Putting the "mass" in Mass Transit: Ridership on the rise in Twin Cities

Thanks to high gas prices, the use of mass transit is on the rise nationwide, and the Twin Cities are no exception.

Nationwide, use of public transportation is at its highest level in 50 years, according to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association. In Minneapolis, use of light rail is up 16% in the first three months of the year. (You can find the complete data for Minneapolis in this PDF document.) Minneapolis also saw a 6.7% increase in bus ridership over the same period.

The reason for the increase: It's the petroleum, stupid. With gas near $4 a gallon, mass transit is suddenly looking like an affordable alternative, as is made clear by this just-released survey:

In the Twin Cities, 11 percent of commuters have blown past their break point of $3.50 per gallon gas and already are making changes. Another 27 percent are poised to make changes if gas hits the $4 mark.

We're nearly there with the average price of regular unleaded in the Twin Cities at $3.82 a gallon, up 39 cents from a month ago and 68 cents from a year ago, according to AAA., a Web site that compiles reports from members, showed prices above $3.90 at several area stations Thursday.

And if the price hits $4.50 per gallon, more than half of the commuters in the Twin Cities said they'll be looking at changes in their daily commute.

For years, cities have been skimping on investment in mass transit, so many systems are now struggling to accomodate the sudden increase in ridership. Which makes it especially bad that Governor Tim Pawlenty recently played politics with light rail. Here's what he said:

"I don't feel any pressure about it. First things first. [If] you can't balance the budget, we certainly can't afford things like Central Corridor and expanding social services programs in Minnesota. We don't have a budget deal, there won't be a Central Corridor -- this year," he said.

In light of today's news, it's a good thing Pawlenty had a change of heart and signed the funding bill last Thursday.