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VAN Forum

Public Transit in the Twin Cities: Today and Tomorrow

February 10, 2009
10:30 AM to 12:30 PM

Barb Thoman - Transit for Livable Communities
John Diers - Independent Consultant on Transit Operations

Lenox Community Center
6715 Minnetonka Blvd
St. Louis Park, MN 55426


blurbus_200Why is a strong transit system important to healthy, affordable, and environmentally sound communities? How does the transit service in this region compare to services in other areas around the country? How do we and should we pay for transit? What are opportunities and challenges for the future? This Forum will explore these questions.

Barb Thoman co-founded Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) in 1996. She is currently a program consultant for the organization. TLC’s mission is to work toward a greater reliance on transit use, biking, and walking through research, education, and advocacy.  Thoman has served on the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Advisory Board and the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group.

John Diers, with Aaron Isaacs, is the author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul. John is a 35-year veteran of the transit industry having served in a variety of staff and management positions with the Metropolitan Transit Commission and later, with private transit management companies as a general manager of transit systems in Wisconsin and New York. He is presently an independent consultant on transit operations and writes and teaches on transportation subjects.

This VAN Forum is free and open to the public.
Questions? Need a ride? Call VAN at 651-917-4652.



This Forum examined Minneapolis/St. Paul transit options and challenges in the past, present, and future. John Diers opened the Forum with a history of the electric streetcar in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Diers said that Twin Cities Rapid Transit (TCRT) was one of the finest transportation systems in the country.  On December 24, 1889 the first electric streetcar in Minneapolis opened; and on February 22, 1890, the first electric streetcar began operation in St. Paul. Throughout its history, TCRT employed 4,000 people and operated 1,000 streetcars, making it one of the largest employers in Minnesota. By 1930, TCRT had more miles of track than all light rail systems in the US today, combined. This extensive track system allowed people to travel freely between Minneapolis and St. Paul.  In fact, TCRT lines extended from Minnetonka to Stillwater, and it took only 45 minutes to travel by streetcar from downtown Minneapolis to Excelsior.

Diers offered a statistic that showed how efficient transit system was in the past. In 1920, about ¾ of million people lived in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. During that year, streetcars transported about 238 million riders. Today, MetroTransit transports about 80 million people, and the Twin Cities has a population of about 3 million people.

This comparison between transit in the past and today led to great discussion about the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area transit system.  Attendees questioned why transit was so prevalent and utilized in the past and why those options aren’t available today. According to Diers, the primary underlying reason for this is the changing philosophy of transit systems. Today, the Twin Cities’ transit system operates under the premise of congestion relief. The primary focus is on reducing the number of cars on the roads during peak traffic hours.

Diers’ presentation was a great segue into Barb Thoman’s presentation about Transit for Livable Communities. Thoman said that Transit for Livable Communities was formed when a group concerned citizens began discussing the transit system.  Transit for Livable Communities advocates, organizes and researches alternative forms of transit like, walking and biking to reform the transit system. Minneapolis/St. Paul is a good place to promote all levels of transit because Minneapolis is ranked 2nd in the country for bike commuters.

Thoman also spoke about current transit initiatives going on around the metropolitan area. The Twin Cities recently voted to increase the gas tax to improve public transit; this gas tax will allow for $85-90 million to be put in rail and bus lines. The Northstar Rail Line is set to open at the end of 2009 and will offer service from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis. The Central Corridor Light Rail will run between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul and the details of this project are getting finalized.

Both Thoman and Diers agreed that funding will continue to be the main issue facing the transit system now and into the future. Currently, the transit system in Minnesota is funded with a sales tax on new and used cars. With the economy, people are no longer buying cars, thus decreasing funding into the transit system. Other areas across the United States use a regional sales tax – about a full penny to fund its transit system. To improve transit now and in the future, people are encouraged to contact their representatives and senators.
Visit if you are concerned about other transit options.

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