Ridership on public transportation at all time high, Met Council says

Ridership on public transportation in the Twin Cities metro area is at an all time high, but that news comes with a warning from officials: Don't get complacent.

The increasing popularity of light rail systems is a big headline for a region that's looking at huge levels of growth over the next several decades, prompting many to call for expanded service despite resistance from suburban leaders and lawmakers that see the trains as too expensive or a conduit to transport undesirable people from the inner city.

Green and Blue Line trains broke records with four percent growth in 2017 ridership, while the Northstar Commuter Train from Big Lake to Minneapolis saw a nearly 12 percent increase. Officials say the numbers are exciting, but only if there's enough spending to meet people's needs in the future. 

“Our analysis concluded that in addition to new light rail transit liens, our region needs 17 new rapid bus routes, 46 new local bus line and significant upgrades to 76 existing local bus routes--just to meet the basic needs of the increased ridership we expect to see,” Metropolitan Council Chair Alele Tchmourmuroff, who heads the body which funds public transportation in the region, said at an event Thursday to celebrate the Met Council's 50th anniversary.

It's an investment she sees as vital to the future health of the Twin Cities area, which thanks to rising levels of inequality is slowly falling behind similar-sized cities like Seattle, Denver and Portland on a number of metrics.

Gov. Mark Dayton also agreed with her assessment Thursday in a series of prepared remarks, saying that money spent on transportation and affordable housing will attract and maintain businesses, as well as save money on health and environmental costs down the road.

“Governments are not Burger Kings," he said. "You don’t get to have it all your way.”