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Metro Transit ridership numbers shrink after strike
Ridership on Metro Transit buses dipped 28 percent in the first week of operation since the 44-day bus drivers strike ended. Metro Transit officials say they expected a decrease. They don't know how long it will take for ridership to rebound. Some attribute the first week decline to commuters sticking to carpools and the other bus alternatives they used during the strike.

St. Paul, Minn. — Metro Transit officials say their buses logged 28 percent fewer rides than over the same period last year. And they say ridership is 23 percent lower than the average weekly ridership just before the strike. Metropolitan Council President Peter Bell says Metro Transit management is trying to get an idea of how long it might take to regain ridership. Staff is studying bus strikes of similar length in other cities. After the 1995 Twin Cities bus strike it took a year for rider numbers to rebound. However, Bell says this year's strike lasted more than twice as long as the '95 strike.

"We're in unchartered waters, so we really didn't know what to anticipate," says Bell. "We have budgeted for an average reduction in ridership of six percent for a year."

I have overheard people talk about the fact that they've made friendships and relationships with people and decided to continue to carpool.
- Theresa Wernecke

Metro Transit has presented several incentives to get people back on the buses. It is offering discounts on bus cards, has given away free newspapers and suspended its no-beverage policy on the buses. Bell says despite last week's low ridership total, rider numbers built each day. However, he says it could take a while to get people back because some got used to not having the buses around.

"I think that's right because, I have overheard people talk about the fact that they've made friendships and relationships with people and decided to continue to carpool," says Theresa Wernecke, executive director of the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization.

Wernecke's office sells bus passes and links commuters with carpools. During the strike her office saw a large increase in people looking for rides to downtown Minneapolis. Wernecke says there are some people who won't go back to the bus because they found cheap parking.

"We have for people in the western and northwestern suburbs with the special garages," says Wernecke. "We call them the TAD garages. For people coming from that direction carpooling, as long as they have at least two people in the car and they're registered can be as inexpensive as 20 dollars a month. That's really hard to beat."

Wernecke says some people signed up for parking plans through the end of April and will wait until those contracts expire before getting back on the bus.

However, some commuters went out and bought cars. During the strike Correy Barnes started renting a car to get from his home in St. Louis Park to his job in downtown St. Paul.

"At around 300 dollars every two weeks, it just didn't make sense so I just went out and bought a car," says Barnes.

Now Barnes is paying 300 dollars a month in car payments and insurance. He says he will probably still occasionally take the bus. However, he'll be one less regular Metro Transit customer.

"It's just easier to get to - well, quicker, it's not so much easier, but it's quicker to get to and from work, just driving, you know," he says.

Until Friday bus riders can buy a 31-day pass and get another pass of equal value for half price. Metro Transit officials say they sold over 1,000 passes on the first full day of service after the strike.

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