 27-39-111-113-114-115-133-135-146-156 all have alternative services available .
    NE Mpls 118-141 .
    SE Mpls 6U is another redundant route with 2-3-4-10-11-17-25-61 still available .
    St Paul 134 ,350-415-417 are all have low ridership or alternative routes available.
    Rice St #3-61-62-67-68-262 available
    Eliminate 262 and remove rt3 off Rice ST now that rt62 is operating every 15mins daily,Sunday20mins .

  13. Nick Minderman

    With all the people suggesting ways that we can cut routes, I ask “why aren’t we closing down streets to save money then”. The answer from many people, I suspect, is that it would be an undue hardship on those who live on streets that were decommissioned. The same holds for transit. Sure, there are routes that seem to overlap. However, that service gives enhanced capacity at certain times of the day (extra buses and faster trips), service with fewer transfers (which reduce ridership), and make ares more accessible to people with physical limitations. With a growing population of aging baby boomers we shouldn’t be cutting service in dense urban areas, as that will only INCREASE safety concerns for pedestrians and reduce the number of people that decide to give up driving as they age.

    Unless you’re all willing to close down the street in front of your house.

    1. Mario

      St Paul eastside they consolidate 9/12 which improve the nights and weekend services from hourly to 30mins ,Sat 20mins from 30 to60mins.Are you implying people are too lazy to walk a few extra blocks but run buses empty at low frequencies.Even handicapped will walk or wheel their wheelchair farther for better services.How will yousuiggest they pay for all the services.People will not wait 30-60mins for a 16 bus when they can walk a few extra blocks to the Greenline with offer 10mins headways.
      Another example #54 was created by consolidation now have excellent services rather 30-60 mins before consolidations.
      NICK read Human Transit .

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