Metro Transit (Minnesota)

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Metro Transit
Slogan Hop On
Parent Metropolitan Council
Founded 1967
Headquarters Minneapolis, Minnesota
Locale Minneapolis – Saint Paul
Service type Transit bus
Bus rapid transit
Light rail
Commuter rail
Routes 123 bus[1]
1 bus rapid transit
2 light rail
1 commuter rail
Fleet 885 buses[1]
28 light rail vehicles
6 locomotives
18 rail coaches
Daily ridership 270,900 (Q3 2013)[2]
General Manager Brian Lamb

Metro Transit is the primary public transportation operator in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area of the U.S. state of Minnesota, and the largest such operator in the state. The system is a division of the Metropolitan Council, the region’s metropolitan planning organization (MPO), averaging 267,700 riders each weekday, carrying 90% to 95% of the transit rides in the region on a combined network of regular-route buses, light rail, and commuter rail.[1] The remainder of transit ridership is generally split among suburban “opt-out” carriers operating out of cities that have chosen not to participate in the Metro Transit network. The biggest opt-out providers are Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) and Southwest Transit (SW Transit). The University of Minnesota also operates a campus shuttle system of its own, which ranks second in the state as measured by ridership.

In 2011, buses carried over 86% of the system’s passengers. Nearly 13% of ridership was concentrated on Metro Transit’s busiest route, the METRO Blue Line light rail, and the small remainder rode the Northstar commuter rail service.[2]

Metro Transit drivers are organized through the Amalgamated Transit Union.


The agency was established by the Minnesota State Legislature in 1967 as the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). MTC’s operations were moved under the auspices of the Metropolitan Council in 1994, prompting a name change to “Metropolitan Council Transit Operations”, and then in 1998 to Metro Transit. The organization can trace its history back to the 19th-century streetcar systems of the region through the acquisition in 1970 of the Twin City Lines bus system from businessman Carl Pohlad. At the time of the acquisition, Twin City Lines had 635 buses: 75% of those were over 15 years old, and 86 buses were so old that they were banned from operating in Minneapolis. MTC acquired 465 new buses in the next five years and built many new bus shelters.[3]

Then there began a long battle to return rail transit to the region, and efforts for additional lines continue at a snail’s pace. It took at least 32 years to see the first line implemented. In 1972, the Regional Fixed Guideway Study for MTC proposed a $1.3 billion 37- or 57-mile (sources differ) heavy-rail rapid transit system, but the then-separate Metropolitan Council disagreed with that idea—refusing to even look at the plan—and continuing political battles meant that it was never implemented. The Met Council had its own plans for bus rapid transit in the Cities. Another system using smaller people movers was proposed in the 1975 Small Vehicle Fixed Guideway Study and gained the most traction with the Saint Paul city council, but was eventually dropped in 1980. In the 1980s, light rail was proposed as an alternative, and several possible corridors were identified, including the Central Corridor which had a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) drawn up in 1982.[3][4][5] However, it took another two decades before the Blue Line light rail line began operation on June 26, 2004, just over 50 years since the last regular-service streetcar ran on June 19, 1954, under the old Twin City Lines. Heavy-rail commuter service began on November 14, 2009, with the Northstar Line. The 2010s decade may finally see several new lines open.

Bus and driver on University Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota near Saint Paul

Metro Transit does not cover the whole Twin Cities area. Bus service in the suburbs was being cut back the early 1980s, and suburb-to-suburb service was limited (an issue that remains today). In 1986, cities and counties in the seven-county metropolitan area were given the option to run their own bus services and leave the MTC system. About 17.5% of the area which has regular route transit service is served by these six other “opt out” transit systems. Also about 5% of the system is contracted to private transit providers.

In the mid-2000s decade, the system claimed to have a safety record five times better than the national average, although some worried that continuing reductions in break times and increases in the length of working days could cause the incident rate to rise.


Currently Metro Transit receives the majority of its funding from the State Motor Vehicle Sales Tax, the State General Fund, fares, and federal revenues. Metro Transit prepares an annual calendar budget but most of its subsidy comes from state funds, which is on a July 1 biennial budget. Between 2001 and 2006, reductions in state general funds and state motor vehicle sales tax collections have forced a set of service cuts, fare increases, and fuel surcharges, all of which have reduced ridership.

Metro Transit fares Non-rush hours Rush hours
Local fare $1.75 $2.25
Express fare $2.25 $3.00
Seniors (65+) and youth (6-12)
Local fare $0.75 $2.25
Express fare $0.75 $3.00
Disabled riders $0.75 $0.75
Downtown zones $0.50 $0.50
Children (5 and younger) and

disabled veterans

Free Free

Local policy requires that one third of the system’s funding comes from fares, and current operations slightly exceed that level. Effective October 1, 2008, fares on all buses and trains increased by 25 cents.[6] Express routes cost more (on limited-stop portions) and certain eligible individuals (such as riders with disabilities) can ride for $0.75. Many of the fares are more expensive during rush hour periods; a rush-hour ride on an express bus currently costs $3, for instance.

