2021 Regional Transit Ridership

Regional transit ridership begins to recover

COVID-19 restrictions over the course of 2021 continued to drive regional transit ridership numbers. Overall, ridership was down compared to pre-COVID levels; however, numbers improved about 34% between April and December compared to the same time period in 2020.

End-of-year overview

Transit ridership in the Twin Cities dropped to about 38.1 million in 2021, down about 7% from the previous year. It’s important to note that in the first three months of 2020, transit was operating without pandemic restrictions before ridership declined sharply by about 70% when Governor Tim Walz first issued stay-at-home orders.

Graph with a blue line showing 2020 ridership plunged beginning in February. A red line shows 2021 ridership starting lower than January 2020 but ending higher than December 2020.

In the first year of the pandemic between April and December of 2020, regional transit services averaged about two million customers per month. Despite facing similar restrictions throughout 2021, transit services averaged almost three million monthly customers, and reached nearly four million passengers in October.

Ridership increases

  • Metro Mobility refocused on core services for certified riders who cannot use regular fixed-route buses due to disability or health condition. Annual ridership levels improved by 26%, transporting 1.8 million riders. Between April and December, ridership improved by 54% compared to 2020.
  • Light rail ridership increased by 4% for the year — transporting nearly 10.7 million riders — with a 59% increase between April and December compared to the previous year.
  • Transit Link, the dial-a-ride small bus service where regular-route transit service is unavailable, showed 3% ridership increase for the year, with 37% growth in the April to December comparison.

Annual decreases with mid-year improvement

  • Annual bus ridership reached about 23.2 million riders, down about 12% from 2020, with express ridership taking the biggest hit, down 62%. Bus rapid transit stayed steady, down only 1% for the year. Beginning in April, however, ridership across all bus modes increased by 23% compared to the same time period the previous year. 
  • Northstar Commuter Rail ridership was down 67% for year, but rebounded beginning in April, carrying 135% more passengers than the same period in 2020.

Other regional transit providers in 2021