Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Minnesota Transit System Costs Per Ride, a Comparison and Thoughts

Each year, the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation releases a report detailing accomplishments, costs, and ridership for all Minnesota public transit service providers. Looking at the 2011 Transit Report I thought it would be interesting to break down the operating cost and ridership numbers a bit for the major systems. I should note that while the annual operating costs and the ridership numbers are likely a consistent type of data for each system, I am not certain whether the operating costs represent the entire operating cost or just the cost not covered by passenger fares. Nonetheless here are the 2010 numbers, taking operating costs divided by ridership:

Operator Year Operating Exp Ridership Cost per Ride
U of M Transit 2010 $4,894,272 4,044,192 $1.21
St. Cloud MTC 2010 $5,358,104 2,192,736 $2.44
Metro Transit - Light Rail Train 2010 $25,736,121 10,455,860 $2.46
Rochester Public Transit 2010 $4,933,635 1,520,526 $3.24
Duluth Transit System 2010 $10,787,556 3,023,352 $3.57
Metro Transit - Bus 2010 $236,841,961 66,040,533 $3.59
Moorhead MAT 2010 $1,340,216 358,646 $3.74
Mankato Transit System 2010 $1,418,057 354,445 $4.00
Metropolitan Transportation Services - Contracted 2010 $12,513,375 2,915,286 $4.29
Maple Grove Transit 2010 $3,714,999 752,608 $4.94
Ramsey Star Express 2010 $373,781 55,487 $6.74
Minnesota Valley Transit 2010 $16,359,426 2,386,117 $6.86
Southwest Transit 2010 $7,483,460 1,002,382 $7.47
Plymouth Metrolink 2010 $3,649,014 464,142 $7.86
Shakopee Transit 2010 $1,112,474 116,599 $9.54
Prior Lake Laker Lines 2010 $707,647 50,392 $14.04
Metro Transit - Northstar 2010 $15,591,217 710,426 $21.95
Metropolitan Transportation Services - Transit Link 2010 $7,419,325 286,294 $25.92

 It's somewhat interesting how Saint Cloud Metro Bus has one of the lowest costs per ride, as the Saint Cloud metropolitan area is not necessarily a dense urban place. Metro Bus also charges less fare than other systems, with base fare at $1.00 currently instead of the $1.25-$3.00 others charge. Additionally fare may have been lower in 2010. Also noteworthy, light-rail is cheaper than bus to operate on a per ride basis, when there is enough ridership demand. What many anti-light rail supporters fail to mention is that one train set of 2-3 120 person capacity cars can be operated by one operator, versus 3-5 articulated or coach buses for the same capacity, but with 3-5 operators.

University of Minnesota's campus shuttle service however, comes in first. Fare is free on the shuttles, with all operating expenses paid out of student tuition fees. While the shuttles are well suited to capture heavy ridership in a very dense area with lots of demand, I can't help but wonder, what if a regular system stopped charging fares? Would it actually be cheaper in some cases to have free rides and collect fixed fees from property, business, lodging, and rental taxes? Of course many would object to higher taxes, with the usual phrases of socialism scheme, subsidy, spending "hard" earned dollars, so it would be unlikely to succeed. Still there might be enough savings from not maintaining fare collection equipment, dealing with cash, enforcing fares, etc. that it could be worthwhile.

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