Record year for Blue and Green LRT lines, overall Metro Transit use dips in 2018

Metro Transit’s Blue and Green light rail lines are seeing more riders than ever before, according to a report out Monday from the Metropolitan Council. 

However, system-wide ridership was down in 2018 compared to the year before. 

“Overall, I think it was a really good year for us and for Metro Transit and we're looking forward to next year,” said Howie Padilla, Public Relations Manager for Metro Transit. 

Highlights of the report include the Green line between Minneapolis and Downtown St. Paul, which had a record 13.8 million riders, up 5 percent from last year. 

The Blue line between downtown Minneapolis and the airport also had a record year, hitting a 3.9 percent increase of 11 million rides. 

“We're finding that our Green line, our Blue line metro light rail system, they're going gangbusters. They continue to break records and continue to beat expectations,” Padilla said. 

The drop in overall Metro Transit ridership is in line with a national trend as less commuters choose to ride local buses. Metro Transit attributes the regional drop to the bus driver shortage, low gas prices, construction and a fare increase from 2017. 

“The fare increase, while it had an effect and may have had an effect, it didn't overcome the service that we give,” Padilla said. 

Governor Tim Walz believes the report shows a need for regular investment in transportation. 

“Whether it's expansion of light rail, whether its expansion of our BRT service, what it tells us is there's a demand for it. What we also know is these kinds of plans can't come to fruition if we don't have sustainable funding,” Padilla said. 

However, some republicans are pushing for less spending. 

“Seventy percent of the cost of running the transit system are covered by the taxpayer. It will never ever be paid for by fares,” said Representative Linda Runbeck – (R) Circle Pines. “Cost control is not what Met Council is good at here. We need to see some cost controls.”

Runbeck sits on the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee. 

“From the standpoint of really, is this great for our future, great for transit overall. We need to find a better way and a more efficient way to deliver the riders,” Runbeck said. 

Demand is also up for the Metro Mobility service, which serves riders who cannot use standard buses or trains because of disabilities or health conditions. That service is mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law.