By Pat Kessler

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Legislature is preparing deep budget cuts to Twin Cities transit systems, especially light rail.

Critics say taxpayers pay millions of dollars a year to subsidize every passenger.

While it’s true that taxpayers subsidize every passenger on the light rail, it’s less than you think and less than other common transit systems, like suburban buses.

The Met Council crunched the numbers at the request of the House Transportation Policy Committee. It figured in the operating expenses, passenger fares, the number of passengers, and the hours of service. The results might stop you in your tracks.

Suburban express service cost the most per passenger to operate. Those buses pick up riders at suburban park-and-rides, taking them to and from downtown.

Service from Prior Lake cost the most: $7.47 per passenger. Shakopee and Southwest Transit are close behind, at $7.19 and $6.75, respectively. Then come Minnesota Valley ($4.62) and Plymouth ($4.11). Maple Grove is the cheapest, at $2.25 subsidy per passenger.

Those numbers are roughly comparable to Metro Transit buses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, which cost $3.16 per passenger to operate.

Metro Mobility is among the most expensive. The service is for people with disabilities, and is federally mandated. Metro Mobility costs $23.94 per passenger to operate.

The Northstar Rail line in the northern suburbs has high ridership, but costs $18.31 per passenger.

What’s the best bang for the buck? Metro Transit Light Rail. Taxpayers pay only $1.84 subsidy per passenger on light rail, the least of any transit system in the state.

That’s reality check.

Pat Kessler

Comments (12)
  1. tbasgen says:

    Not to mention all free parking we subsidize here in the cities.

  2. Bob Kohns says:

    Assuming those numbers are “all in” correct, why am I paying for someone else to go to work? You’re basically saying that if you DON’T take mass transit you are paying for the people that do? REALLY! WHERE IS MY SUBSIDY!

    Why do we have to have so many wealth transfer programs? It seems to me we should have only income taxes that make this adjustment verses every program government touches. Why am I subsidizing a high income earner living in Prior Lake because I elect to drive and office close to where I live.

    Don’t these policies promote urban sprawl? It also seems like a business subsidy to Downtown Minneapolis businesses.

    Make a State/Federal law the only legal subsidies are on an individual’s tax returns (deductions and/or credits) based on individual actual needs. Let the free market dictate the balance.

    1. You do know that when you drive to work other people are paying you to go to work right? Or did you pay for those roads you travel on completely yourself? Also, lets not forget that oil and gas companies are heavily subsidized to lower the price of gas that you use in your car.

      1. Bob Kohns says:

        I’m not sure how a third party, me, should be subsidizing you and your employer. ALL subsidizes should be consolidated into needs based as evidenced by the income tax code. Currently, we spend all our time trying to get more subsidies then the next guy. It never ends. “Take from the rich until there aren’t any more.” Unfortunately, the rich play the game better than the poor and middle. Guess what happens? I guess that explains why they get richer.

      2. James Goodrich says:

        Easy there Elizabeth Warren. I cant think of a more refuted talking point. Everybody pays there fair share for the roads. You want to talk about oil and gas subsidies. What about Obama subsidizing 50 years worth of gas and oil subsidies to green companies like Solindra that went bankrupt.

  3. So if we are only paying $1.84 in subsidy why not raise the price to ride by $2.00 and make a little money?

  4. The Fox Guarding the hen House approach and we believe this?

    Well of course the Suburban buses cost more when you have a jealous Big Brother calculating the numbers. They’ve made it clear that don’t like others playing on their “TURF”! Thus the push for SWLRT is to kill SW Transit as rider numbers and projections don’t come close to the cost of O&M.

    @PatKessler how about an independent audit of these numbers?

    For LRT are they calculating total riders or PAID Ridership?

    B as in B & S as in S!

  5. I’m a happy transit customer who can afford other means, but have come to realize in the last six months an awesome opportunity with Metro Transit. A question about the subsidy numbers “per person”. Is that per person for the year, month…one way trip, round trip? For example I pay $6 per day for Maple Grove Transit, or $3 per rush hour trip. How can I factor in the subsidy to determine how much my trip really costs?

  6. As I thought, a completely TWISTED STORY from the LIBERAL BASTIONS of WCCO!

    Who’d have thunk???

    Twisted to degrade and make the Conservative/Suburban Transit systems look BAD!

    Fellow SouthWest Transit Riders, recently there was a news story that didn’t put suburban transit in the best light. Even through the report was labeled a “Reality Check”, it was far from being reality.

    The segment not only used out dated information, it blurred the line between express, reverse commute, and local operations, and lumped the various route segments we operate against Metro Transit’s local operations. Even though suburban operators like SouthWest have the lowest operating costs in the region, it’s difficult to actually be less expensive when comparing routes in excess of 20 miles against something that operates fewer trip miles, while having the ability to turn ridership over throughout its actual trip unlike an express route.

    This is also true when comparing services like those we operate against LRT. Once constructed LRT can be less expensive than traditional bus operations (i.e. less drivers, and fuel), but what often doesn’t get included in the comparative statistics the huge capital costs needed to construct the line – $2 billion alone to construct the SWLRT line. When you actually compare our suburban operations against others in this region including Metro Transit, we are not only competitive, but are more cost effective than most.

    So why is information like the “Reality Check” segment put out there? The simple answer is politics. There is a growing concern that Metro Transit will see some funding reductions if current bills in the Legislature pass. The Metropolitan Council and Governor’s office feel if they can discredit the operations currently operating in the areas represented by the Republican majority, then they feel public pressure can influence the outcome of any negative legislation. SouthWest Transit is a public operator and we try our best to stay clear of the political gamesmanship.

    However, I want to assure you that our system operates efficiently while continuously monitoring the operations, making adjustments to better meet the rider’s needs as well as improving our overall cost effectiveness. So as the old adage goes, don’t always believe what you hear.