The system does not make much use of fare zones aside from downtown zones in Minneapolis and St. Paul where rides only cost $0.50. Fare transfer cards valid for 2.5 hours are available upon payment of fare. Only the Northstar commuter rail line charges fares based on distance. A number of discounted multiple-use transit pass options are available, and the system introduced a contactless smart card (the Go-To card) for paying fares in early 2007.


METRO is the system of color-coded light rail and bus rapid transit lines that provide service to the Twin Cities region owned by the Metropolitan Council. Metro Transit is the operator of both of the region’s light rail lines: the METRO Blue Line; and the METRO Green Line upon opening in 2014. Service on the METRO Red Line is operated by Minnesota Valley Transit Authority.

METRO Blue Line[edit]

The METRO Blue Line opened on June 26, 2004, providing service between Hennepin Ave/Warehouse District Station and Fort Snelling station. Soon after, on December 4, 2004, service was extended to Mall of America Station via Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport. As part of the Northstar Commuter Rail project, on November 14, 2009 the Blue Line was extended a few blocks north to Target Field (Metro Transit Station) to provide connections to the new commuter rail line. Future plans call for a northern extension of the METRO Blue Line to Brooklyn Park, but are not expected to be completed until 2020 at the earliest.

METRO Green Line[edit]

The METRO Green Line is scheduled to open in June 14, 2014, and will connect Downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, the State Capitol, and Downtown St. Paul with light rail service. Future plans call for extending the Green Line to Eden Prairie via the job-rich southwestern suburbs. The Southwest extension isn't expected to be operating until 2018.

METRO Red Line[edit]

The METRO Red Line is a bus rapid transit line operated by Minnesota Valley Transit Authority on behalf of the Metropolitan Council, and provides connections between the Blue Line at Mall of America and the southern suburb of Apple Valley. Service began on June 22, 2013.

METRO Orange Line[edit]

The METRO Orange Line is a bus rapid transit line that will operate along Interstate 35W from Downtown Minneapolis to the southern suburbs, terminating in Burnsville. Recent estimates anticipate opening of the Orange Line in 2019.

Bus Routes[edit]

A Metro Transit bus stop sign in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota, showing all the routes that stop at this location.

Metro Transit operates 123 bus routes, 66 of which are local routes and 51 are express routes. An additional 6 bus routes are operated under contract for Maple Grove Transit. In 2012, Metro Transit buses averaged 230,575 riders per weekday. The system operates almost 900 wait shelters, including 180 reclaimed from CBS Outdoor in March 2014.[7]

Bus routes are numbered in accordance to portions of the metropolitan area served. Bus routes that primarily serve Minneapolis are numbered 1–49, 50–59 are inner-city limited-stop routes, 60–89 primarily serve St. Paul, and route 94 is an express route that connects the core areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul via I-94. 100 series routes are primarily commuter routes connecting outlying neighborhoods of Minneapolis and St. Paul to the cities cores as well as the University of Minnesota. 200 series routes serve the northeast metro, 300 series in the southeast, 400 series in the southern Dakota and Scott County suburbs, 500 series in the suburbs of Richfield, Edina, and Bloomington, 600 series in the west and southwest metro, 700 series in the northwest metro, and 800 series in northern Anoka County suburbs.

Three digit route numbers are further subdivided into two groups. Routes ending in x00–x49 are typically local service bus routes connecting METRO stations, shopping areas, and other local destinations, whereas those ending in x50–x99 are primarily express service routes which connect outlying suburbs and park and ride facilities to the Central Business Districts of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Additionally, the Northstar Commuter Rail line is publicly given route number 888.

Hi-Frequency Network[edit]

A subset of the bus network, known as the Hi-Frequency Network was created on September 9th, 2006. This network denotes bus routes that offer service every 15 minutes or better on weekday periods from 6 am to 7 pm and on Saturdays from 9 am to 6 pm. Bus routes 5, 6, 10, 16, 18, 19, 21, 54, 64, 84, 515, as well as the METRO Blue Line are currently part of the Hi-Frequency network.

Northstar Line[edit]

The Northstar Line is a commuter rail line providing service between Minneapolis and Big Lake, Minnesota, which opened on November 16th, 2009. There are additional bus connections to Becker and St. Cloud. There are currently 5 round-trips in the peak direction, and 1 reverse commute round-trip on weekdays, and three round-trips on Saturdays and Sundays. Additional service is provided on event days, such as during Twins and Vikings games; however, service is not provided on holidays.


