By Peter Bodley
Anoka County Union
Weekday peak hour fares on Northstar Commuter Rail will drop by $1 from all but one of the stations effective Aug. 1.
The temporary fare change, which runs through April 30, 2013, was approved by the Metropolitan Council, which operates the commuter rail service via Metro Transit, in an effort to boost ridership.
The reductions do not affect weekend non-rush hour fares, however.
Under the change, the one-way fare from Big Lake to Minneapolis will dip from $7 to $6; Elk River from $5.50 to $4.50; and Anoka and Coon Rapids-Riverdale from $4 to $3.
The fare from Fridley will decrease from $3.25 to $3 as will station-to-station fares.
The one-way fare from the new Ramsey station, which is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed in November, will be $3.50.
This is the first change since the fares were established when Northstar service began in November 2009.
According to information provided to the Metropolitan Council for its consideration of the fares decrease, the fares put in place at that time were based on economic conditions and the desire to attract ridership.
But Metro Transit surveys of non-Northstar riders living within the Northstar Corridor show that a prime factor in the decision not to ride commuter rail is the fares.
Northstar ridership did not meet expectations in its first full year in 2010 and declined further in 2011.
Ridership on Northstar was 710,426 in 2010 and 703,427 in 2011.
According to John Siqveland, public relations manager, Metro Transit, Northstar ridership through May this year is 2.77 percent below the 2011 figure and 7.25 percent under budget.
But when the Ramsey Station goes on line later this year, that is expected to add 200 extra riders daily to Northstar, Siqveland said.
However, the core ridership on Northstar – the weekday peak hour morning and evening service – has held steady since service began, he said.
It is the weekend and special event service, including trains taking Minnesota Twins fans to and from games at Target Field, where Northstar’s Minneapolis train station is located, that has seen the declines, Siqveland said.
“Fewer people are going to see the Twins,” he said.
“The market perception is that the fares are too high because when people do ride Northstar they like it and tend to come back.”
According to Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look, chairman of the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority, he was informed that the decision to lower fares was going to happen and although the rail authority had no part in that decision, he applauded the effort to try and boost ridership.
But he is not sure that is going to occur, Look said.
“There might be a 5 percent bump,” he said.
For the full story, see the Thursday, July 19 print edition of the Times.