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Chapter 8 – Service Plan to Meet the Need for Public Transit

Legislative Goal of Meeting 90% of Total Transit Service Needs by 2025

For each update to the Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan, Minn. Stat. 174.24 requires MnDOT to make an assessment of ridership, total transit services needs in Greater Minnesota, and a plan to meet those needs.

"The Commissioner shall develop a Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan that contains a goal of meeting at least 80 percent of total transit service needs in greater Minnesota by July 1, 2015, and meeting at least 90 percent of total transit service needs in Greater Minnesota by July 1, 2025. The plan must include, but is not limited to, the following:

  1. an analysis of ridership and total transit service needs throughout greater Minnesota;
  2. a calculation of the level and type of service required to meet total transit service needs, for the transit system classifications as provided under subdivision 3b, paragraph (c), of urbanized area, small urban area, rural area, and elderly and disabled service;
  3. an analysis of costs and revenue options; (Chapter 9);
  4. a plan to reduce total transit service needs as specified in this subdivision; and
  5. identification of the operating and capital costs necessary to meet 100 percent of the greater Minnesota transit targeted and projected bus service hours, as identified in the greater Minnesota transit plan, for 2010, 2015, 2020, 2025, and 2030."(Chapter 9).

The plan must specifically address special transportation service ridership and needs.

Transit Need in Greater Minnesota


The level of transit need across Greater Minnesota varies from community to community. Demographic factors impact transit need. In order to reflect current demographic data, MnDOT updated the model from the 2011 Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan to estimate future-year transit needs. MnDOT updated the Transit Need model from the 2011 GMTIP to reflect current demographic data that estimates future-year transit needs.

Based on results of the 2014 Greater Minnesota Need Model, MnDOT developed a service plan designed to meet the transit need in Greater Minnesota. The core element of the service plan is the baseline span of service, with additional urban and rural service improvements. The service plan addresses the needs of riders and potential riders such as reliability, evening service and weekend service.

The planning horizon for the service plan is nine years and fully implemented by 2025 as directed by the legislature. During the next nine years, transit systems will incrementally work towards implementing the service plan. Not all service will be implemented at once. Some years, transit systems may focus on improving span of service, while in other years, the systems may focus on expanding service coverage.

MnDOT then calculated the number of service hours needed to implement the service plan and the ridership potential. Using trip rates for specific service types, MnDOT projects that the service plan is likely to reach legislative ridership target of 90% of transit needs met by 2025. The cost of this service plan is based on the number of service hours calculated to implement the plan (see Chapter 9).

Calculating Transit Need

MnDOT calculated the transit need in Greater Minnesota using the 2014 Greater Minnesota Transit Need Model. The updated model improved upon the model used in the 2011 Minnesota Transit Investment Plan. The improved model emphasizes variables for college campuses and urban areas larger than 50,000 in population.

The prior model also estimated a large unmet need of several million rides prior to 2015, which was not realistic. The new model accounts for future demographic changes such as an aging population and growing demand in urban areas. The targets for 2025 have been updated and are listed in Figure 6-1, along with a comparison to the prior model targets. The legislative target is 90 percent of 18.9 million, or 17 million rides by 2025. In 2015, ridership was 12.2 million, so to meet the 2025 target an additional 4.8 million rides are needed.

The 2014 model is based on a Transportation Collaborative Research Panel Report 161[1], but with some adjustments for Minnesota based on a regression analysis of the model variables. The main source of data for the estimates used in the 2014 Greater Minnesota Need Model is the American Community Survey (ACS). Demographic factors including total population, population by age, the number of vehicles available by household, population living in poverty, and population with a disability were obtained from the 5-year ACS data (2008-2012). MnDOT used future projections (2013 and beyond) of population by age from the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

The model is a statewide model and does not account for local conditions, so it should not be used to estimate transit need at a county or local level. To calculate transit needs at the local level, transit systems should conduct public outreach and market research campaigns to understand local transportation needs.

