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Transit Fares in the Twin Cities


By Barb Thoman, Executive Director, and Michael Petesch, Nonmotorized Transportation Research and Evaluation Specialist

Photo: Metro Transit 


Transit for Livable Communities has just updated a policy brief on transit passenger fares from peer regions across the country, and we found that there’s good news and bad news about transit fares in the Twin Cities.


Fares & Service


In years past, when state-allocated revenues to transit declined, Twin Cities transit fares were increased several times until they were higher than many other places. The good news today, though, is that our transit fares have not risen since 2008. During the same period, fares in many other regions have increased, making transit fares in the Twin Cities metro about average compared to our peers.


Nevertheless, while many regions have fares comparable to the Twin Cities, those regions also have more extensive systems, meaning transit fares in those regions buy access to more frequent service on more routes.


Passes & Programs


In the Twin Cities, the cost of a monthly transit pass ranges from $59 to ride local service off-peak, $85 for local service during peak hours, or $113.50 for peak express service. This makes our average monthly pass slightly more expensive than in peer regions, and more than many residents who are looking for work or in low-wage jobs can afford. Metro Transit and many regional businesses and schools have done an admirable job in providing lower fares for their employees and students through the Metropass, UPass, College Pass, and Student Pass programs, but not everyone is eligible for those programs.


In fact, suburban riders tend to get some of the largest fare discounts, not to mention free parking at park-and-ride lots, while riders of urban bus routes tend to have smaller fare discounts and fewer transit amenities such as heated shelters. There is a real opportunity to address this equity imbalance. This might mean charging for parking at park-and-rides (something TLC supports) or it might mean creating new fare discount programs for low-income riders.




When it comes to transfers, our region offers a unique benefit. A transit rider here is allowed unlimited free transfers for 2 hours and 30 minutes and the transfer is good for round-trip travel. Many regions charge for transfers or limit the time period for a transfer to only two hours. Only one-third of regions allow a transfer to be used for round-trip travel. Metro Transit’s 2.5-hour transfer with round-trip travel was instituted in 1998. The idea came from Brian Lamb, the agency’s current general manager.



The percentage of transit operating costs paid by riders in the Twin Cities
metro is slightly above the average in peer regions. Photo: TLC.


Farebox Recovery


This year, TLC also added information on farebox recovery rates to our analysis. Farebox recovery is the percentage of the transit budget that is covered by passenger fares. The most current data from the Federal Transit Administration show that transit fares in the Twin Cities region cover 29 percent of transit expenses—somewhat more than the average of 25 percent for the 20 peer regions. The lowest farebox recovery ratio was in Dallas at 10 percent and the highest was in Washington DC at 46 percent.


Farebox recovery is a useful data point in comparing routes and metro-wide transit systems. At the same time, it is critical to note that the public investment in transit provides huge benefits for individuals, organizations, businesses, and entire communities. It is also important to recognize that the full costs of roads and parking are not paid directly by drivers. The cost of local roads and parking are heavily subsidized by property taxes.


Moving Forward


While transit fares in this region are comparable with those in other regions, the bad news is that for many residents, including many that are most reliant on transit to get around, the cost of the fare is still a barrier to riding buses and trains and limits the access to opportunity that transit can provide. TLC believes that lower fares for riders in need, and more equitable fares, would make transit service more attractive and would increase access to opportunity for many people in the region with low incomes.


At the same time, we know that without more funding for transit operations, other parts of the transit budget would likely be cut to lower fares. That is why TLC believes the region needs more funding for the transit system overall. And that’s why we are a leader in the Move MN campaign. Additional funding is needed not only to expand local and express bus service, and build more light rail and bus rapid transit lines, but also to keep fares affordable, to provide fare discounts for low-income riders, to provide better customer amenities, and to create bicycle and pedestrian connections to transit in neighborhoods across the region.


Notes:  Transit fare data is from agency web sites. Farebox recovery ratios are from 2012.



Celebrating the Green Line & Building Support for a Strong Transit System


By Joe Klein, Move MN Organizing Intern (TLC)



June 14: Passengers wait to board a westbound Green Line train on its first day of service.
Photo credit: Transit for Livable Communities.


