Minnesota’s public transportation systems need to reevaluate and reinvent themselves if they are going to survive. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation reveal that the Twin Cities’ light-rail system sees more crimes per billion passenger miles than any other light-rail system in the country. In addition, transit has been the slowest mode of travel to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unlikely that it will ever capture more than 75 percent of the ridership it carried in 2019.

This is largely due to ongoing public safety issues and the change in employment patterns in the downtowns of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, with more companies adopting work-from-home or hybrid work strategies. Plans for light-rail lines, bus-rapid transit and other improvements should all be reevaluated in light of lower ridership.

In a 48-page report, I have analyzed various aspects of Minnesota’s transportation system, including transit and safety, motor vehicles and highways, intercity travel, transportation finance, and light-rail myths and realities.

The report also chronicles some of Minnesota’s biggest transportation boondoggles, such as the Southwest light-rail transit project, also known as the Metro Green Line Extension. Among my key findings and recommendations are the following:

  • Metro Transit should modify the Southwest light-rail project as a dedicated busway. A busway would cost less and allow for more flexibility.
  • To better serve Twin Cities employees who do not work in downtown Minneapolis or downtown Saint Paul, Metro Transit should revamp its bus system to serve multiple hubs with multiple spokes.
  • Metro Transit should address the lack of rigorous fare enforcement by installing fences and turnstiles around every light-rail stop and forbid people from entering the train unless they have paid their fare.
  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) should build upon data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission to develop a data-driven system of identifying safety issues on state and local highways, roads and streets.
  • After safety, MnDOT should make cost-effective congestion reduction its top priority.
  • Advocates of transportation equity for people with low incomes need to refocus their efforts away from public subsidies for mass transit, which few low-income people use, to providing low-interest loans to help low-income people buy cars. These loans could help people out of poverty by giving them access to far more economic resources than they can reach on mass transit.
  • Minnesota should reject proposals by Amtrak to help fund an expansion of passenger train service. Such funding creates unfair competition for bus companies and airlines. Most routes where Amtrak has proposed such state-funded services are already served by buses that offer more frequent service at lower fares than Amtrak. Many are also served by airlines that offer much faster service, often at competitive fares.
  • Rather than fund transportation out of general funds, Minnesota should find better ways to fund transportation out of user fees. That would result in better infrastructure maintenance and discourage expensive megaprojects that provide few transportation benefits.

— Randal O’Toole

Randal O’Toole is the director of the Transportation Policy Center for the Independence Institute. This article is reprinted from the website of the American Experiment, a Minnesota think tank. O’Toole’s full 48-page report may also be found at americanexperiment.org/reports.


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