Metro Transit to continue service between Forest Lake, St. Paul
In the case of Route 285, the numbers didn’t lie.
The bus line that connects Forest Lake and St. Paul will continue, after all, thanks to the Met Council’s willingness to do the math before proceeding with plans to scrap the route.
The 17-member board oversees issues relating to growth in the seven-county metro area. It also oversees Metro Transit, which in December took over operation of Route 285.
The Met Council, upon studying prior ridership numbers, seemed ready to cut out Forest Lake and Columbus stops and run the route only as far north as Lino Lakes once a park and ride ramp is compete at 35E and County Road 14 late this year.
News of that plan rankled the Rush Line Corridor Task Force, a board of 22 elected officials from counties and municipalities along the corridor from St. Paul to Hinckley. Member Victoria Reinhardt, a Ramsey County Commissioner, continued dialogue with Met Council Chair Susan Haigh.
Be it from its own desire, the task force’s request, or some combination thereof, the Met Council kept tabs on Route 285 ridership in December and January.
The results showed a weekday ridership average of 150 passengers, up from the 2012 average of 136. The increase is even more impressive given the context that numbers usually dip around the holidays, Reinhardt said this week. The study also found that the per-passenger subsidy that totaled $9.43 in 2011 had fallen to $4.50, putting it in the range of similar Metro Transit express routes.
Reinhardt heard the welcome news in person from Haigh on Feb. 27.
“This is one of those first steps that I think is an incredibly important first step,” Reinhardt said. “I appreciate the fact that when they re-read the numbers, they said, ‘Yes, this is something we need to keep.’”
The Met Council believes the increased interest in Route 285 is related to changes implemented upon the route’s absorption into Metro Transit. The lightest-used trip each morning and afternoon was chopped, leaving three rides to St. Paul in the morning and three returns trips in the afternoon.
Metro Transit also tweaked the drop-off locations in St. Paul to include downtown stops that are now more heavily used, according to Reinhardt.
Upon the opening of the park and ride in Lino Lakes, along with one at 35E and County E in Vadnais Heights, Route 285 will be consolidated with Route 275, which currently services Centerville and Lino Lakes.
From that time on, two rides per morning and two per afternoon will include Forest Lake Transit Center and the Columbus park and ride at Running Aces Harness Park.
“As with all service in the region, the service in this corridor will continue to be monitored and evaluated for performance; however, we anticipate ridership will continue to grow,” Haigh stated in a Feb. 28 e-mail to Reinhardt.
The Met Council asked the Rush Line task force to designate approximately $115,000 in remaining funds from a federal grant to help subsidize the route. The Met Council’s continuation of the route’s service to Forest Lake and Columbus was not contingent upon receipt of that money, Reinhardt said. But, she also noted, the Rush Line task force had previously come to consensus on using the funds for that purpose if the opportunity would arise.
Reinhardt feels it is a case of common sense prevailing.
“What we asked all along was, if ridership is in line with Metro Transit’s criteria, can we continue it?” she said. “It appeared to us, when we looked at the information we had, that given the percentage of riders north of the Lino Lakes area, it just didn’t make any sense to us that they would cut that out.”
The Rush Line group will be briefed on more details at its March 21 meeting, Reinhardt said.