The past two weeks have been very exciting for transportation in Minnesota! 


A Grand Opening


Last Saturday, we celebrated the grand opening of Green Line light rail. Despite the wind and rain, over 45,000 people came to ride the Green Line on its first day of service, taking advantage of the free rides available all weekend. Stations and neighborhoods up and down the line hosted festivals and outdoor events to celebrate the historic occasion. Some of these unfortunately were cut short by stormy weather. Nevertheless, it was fantastic to see people from around the region come together to enjoy the years of work on the Green Line finally paying off!    


The Green Line grand opening drew tens of thousands of riders despite stormy weather.
Photo credits: Transit for Livable Communities.


 For the first time in over 60 years, the Twin Cities are joined by rail once again. Congratulations to all who have worked to make this project a reality and especially to the residents, businesses, and organizations along the corridor. It's been incredible seeing how light rail has already changed the metro, and we look forward to the future progress that will come about because of this new line and new bus, bike, and sidewalk connections as well.



Opening day festivities: Executive Director Barb Thoman spoke at the Raymond Station ceremony near our office just before the first trains started rolling. Our large-scale interactive map highlighed neighborhood destinations and easy ways to reach them from Raymond Station. (Thanks to MCEA for partnering on this project!) Photo credits: TLC.


TLC and the Sierra Club teamed up and recruited over 60 volunteers to talk to community members about the Move MN campaign during the grand opening. We had hundreds of conversations—on trains, on platforms, and at station celebrations—about why transportation funding must be a priority in 2015. Our amazing volunteers collected nearly 800 postcards from individuals that support Move MN and want Minnesota to keep moving forward on transit! It was very exciting to see so much enthusiasm for the Green Line and also to build momentum for more great projects like it.



Big thanks to all who celebrated and volunteered with us at the Green Line grand opening!
Photo credits: Transit for Livable Communities and Sierra Club North Star Chapter


A Committed Coalition


Earlier this month, dozens of organizations from across the state came together for a coalition-wide Move MN meeting. The day was an important opportunity for coalition members to exchange ideas and reinforce their commitments to the campaign. We reflected on the progress that we’ve made together so far, and discussed how to move forward to ensure a strong bill is passed in 2015 to fund transit, bicycling and walking connections, and good roads. 


Representative Frank Hornstein and Senator Scott Dibble—two of the legislature’s strongest transportation champions—dropped by to energize the crowd. The room was filled with a diverse group of allies who represented many different organizations and areas, but all were united in their support for Move MN.



A large gathering of the Move MN coalition, with special guests Rep. Hornstein and Sen. Dibble, the House and Senate Transportation Committee Chairs. Photo credit: Move MN


A Key Announcement


We are very pleased to announce that Dave Van Hattum, TLC's Senior Policy Advocate, is now a co-chair of the Move MN campaign. Dave will be leading coalition efforts along with Margaret Donahoe, Executive Director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. TLC has always been a leader in the movement for a well-connected, multimodal transportation system in Minnesota, and Dave's role as a Move MN co-chair reflects this. At the same time, this campaign is truly a team effort. TLC and Move MN are lucky to have many invaluable partners in this coalition, and we all will be working closely with one another to make transportation a top priority at the Capitol next year.


With the opening of the Green Line, and the growing support for Move MN, we continue to build momentum for a stronger transportation system in Minnesota! Stay tuned for more summer volunteer opportunities with TLC, and look for Move MN at these upcoming events:

  • Saturday, June 21 - Hennepin County Fair, Corcoran
  • Saturday, June 21 - Imagine Ayd Mill Linear Park, Saint Paul
  • Sunday, June 29 - Twin Cities Pride Parade, Downtown Minneapolis



Meet Pam Moore: Bicyclist, Bus Rider, Program Manager


By Riggs Wangchuk, Multimodal Transportation Intern (TLC)


Editor’s Note: Pam Moore recently joined TLC in the new role of Transportation Options Program Manager. Here, we dig into her approach to and goals for the program, her passions and past experience, and why it’s so important for social service organizations and financial coaches to address transportation as a basic need.



