Charts of the Day: Impacts of Land Use on Light Rail Station Ridership in the Age of the Pandemic

The Metropolitan Council publishes information each year on fall traffic at bus stops and train stations. Data releases from 2013 allow for comparison of ridership patterns from year to year and may highlight some interesting trends. The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on transit ridership and examining the resumption of ridership on the Twin Cities’ two light rail lines reveals the impacts of land use and labor policies from a distance. Below are two graphs that show 2020 and 2021 ridership as a percentage of 2019 ridership. In 2020, the Blue Line had approximately 28% of its ridership in 2019, while the Green Line had 31% . In 2021, the Blue Line had approximately 43% of its pre-pandemic ridership, while the Green Line had 48%.

Blue Line ridership varied from station to station due to differences in surrounding land use.

Two stations on the Blue Line are showing significant declines in ridership which can likely be attributed to their nature primarily as park-and-ride lots. Fort Snelling and 28e Ave (now actually 30e Ave Station) both have much larger ridership declines than the Blue Line’s overall decline. Downtown stations in 2020 and 2021 saw lower ridership recoveries than the line as a whole, which may be a result of the diminishing importance of downtown-oriented trips. Other stations that have higher ridership recoveries would attract more trips than strictly 9-5 office work. Retail at the Mall of America and medical care at the VA Medical Center are two industries that offer far fewer work-from-home opportunities than office work.

A graph showing how Green Line ridership by station compares in the years 2021 and 2020 to the base year 2019.
Green Line ridership also varied from station to station, and some stations near the University of Minnesota had particularly high proportions of ridership loss.

Overall, the Green Line stations showed less variation in ridership, but some trends are still visible. The downtown Minneapolis station ridership is below the overall average recovery, while the downtown Saint Paul ridership is above the average recovery. Downtown Saint Paul as a whole had higher ridership retention than downtown Minneapolis, possibly due to more diverse trip patterns in downtown Saint Paul. Some of the largest ridership declines occurred in 2020 near stations surrounding the University of Minnesota, where ridership in 2020 was nearly 15% of ridership in 2019. The University of Minnesota had almost fully remote in 2020, but most in-person learning returned in 2021, as shown by the return of ridership for surrounding stations closer to the overall average. Notably, Prospect Park saw a peak in ridership in 2021, making 2021 ridership actually higher than any year from 2017 and before. Alex Schieferdecker noted the transformation of land use surrounding Prospect Park station in 2020, a pattern that has only continued since then.

Do you notice any other patterns or have different theories on ridership trends? Submit them in the comments below.

Top photo courtesy of Metro Transit.

About Eoin Roux

Eoin’s interest in transportation began with the development and construction of the Green Line in his childhood neighborhood. He is interested in transportation, land use planning and local history.

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