Riders and taxpayers should not be misled by the news that the Northstar commuter rail line is declining slightly in ridership.
While ridership the first 10 months has declined by 2.2 percent (13,215), the good news is that the operating fund has been under budget for all three years the train has been rolling down the tracks.
John Siqveland, spokesman for Metro Transit, says operations have been under budget because of strict cost controls.
In fact, each of the three years, unspent operating budget funds have been returned to the funders, including five counties that have levied a quarter-cent sales tax to help fund the Northstar line.
Through the first 10 months of this year, 589,656 rides were taken on the Northstar starting from Big Lake to Minneapolis.
So why was there a decrease on the Northstar? One answer is the dismal record of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. Fewer fans are riding on the special trains for the Twins games.
A survey taken of non-riders in August revealed that the main reason why more people are boarding the Northstar was the ticket price.
The price was reduced last August, and ridership since then is up 8 percent from projection.
It’s a good deal. The price of a ticket is $6 from Big Lake, $4.50 from Elk River, $3 from Anoka and Coon Rapids and $3 from Fridley. Free parking is offered at all Northstar transit stations.
You get a smooth, on-time ride to your destination, avoiding all the traffic hassles.
You are guaranteed a ride home, no matter what the weather. While people in cars are crawling along the highway during a blizzard, the Northstar glides along the tracks.
Part of that guaranteed ride is a reimbursement system for those who take the train three times a week. If you need emergency transportation to your home during the day, you can apply for a reimbursement four times a year for up to $100.
Another good sign is the unexpected traffic from opening up the transit station in Ramsey. During the first week of stopping at Ramsey, 300 boarded the train, 100 more than expected.
You can try the ride Saturdays through Dec. 23 on special trains to the Holidazzle parades in downtown Minneapolis. You may want to take the special train to the last two Vikings home games Sunday, Dec. 9 and Sunday, Dec. 30. Family package fares are offered and the Sunday fares are the lowest of the week. Train rides to the Metrodome are made easy by the free connection via the Hiawatha light rail line that joins Northstar at Target Field.
All aboard! — Don Heinzman
(Editor’s note: Heinzman is a columnist and editorial writer for ECM/Sun newspapers.)