A large new park-and-ride ramp and rising gas prices have combined to make an express bus route from Lakeville to Minneapolis the fastest-growing in the metro area.
Since the Kenrick Avenue park and ride by Interstate Hwy. 35 opened in September 2009, bus ridership on Lakeville route 467 has doubled, said Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland. The number of riders taking the express bus has grown from about 150 a day when it opened to 300 in March. By comparison, Metro Transit express bus service overall rose about 2.5 percent in 2010, he said.
Mylinh Vu, 40, of Lakeville, said she has ridden the express every day since she was transferred to a downtown office in February. "You save so much money," she said. The coach bus is comfortable and "I get my naps."
Steve Fox, who lives in Credit River Township across I-35W from the Kenrick Avenue bus station, said his bus reaches Minneapolis before his wife, who drives because she needs a car for work.
"I love my bus time. It is comfortable and on time," Fox said. He gets off at Ameriprise Center, where he works.
The Kenrick Avenue station has 750 free parking spaces, the third-largest capacity of any facility primarily served by Metro Transit bus service, Siqveland said. The half-hour, 21-mile ride is one of the agency's longest routes.
Route 467 "has exceeded ridership projections," said Dave Olson, Lakeville's community and economic development director. "As long as gas keeps going up, ridership will likely continue to rise."
The two-level, $8.67 million station was built along with bus and carpool lanes under the federal Urban Partnership Agreement to alleviate congestion in the I-35W corridor from Burnsville to Minneapolis. State bonds paid for about $1.7 million of the station with federal transit money covering the rest, Siqveland said.
Although Lakeville paid nothing for the ramp, it agreed to join the metro transit taxing district under which the Metropolitan Council collects about $700,000 a year in Lakeville property taxes for transit capital projects, Olson said.
Metro Transit provides nine Route 467 trips each way on weekdays. During its first three months, riders boarded the bus more than 20,000 times. A year later, in December 2010, ridership had increased by 75 percent to 35,175 trips. Brooklyn Park's express Route 761 had the next-highest percentage gain, nearly 26 percent, with 17,000 trips in the same period.
Lakeville's ridership gains continued into this year. In the first quarter, the route reached 40,684 trips.
Still, route 467 carries fewer people than many express routes. In all of 2010, the Lakeville route tallied 128,752 trips, which ranked just seventh among the 10 fastest-growing express routes, Metro Transit figures show. The St. Paul express to Minneapolis had the largest ridership of the group, with almost 1.15 million trips.
Besides rising gasoline prices, other likely reasons for Lakeville's jump in bus riders include reserved lanes on 35W and in Minneapolis that are immune to most traffic slowdowns, Metro Transit officials said. They also credited the comfortable coach buses that are popular with riders.
The Lakeville express doesn't seem to have had much effect on ridership of Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) buses, which carry downtown commuters from Lakeville, Apple Valley, Rosemount, Eagan and Burnsville, said customer relations manager Robin Selvig. She noted that overall MVTA ridership increased at the end of 2010 and reached a new high in the first quarter of 2011.
"I don't know that it is reducing our ridership," Selvig said. "I think it has given more options to the citizens."
One of those is Bernie Reis, 28, of Lakeville, who used to drive farther to the MVTA transit station in Burnsville. Since the Kenrick station opened, he has taken that bus to Minneapolis almost every weekday. "It is cheaper than paying for parking and for gas," he said.