edited April 8 to distinguish revenue and subsidy
Among the reasons put forth by Northstar advocates for its un-success to date is the un-construction of several potential stations. Ramsey Town Center is a well-documented boondoggle. The lack of a Coon Rapids-Foley Boulevard station, at the intersection of Northstar and Hwy 610 is more plausible as a source for the un-success, as that site has at least some potential as an interceptor for park-and-ride trips to downtown Minneapolis.
Another issue Michael Setty raised is the lack of mid-day service. This is a serious problem for anyone with any schedule uncertainty (i.e. almost everyone). Again this goes back to the “commuting to the center” mindset that serve as blinders on planners. The difficulty in part is that BNSF rather than local governments own the lines, and are dealing from a position of weakness in trying to shimmy the Commuter RR service on someone else’s freight lines. I suggested before, it would be cheaper for the US to buy all the freight railroads, take what Right-of-Way it wants, and then sell the rest back than to negotiate piecemeal (even though I think this would be a bad idea).
I personally believe however in this case further investment is throwing good money after bad. While all of those things would no doubt increase ridership, Northstar is at best premature. Since it is a service rather than infrastructure (mostly), running it at a continuing loss is a major problem, and drains resources for many other things. The annual Northstar operating subsidy expense ($16.8 million) is more than the cuts to Transit proposed by the Minnesota Senate ($32 million over 2 years). According to the Metropolitan Council, revenue is $2.8 million, so the direct operating subsidy (excluding capital, and indirect subsidies like park and ride lots) is $14 million.
That is, if the Northstar were eliminated, almost no other services would have to suffer. Just a thought.
Ramsey Town Center
Foley Boulevard Station
6 thoughts on “The Northstar of Broken Dreams”
I’m pretty certain the senate’s proposed cut was specifically designed to cut Northstar service. The number seems too close to be a coincidence.
I would concur that “Since it is a service rather than infrastructure (mostly), running it at a continuing loss is a major problem, and drains resources for many other things.” This is, unquestionably, a sizable problem.
I wanted to add, from my observations, that commuting patterns in the northwest metro don’t necessarily revolve around getting to the urban core. For example; if someone lives in Big Lake or Ramsey, it’s more likely they’ll work in another suburb (such as Maple Grove, Plymouth, Blaine or Eden Prairie).
Now, even if a train can effectively drop you off somewhere in Fridley or Big Lake or Coon Rapids, these environments are useless with an automobile. [I made the mistake of taking the train up to Big Lake only to discover I had to walk across a highway to get into town, where most of the businesses were closed – luckily I had a book and found a park. Sort of a misadventure expedition].
Maybe it’s premature to comment because TOD stations such as Ramsey are still in the works, scheduling is geared towards only commuters and commuters are still culturally adverse to train ridership.
I wanted to make a small correction on my above post:
“Now, even if a train can effectively drop you off somewhere in Fridley or Big Lake or Coon Rapids, these environments are useless WITHOUT an automobile.”
According to NTD data, in 2009 the USA’s commuter rail systems had a farebox recovery rate of 33% overall – about the rate of Metro Transit’s bus operations. 13 systems have rates above 40% – the average is dragged down by a few systems that have abysmally low rates (including Northstar, which actually got beat out for lowest rate by Portland, which was also in its inaugural year).
San Diego – about the size of MSP, but with fewer jobs in its CBD – pulls off a rate of 40%. Seattle – larger city, more CBD jobs – had a rate of 22%. Even Nashville weighs in at 18%.
Why do you think commuter rail will fail in the Twin Cities despite its success in these other regions?
Ps the $16.8m is the line’s budget, not its “subsidy.” Chances are it brought in some revenue from the 700k rides it provided last year, even if there were tons of free ride days.
@Alex, corrected subsidies to expenses. Revenue was a whopping $2.8 million.
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