Twins’ pitching affects Northstar ridership

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

Officials from Metro Transit and Northstar commuter rail visited the Sherburne County Board this week with updates on recent ridership along with budget projections for 2013.

Ed Byers, deputy chief operating officer, and Ed Petrie, finance director for Metro Transit, said that the rail line with stations from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis was about 57,000 passengers below projected ridership of 587,552 for 2012 through September. They reported that ridership lagged particularly on routes for special events in Minneapolis, including games at Target Field.

“So the Twins not having a good year really affected that,” County Commissioner Larry Farber noted at the meeting Nov. 20.

Petrie made a reference to better pitching. “Hopefully we can all communicate that to the Twins,” Farber said.

Passenger fares totaled about $270,000 less than the $2.28 million projected in revenues through September for the year.

Effective Aug. 1, Metro Transit implemented a reduction in fares by about $1 for most tickets, ranging from $3 for a weekday ride into Minneapolis from Fridley, to $4.50 downtown from Elk River and $6 from Big Lake. Those reductions are scheduled to end after next April.

Children 12 and under, along with senior citizens, pay discounted rates Saturday and Sunday, and disabled riders pay lower rates all week, but Byers and Petrie reported the average collected fare for 2012 has risen over 2011.

Sherburne County’s current agreement is to pay 8.05 percent of Northstar costs, or an estimated $1.1 million for 2012, after all fare revenues are counted. Larger subsidies, totaling an estimated $11.95 million for the year, come from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) representing Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties, and also through money apportioned by the Metropolitan Council from state motor vehicle sales taxes.

Much of the CTIB’s share (an estimated $8.96 million for 2012) comes from a quarter-cent sales tax hike that has been in place in those five counties since April 2008.

While Northstar fare revenues were behind projections through September, Metro Transit also spent about $1.3 million less than planned expenditures for the period to show net income of $986,848 after nine months. Byers and Petrie reported they expect to see that number hold as 2012 comes to a wrap, and Sherburne County would receive an 8.05 percent share of that surplus in 2013.

The Metro Transit officials said expenses have been lower partly because equipment has held up without need for replacement (about $432,000 worth) and rail line employment vacancies have not been filled, for salary and benefit savings of another $177,000.

Metro Transit is planning a larger budget for Northstar in 2013, up about $700,000 to $18.01 million, largely due to projected increases for diesel fuel and a 10.9-percent rise in health care premiums for remaining staff.

Riders near the Northstar line are encouraged to board the rail for one of the next five Saturdays, Nov. 24 to Dec. 22, when Metro Transit has scheduled an additional departure from each station (3:16 p.m. from Elk River) to accommodate traffic and guests who may want to see Minneapolis’ Holidazzle parade those evenings. For an extended schedule and more information, visit northstartrain.org.

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