Pam Moore, Transportation Options Program Manager, TLC


RW: What drew you to join the TLC staff as Transportation Options Program Manager?


PM: I learned about this position from a Major Taylor Bicycling Club member. The more I looked at it I was really interested in the idea of advancing a new program. It excites me to be able use my community-based programing experience, as well as my training experience in this new capacity. I’ve been a trainer for several years and I enjoy training on different topics! My own interest and my passion in transportation options also drew me to the position.


RW: What has your own experience with transportation been? How do you usually get around?


PM: I have always been a bus rider and a biker. I have been in the Major Taylor Bicycling Club for nine years. I started taking the bus when I was ten years old. I grew up in South Minneapolis but I did gymnastics in Minnetonka. In the summer of ’77, one day a week, my mother couldn’t drive me to the gym so I rode the bus instead. Over time the bus driver knew me and kept an eye on me. I think I’m fearless when it comes to the bus because I had such an early bus experience and it was positive.


RW: You have diverse experiences working in different organizations—philanthropic, educational, and community-based. Are these past roles informing your approach to the Transportation Options program?


PM: Yes! The work I’ve done ranges from direct service with youth to creating youth development programs all the way to working with foundations where I was a program officer overseeing grant giving. For a very long time, I was a health educator overseeing the community education department for a small nonprofit. One thing I have really enjoyed while getting acclimated to this job has been reconnecting with colleagues from my past community-based work. Re-engaging with some of those folks has been a fun way of sharing what I’m doing now with Transportation Options, how it’s related to their work, and how we could work together.


RW: Why is it important for social service organizations and financial coaches to address transportation as a basic need?


PM: Over and over, I’ve heard that transportation is one of the biggest challenges that social service providers are experiencing with their participants. Adding transportation options information and resources to their toolkits and addressing transportation as a basic need enables staff to help the families they serve with what can be one of the most challenging household budget items. It increases their knowledge and helps them become stronger financial coaches and social service providers.               



Pam Moore talking transportation options and neighborhood destinations at the Green Line grand opening event at Raymond Station.


RW: What do you see as the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity for people using transit, biking, walking, car sharing, and bike sharing instead of relying on car ownership?


PM: I think it varies. Lack of knowledge is big; many people just don’t know how to access car sharing or bike sharing or how to ride the bus or the train. Others maybe have a bad impression, so the challenge or opportunity in that case is to find ways to change perceptions with a positive experience and address concerns about safety. Access to options is also an issue. I remember a recent conversation with some young people who said, “But we want a car! That means that we’ve made it!” That definition of success is still out there, which means there is still a big opportunity to help to redefine “making it” in a way that emphasizes personal accomplishments—education or a rewarding job or family life, etc.—rather than owning a vehicle. And for some adults who might say, “I haven’t ridden a bike in 20 years!” part of the challenge is picking up an activity that was once recreational and seeing it as transportation. It’s about shifting mindsets and increasing knowledge so that people better understand what options are available to them and how to use them.  


RW: After launching as a pilot in 2013, TLC recently announced that Transportation Options is expanding. What are you most excited about with this new phase of the program? And what are you hoping to accomplish in the next year or two?


PM: I’m most excited about the opportunity to bring this to communities and possibly see change over time that comes as people make different choices about how they get around. One of my hopes is that thinking about transportation options will help build community and help people feel more connected to their community because they are experiencing it in different ways. Everything you notice when you are walking, taking the bus, or riding a bike makes you a better advocate for your community; you can really say, “this is lacking” or “this is great” or “this needs improvement.” I am also excited about the benefits in people’s budgets, health, and ultimately their environments. There is this strong element of empowerment—taking control of your ability to get somewhere and experiencing that feeling of accomplishment.  


RW: Tell us a little bit about your life and background outside of work. What else are you passionate about?


PM: I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have two nieces and one nephew and I am lucky to be able to see them often. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel across this country and visit other countries throughout my childhood and into adulthood. I’ve learned a lot and experienced a lot that way and hope to keep exploring!  


RW: What has been your most memorable experience as a member of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club?