Metro Transit symbol on a seat, new bus on University Avenue

Nicollet Mall[edit]

Nicollet Mall had been used exclusively for buses and taxis for many years, but the number of buses is being reduced. This should allow more bicycle use of Nicollet. Metro Transit and the city of Minneapolis experimented with diverting buses from Nicollet to Hennepin Avenue in evening hours to reduce noise starting in 2005. In December 2009, the “MARQ2” project partly funded by the federal government under the Urban Partnership Agreement was completed where two-lane busways were built along the parallel roads Marquette and 2nd Avenue South.[8] A system of lettered gates was established where buses would only stop every other block along those two one-mile corridors. NexTrip digital signs with arrival times were also added, though they weren't functioning at the beginning of the rollout. NexTrip information has also been available through the Metro Transit website since 2008, and can be accessed with mobile web browsers.[9]

Bus Only Shoulders[edit]

Since 1991, Metro Transit buses have been allowed to use “bus-only shoulders” road shoulders to bypass traffic jams. Currently, buses are allowed to travel no more than 35 mph or 15 mph faster than the congested traffic in the general purpose lanes. Bus drivers have to be very attentive when taking the bus onto the shoulder, since that part of the road is only about one foot wider than the buses in many cases. To help with this issue, researchers at the University of Minnesota helped rig up a bus with a lane-keep system along with a heads-up display connected to a radar system to alert the driver of any obstacles. The technology was an adaptation of a system previously tested with drivers of snowplows, and made some headlines in the early 2000s decade. It appears this system will be more widely deployed under the Urban Partnership Agreement that assisted in the Marq2 project.[10]

Transit Centers[edit]

Metro Transit operates service to 28 Transit Centers, which provide connection points for bus and rail service throughout the metropolitan area.

Park and Rides[edit]

Metro Transit operates service to 79 park and ride lots and ramps, with a total of 13,829 parking spaces. These lots allow commuters to park their cars for free and take buses and trains to the Downtown areas to avoid traffic congestion and parking fees.



Metro Transit operates the Gillig Phantom (majority of the fleet), Gillig Advantage, New Flyer D60HF, D60LF, D60LFR and MCI D4500.

In the 2000s, most buses had a largely white livery with a predominantly blue strip running horizontally along the side and a large white “T” inside a red circle on the roof. Diesel–electric hybrid buses introduced toward the end of the decade spurred new color schemes with yellow at the front and the blue line moved above the side windows. The METRO light-rail vehicles have a different color scheme, of predominantly black and gray with yellow used on each end. Metro Transit uses vehicle wrap advertising on some buses and light rail cars, creating a different appearance.

All of the buses are handicapped-accessible, either using hydraulic lifts or a low-floor design. The Metropolitan Council also operates the Metro Mobility paratransit system for door-to-door transportation.

All Metro Transit buses and light- and heavy-rail trains have bike racks installed.[11]


Bombardier Flexity Swift 27 vehicles are operated on the Blue Line light rail line. New vehicles for the Blue Line and all vehicles for the future Green Line light rail line will be Siemens S70 Avanto 59 vehicles.[12][13] Rolling stock for the Northstar Line commuter rail line consists of Bombardier BiLevel Coaches pulled by MotivePower MP36 locomotives.


The play 21A by local humorist Kevin Kling is based on his experiences taking the 21 bus, which runs along Lake Street in Minneapolis and Marshall and Selby Avenues in Saint Paul. The play ran locally and in Louisville, Kentucky before running off-Broadway in New York City in 1986.[14]

See also[edit]

Opt-out and regional providers:


  1. ^ a b c "About Metro Transit". Metro Transit. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Ridership Report Archives". American Public Transportation Association. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "A bold experiment: the Metropolitan Council at 40". Metropolitan Council. Retrieved December 16, 2009. 
  4. ^ Jeff Severns Guntzel (May 19, 2008). "A train linking Minneapolis and St. Paul? We had that scoop in 1984". City Pages. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  5. ^ "ALL ABOARD: For the Transit Study that Never Ends". City Pages. September 5, 1984. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Faster express service is coming to downtown Minneapolis". Metro Transit. Retrieved December 16, 2009. 
  9. ^ "Exactly when is my next bus departing?". Metropolitan Council. May 14, 2009. Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  10. ^ "Minneapolis Urban Partnership Agreement". Urban Partnership Agreement and Congestion Reduction Demonstration Programs. U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  11. ^ "Metro Transit - Bike Options". 
  12. ^ "Central Corridor Contracts Awarded". Retrieved 20 September 2011. 
  13. ^ "FTA Signs Agreement to Fund Central Corridor". Retrieved 20 September 2011. 
  14. ^ Walter Goodman (May 21, 1986). "Theater: Kevin Kling in '21A' Off Broadway". New York Times. Retrieved January 8, 2010. 

External links[edit]