It's time to end the Northstar Commuter Rail service—at least on weekends.
That's the opinion of former Metropolitan Council Chair Annette Meeks, now CEO of the conservative Freedom Foundation of Minnesota who also ran for lieutenant governor in Minnesota on the Republican ticket in 2010. In an op-ed in the Oct. 15, 2012 Star Tribune, Meeks wrote:
Five years ago, I served as chairman of the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Committee. I have to admit I was very skeptical about spending precious transit resources to test commuter rail in the Twin Cities. And now, after nearly three full years of Northstar service, it appears that the skeptics were right: Northstar has failed to meet ridership projections, even during its first full and widely promoted year of operation. Starting in 2010, Northstar Commuter Rail debuted with 183,000 fewer passengers than projected. I realize that no transit-rail line in the country comes close to covering its operating costs. But Northstar continues to defy even the most modest ridership expectations.
Rail proponents have blamed the poor ridership on just about everything as they attempt to justify operation of commuter rail, which continues to cost taxpayers nearly $1 million in ridership subsidies every month. Since November 2009, the Metropolitan Council has blamed dismal ridership numbers on everything from high unemployment (2009) to relatively low gas prices (2010) to mild weather (2012) to improvements on U.S. Hwy. 10 (2010). Heck, they even blamed the hapless Minnesota Twins (2011) for failing to attract more riders.
On Aug. 1, the Metropolitan Council announced another marketing gimmick to entice potential passengers to hop on board. Transit officials cut fares in August by $1 per ticket at every station except Fridley (which saw a 50-cent reduction). This fare cut was on top of the decision in 2010 to not increase the temporary introductory Northstar fares as originally promised. These fare reductions only exacerbate the problems for taxpayers, who are already footing the bill for nearly 80 percent of every ride taken on Northstar. And, even with deep public subsidies and further fare reductions, riders continue to ignore the train.
One reason for lower annual ridership figures that Met Council has offered but Meeks didn't mention: the 2011 BNSF freight train derailment in Fridley, which closed freight and Northstar rail traffic for four days.