Met Council votes to lower train fares

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

The Metropolitan Council voted June 27 to approve a request by Northstar commuter rail officials that will reduce regular adult weekday rates from every station on the line, effective Aug. 1.

The council did not approve further fare reductions from Big Lake and Elk River, which the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners had recommended with a resolution dated June 19.

Current, one-way fares between Minneapolis and the suburban stations include $7 for passengers boarding in Big Lake, $5.50 in Elk River, $4 each in Anoka and Coon Rapids and $3.25 in Fridley. Passengers with a need to travel only between two of the suburban stations also pay $3.25.

The new rates in August will fall to $6 from Big Lake, $4.50 from Elk River and $3 from Anoka, Coon Rapids or Fridley (or station-to-station).

The Sherburne County Board agreed to push for extra 50-cent reductions from Big Lake and Elk River following a motion by Commissioner Felix Schmiesing seconded by Commissioner John Riebel. “We think that they (our stations in Sherburne County) are vital to the survival of Northstar,” Schmiesing said.

The next station to open on the line, in Ramsey, is expected to board riders beginning in November. The weekday adult rate from Ramsey, which will add a stop between Elk River and Anoka, starts at $3.50.

Commissioner Larry Farber said that he supported lower rates from the Sherburne County stations to prevent those sites from losing Northstar passengers to the Ramsey station when it opens.

Current adult rates are lower on weekends, including $5.25 from Big Lake and $4 from Elk River. Weekend rates are greatly reduced for seniors (minimum age 65), youth (ages 6–12) and all Medicare card holders, with a top rate of $1.75 from Big Lake and $1.25 from Elk River. Riders with disabilities pay those rates every day.

Frequent weekday riders can get 10-percent discounts on fares by purchasing passes.

Metro Transit officials Ed Byers, deputy chief operating officer for Northstar, and Ed Petrie, director of finance, presented a refund check of $217,656 to Sherburne County last week, equaling a share ($172,144) of Northstar’s revenues that exceeded expenses for 2011, plus a share of a refund that Metro Transit received from Burlington Northern Santa Fe related to 2010 Northstar operations. The county’s piece of those profits and the BNSF refund reflects the 8.05 percent that the county currently pays toward Northstar expenses after passenger fares are counted.

More than 82 percent of Northstar’s revenues in 2011 (after fares) came from the five-county Transit Improvement Board — which implements a quarter-cent sales tax in Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties for light rail — and a share of motor vehicle state sales taxes that funds Metro Transit.