PM: There have been a few! I remember getting a new bike after six years riding with the club. Honestly, one of the most memorable moments is falling off that bike after I got new clips. I clipped in and then I immediately fell right over and I thought, “Okay, I did something wrong!” Our ride around Lake Mille Lacs every summer also stands out. It is about a 65-mile ride. The very first time was dreadful (three flat tires) and the second time was also dreadful (90 degrees) but not as dreadful as the first. I like challenging myself! No matter how fast or slow you bike, we always stop in certain places together. It’s a memorable experience to be welcomed back by the staff of the same establishments we stop in every summer. Our jerseys are bright yellow so you can’t really miss us! 


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.



Where we want to live—now and in the future


By Hilary Reeves, Communications Director

Editor’s Note: This piece by TLC’s Hilary Reeves originally ran in the Southwest Journal on May 28 as part of her regular “Spokes & Soles” column. 


What makes a good neighborhood? A recent survey shows walkability on the minds of many.

Every couple of years the National Association of Realtors conducts a National Community Preference Survey. The most recent, in fall of last year, indicates that people most likely to be in the housing market want to live in communities where it’s possible to walk or drive to shopping, restaurants, the library, and school. For those who plan to move in the next three years, the walkable neighborhood was preferred by an 18 point margin (57 to 39 percent).


The number one feature that people said there was too little of in their neighborhoods was “safe routes for riding bikes to work and shopping.” The next biggest needs were for more “public transportation within an easy walk,” “housing for people with low incomes,” and “shops or restaurants within an easy walk” of home.


Many are willing to give up a large yard to gain walkability. Asked to pick between a house with a large yard where “you have to drive to get to schools, stores, and restaurants” and a small yard in a walkable neighborhood, the latter won out, 55 to 40 percent.


People still overwhelmingly want to live in detached, single-family homes (76 percent) and not in condos or apartments. But, the preference for a house drops to 57 percent when the apartment or condo brings more walkability and a shorter commute.


A March 2014 blog about the survey on Planners Web asks, “Do your development regulations and transportation plans allow for single-family homes on small lots, in a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and community facilities?” The blog notes that this is what “consumers increasingly want, but in many communities this option is hard to find.”


It may be fair to ask, however, if building primarily for single-family homes is best for walkability and for the changing demographics of the Twin Cities.


According to Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, communities where walking is most possible (and driving least necessary) come with densities of “ten to twenty units per acre,” which basically means a mix of “apartments, row houses, and yes, some free-standing single family homes.”


Planning and zoning for these densities would also foster some other things that the Realtors survey said people want: more bike routes and more affordable housing.


Speck (Walkable City) points out that in the 1950s (when the US started building interstate highways and people starting moving to suburbs), Vancouver began advocating for high rises, with requirements for transit and green space. Now, walking and bicycling are 30 percent of all trips in that city.


In Minneapolis, biking and walking together account for about 10 percent of all trips, according to the American Community Survey, part of the US Census. The percentage of people commuting by bicycle in Minneapolis increased from 1.9 percent to 4.1 percent in recent years, according to a report, Modes Less Traveled—Bicycling and Walking to Work in the United States: 2008–2012.


These are the same years that Minneapolis saw a big expansion of bike routes and programs (such as Nice Ride Minnesota bike-sharing and community bike centers, such as SPOKES in the Seward neighborhood) funded in part through the $28 million Bike Walk Twin Cities federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. The pilot program was the inspiration of Jim Oberstar, a long-time Minnesota representative in the US Congress. Oberstar, who died recently, was a transportation visionary.


The same kind of match-up of spending, community priority, and political leadership could help prepare the Twin Cities for changing demographics. According to the Metropolitan Council, by 2040 the population of people over age 65 will rise by 58 percent or nearly half-a-million. A bunch of seniors likely will have less preference for yards and more openness to mixed use condos and apartments. This same kind of development also fosters more affordable options.


Development of this sort would also meet one of the other preferences in the Realtors survey, for more diverse communities. A majority (53 percent) now favor “living in a community with a mix of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds” (up 11 points since 2011). More people want to live in communities with various income levels” (48 percent in 2013 versus 42 percent in 2011). And 66 percent (up from 60 percent) now want to live in a community with people at all stages of life. 




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