Northstar rail line’s birthday wish: more riders

From the Pioneer PressNorthstar rail line’s birthday wish: more riders

“As the Northstar Commuter Rail line nears its first birthday, ridership has fallen below expectations.

A week after it was announced that plans to expand the rail line to St. Cloud have been shelved, officials released numbers showing ridership is about 5 percent below projections. Officials blame the economy and expect the gap to widen.

For the first nine months of 2010, about 560,000 people rode the Northstar line, said Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons. That figure is below the expected 590,000 riders.

Throughout the summer, the Northstar was used by Twins fans attending sold-out games at Target Field. But now that the baseball season is over, officials expect overall ridership for the year to fall about 20 percent below the original projection of 890,000 riders, to 715,000.

“We have always considered commuter rail a long-term investment meant to attract jobs and complement our region’s quality of life,” Felix Schmiesing, a Sherburne County commissioner and member of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority, said last week when it was announced thathat the expansion plans were put on hold.

The NCDA said last Friday that it will not apply for federal funds to extend the 40-mile line, which currently runs from downtown Minneapolis to Big Lake. The agency said the decision was made because the projected ridership of such an expansion did not meet the Federal Transit Authority’s “strict standards.””

Notably also Jim Oberstar lost his seat in Congress just before the agency made its decision. Somehow the article failed to note this.

“Despite the ridership shortfall, expenses for the commuter line will be within the 2010 budget of $16.8 million. Gibbons attributes this to the effective management of costs as well as distance-based fares.

Metro Transit expects Northstar’s ridership next year to be about 750,000″

$16.8 million for 715,000 riders is $23.50 per rider. Note that most trips are two-way, so this is $47.00 per person. The fare on Northstar is $7.00 weekday from Big Lake and decreasing on distance and on the weekend, or roundtrip is worst case $14, assuming no other subsidies, passes, etc. So the subsidy per day per person is at least $33, which is even worse than I imagined.

Somehow the article failed to note this as well.