Demand rising for Metro Mobility

Aging population brings increased use of shared ride service

Metro Mobility van
Demand for Metro Mobility service is on the rise in the Twin Cities, including in Southwest Minneapolis, which officials say is making the build-out of new transit services more difficult. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

Ridership fell on all forms of transit in early 2019 except for Metro Mobility, which saw a 2% growth in ridership, according to Metropolitan Council figures released June 10. Metro Mobility was used 11,885 more times in the first quarter of 2019 than the same period in 2018.

That trend is not surprising to anyone paying attention to the demographics of Minnesota, which is in the midst of accelerating aging as baby boomers reach senior citizen status.

Demand for Metro Mobility, a shared ride service required by state and federal law for riders with certified medical need that prevents them from using fixed-route service, is rising fast. The service’s ridership was up 6% in 2018 and has risen by 30% over the past five years, according to the Met Council.

That trend holds true in Southwest Minneapolis.

Metro Mobility provided 126,000 trips in the zip codes that include Southwest Minneapolis between May 2018 and April 2019, according to Met Council data. That’s a 9% increase from May 2013 to April 2014, when Metro Mobility provided 115,560 trips within those zip codes.

Kari Benson is the executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging, a state organization with a governor-appointed board that provides resources and advocates for senior citizens. Transportation is one of the board’s biggest advocacy issues.

“We do know the demand for Metro Mobility is higher than the capacity that they are able to meet right now,” Benson said.

For older adults, signing up for the service can be difficult, she said. The application is multiple pages long, and a doctor needs to sign off verifying applicants’ need for the service.

“Those who do use it find that it is a benefit to them,” she said.

The Minnesota State Demographic Center reports that in 2020, the population of residents over 65 will exceed that of residents enrolled in K–12 school for the first time in state history. Some 285,000 Minnesotans will have turned 65 by the end of the decade, which will be more than the past four decades combined, according to the agency.

“There are going to be changes needed and investments needed in some of these really key services like transportation,” Benson said.

Metro Mobility charges $4.50 for rush hour trips and $3.50 for trips during non-peak hours. The average subsidy per trip was $28.68, according to the Met Council. The service’s operating expenses, which topped $76 million in 2018, is mainly funded by the state.

Investments made in the past decade make Benson confident that Metro Mobility can withstand the increasing demand from users. The question for the Met Council is whether they’ll be able to provide their other services.

Currently, for Twin Cities area transit services, the state funds half of light rail expenses and whatever is left over from state transit funding goes to bus service. In previous years, about half of that has gone to Metro Mobility, but as the demand increases, the share of the state transit dollars the service needs grows and grows.

“What it has meant is we haven’t been able to build out the bus system,” said Kate Brickman, a spokesperson for the Met Council.

This year, Gov. Tim Walz requested a separate funding stream for Metro Mobility that would not come from the same trough as Metro Transit lines. But that didn’t pass, and neither did a DFL push for a new half-cent tax increase to expand the arterial bus rapid transit network. Because of that, Metro Transit officials said, the two planned BRT routes in Southwest — the E Line along Hennepin Avenue and the B Line on Lake Street — have been delayed.

Because Metro Mobility is required by law, eventually the entire state funding allotment for transit would go toward the service, Brickman said.

“If we ultimately have to fund it, it’s hard to plan for what our funding will be for the rest of the system,” she said.