Official ridership numbers are up.
They more or less continue the trend of the last couple years. The region's investments in high-capacity, high-frequency, congestion-light service are paying off with consistent, year-over-year ridership gains. However, local bus ridership is falling which is being mostly blamed on cheap gas, VC subsidized ridesharing, and uniquely in MSP this year, a recent fare hike.
I think Metro Transit is more or less on top of this. As discussed a page ago, the agency is increasing frequency and increasing stop spacing on a widening number of routes, which is a smart, low-cost, low-time way to improve service.
I also think the Met Council and Metro Transit can probably expect jumps in ridership with a number of big investments coming online in the next couple years that will provide the kind of quality service that is still gaining riders. Obviously, the agency is ramping up aBRT projects, although (as I've written a lot) I would like to see them revise the corridor approach from the 2012 study into a network approach that will position aBRT service as the metro's flagship. The Orange Line looks like the region's best hBRT project to me. The Green Line Extension should create some entirely new transit markets.
But while the agencies are doing pretty good work in identifying investments, some of the biggest potential ridership gains are out of their hands. Minneapolis has also made an explicit goal of reducing VMT, which will necessarily involve transit to achieve. They're also about to allow much more of the city to become more transit-friendly density, and are clearly mulling whether to allocate more road space for buses, which would be huge. Hopefully we'll see similar interest from St. Paul, although it'll naturally happen three to five years after Minneapolis. Fixing the awful issues at Snelling and at 280 where the Green Line hits stoplights would be a great step for St. Paul, Ramsey County, and PennDOT to show some positive intentions toward transit.
On a more granular level, I'm interested in the "Who Rides" infographic
produced by Metro Transit. There's a lot here that you probably would've guessed, but a couple things stand out to me as areas where there could be a ton of improvement.
(1) Just 4% of riders are retired. As that part of the population continues to grow, Metro Transit needs to be figuring out what is keeping older people from riding, whether it's the type of routes, the type of frequencies, feelings of safety, societal prejudices, etc. There are several senior living developments currently along the LRT, and one big one under construction, so there's a lot to be learned there.
(2) Just 11.8% of rides are for shopping, appointments. This looks like a huge mismatch to me, and a real area for growth for Metro Transit, because these trips make up a greater percentage of the average person's trips than the agency serves. These types of trips are theoretically good for transit but people aren't riding. One good trend on this front are an increasing number of urban grocery stores in MSP, including a couple that have opened recently or will open just steps from light rail (TJ's in the Mill District, Fresh Thyme in Prospect Park, the Cub in Hiawatha) and a few that are being built or opening this year on busy bus lines (Aldi on Lyndale and Good Grocer on Nicollet). Someday service in the Midtown Corridor will open up a ton of new possibilities for trips in this bucket, and the Social and Recreational bucket, which currently makes up 19.4% of trips.