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Charts of the Day: Impacts of Land Use on Pandemic-Era Light Rail Station Ridership

The Metropolitan Council annually releases fall ridership information at the bus stop and train station level. Data releases starting in 2013 allow for comparisons of ridership patterns from year to year and can highlight some interesting trends. The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on transit ridership and looking at the recovery of ridership on the Twin Cities two light rail lines reveals the impacts of land use and remote work policies. Below are two charts that show 2020 and 2021 ridership as a percentage 2019 ridership. In 2020, the Blue Line had approximately 28% of its 2019 ridership while the Green Line had 31%. In 2021, the Blue Line had approximately 43% of its pre-pandemic ridership while the Green Line had 48%.

A chart showing how the ridership of the Blue Line by station compares in the years 2021 and 2020 to the base year 2019.
Blue Line ridership varied from station to station due to differences in surrounding land use.

Two stations on the Blue Line show significant ridership declines that can likely be attributed to their nature as primarily park-and-ride lots. Fort Snelling and 28th Ave (now actually 30th Ave Station) both have much larger declines in ridership than the Blue Line’s overall decline. Downtown stations in both 2020 and 2021 had lower ridership recoveries than the line as a whole which may be a result of the decrease in prominence of downtown oriented travel. Other stations that have higher ridership recoveries would attract more travel than strictly 9-5 office work. Retail at the Mall of America and medical care at the VA Medical Center are both industries that offer significantly fewer work from home opportunities than office work.

A chart showing how the ridership of the Green Line by station compares in the years 2021 and 2020 to the base year 2019.
Green Line ridership also varied from station to station and some stations near the University of Minnesota had especially high proportions of ridership loss.

Overall, Green Line stations had less variation in ridership but some patterns are still visible. Downtown Minneapolis station ridership is lower than the overall average recovery while downtown Saint Paul ridership is higher than the average recovery. Downtown Saint Paul as a whole has had higher ridership retention than downtown Minneapolis, perhaps a result of more diverse trip purposes in downtown Saint Paul.  Some of the greatest ridership declines happened in 2020 near stations surrounding the University of Minnesota where 2020 ridership was near 15% of 2019 ridership. The University of Minnesota had almost entirely remote instruction in 2020 but most in-person learning returned in 2021 which is shown with the return of ridership for the surrounding stations closer to the overall average. Notably, Prospect Park had a ridership spike in 2021 making 2021 ridership actually higher than any year from 2017 and earlier. Alex Schieferdecker noted the transformation of the land use surrounding the Prospect Park Station in 2020, a that pattern has only continued since then.  

Do you notice any other patterns or have any different theories on ridership trends? Submit them in the comments below.

Photo at top courtesy of Metro Transit.

About Eoin Roux

Eoin's interest in transportation began with the development and construction of the Green Line in his childhood neighborhood. He is interested in transportation, land use, and local history.

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4 thoughts on “Charts of the Day: Impacts of Land Use on Pandemic-Era Light Rail Station Ridership

  1. Ted

    A missing element to this discussion that I feel has to be acknowledged is perception of safety. This post focused primarily on the prevalence of remote work and education but you don’t have to looks hard to find many discussions online about the perception of increased crime and lack of safety near lightrail stops and on public transit itself. Many reports of openly smoking, etc, have kept many who otherwise would be using transit. I would like to hear more about what Metro Transit is doing to address this very challenging issue.

    1. Trademark

      This is true as to a larger reason why we aren’t returning to full ridership, but i doubt that it would impact the station to station data as most of the issues are on the trains and not on the stations. Even looking at the difference between stations Franklin, Lake, Rice, and Central Stations are some of the stations that I imagine are probably some of the most dangerous in my experience and they are above average in recovering their ridership.

    2. Nathan Bakken

      Metro Transit just starting implementing their Safety & Security Plan to address these things. They are working to hire 24/7 security for Franklin, Lake, and Central. The two car train pilot is to help with not having empty cars where people do whatever they please. And I’ve been seeing more Metro Transit officers on the trains now, I do feel like things will be getting better!

      1. Trademark

        Like I said it’s interesting that the stations that they targeted for extra security are already keeping a higher percentage of their ridership then most others.

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