Figure 8‑1: Comparison Between Transit Need Models: Greater Minnesota Total Annual Estimated Passenger Need (rides in millions)
YEAR 2011 Model 2014 Model
2015 18.8 13.3
2020 20.2 16.9
2025 20.9 18.9
2030 22.0 20.1

2016 Greater Minnesota Transit Service Plan

The goal of the service plan is to translate the need into policy and action. Based on extensive public outreach, people indicated that they use transit when it:

  • operates when they need it (span of service)
  • goes where they need it (regional mobility connections)
  • is convenient (frequency)
  • is reliable (on-time performance)
  • is easy to understand (public information)


Potential service improvements are categorized by location and service type to act as a development guide for the transit systems to reference as they consider service enhancements in their local area. There are many possibilities for service enhancements, and the service plan provides some of the enhancement options. Some options will be more appropriate in particular municipalities than other options. For example, as service improvements are considered in addressing unmet needs, transit systems may consider how to implement changes on a municipality-by-municipality basis considering the need by both time of day and day of the week. Some municipalities may have a strong weekday need and no Saturday need, while others have a need for more Sunday service.

While the service improvements identified in the service plan address many of the service gaps throughout Greater Minnesota, they do not address all of the service needs, particularly the client specific population needs. For example, the goal of the Olmstead Plan is to allow persons with disabilities to function independently within a community. This independence includes the ability to get to work without owning a car. While the fixed route urban systems provide a level of availability and frequency to support work trips, most Greater Minnesota systems in smaller municipalities and the rural areas do not have public transit service operating during the needed times to the needed locations to meet extensive work trip needs. To establish this level of public transit service would be cost prohibitive in Greater Minnesota. To meet the individual trip needs, transportation alternatives provided by human service transportation providers must supplement what public transit can provide.

Baseline Span of Service

To meet the transit need in Greater Minnesota, MnDOT developed a service plan that establishes a baseline span of service (the number of hours that community-based bus service is available) for municipalities based on their population. This concept suggests the level of transit service for each municipality size. Small urban municipalities are broken into two population groups. Municipalities with a population of 2500 - 6,999 are much different from municipalities with a population of 7,000 – 49,999 due to density, land use, population and other attributes.

The basis for the baseline span of service is an attempt to provide a minimum level of service to effectively address employment trips. Transit service availability in Greater Minnesota is currently limited for persons seeking transportation for employment, particularly the transit dependent population including persons with disabilities and low-income individuals who may work later in the day and require weekend transportation for employment. The span of service also allows persons to function independently without the need for a car, addressing more of the needs of carless households and persons temporarily homeless.

Both Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan and Heading Home endorse the baseline span of service as a measurable goal..

To calculate the hours required to implement the baseline span of service in the service plan, MnDOT compared the current level of community based Dial-A-Ride and route deviation services to the proposed service plan level of service. For the baseline level of service, each municipality was evaluated to determine the number of hours needed for weekday, Saturday and Sunday service. The additional weekday daily hours were then multiplied by the peak number of vehicles operating in each municipality. For weekends, a minimum number of vehicles by municipality size were used. Based on evaluating peer cities of various sizes operating weekend service, the number of vehicles was two for municipalities over 10,000 without current weekend service and one for municipalities under 10,000.

For municipalities under 2,500 the county seat towns were identified as a key component of the Baseline Span of service. County seat towns in rural areas serve as the government center for county activity. Most county seat towns have a grocery store and a critical care hospital, making these municipalities an important hub for shopping and medical needs.

Many municipalities may also have public transit providing services to human service clients at the beginning and end of the day for organizations such as Day Training and Habilitation Centers, human service transportation is not factored into the span of service calculations.

Figure 8-2: Baseline Service Improvements by 2025

URBANIZED Area 50,000+ Description Needed Annual Hours
Weekday 20 hrs/day 54,700
Saturday 12 hrs/day 5,000
Sunday 9 hrs/day 13,500
Small Urban and Rural Description Needed Annual Hours
Weekday 9 Hrs/day (2,500 - 6,999)
12 hrs/day (7,000 - 49,999)
Saturday 9 hrs/day 40,200
Sunday* 9 hrs/day (7,000 - 49,999) 18,200
County seat towns < 2500 Description Needed Annual Hours
Weekday* 8 hrs/day x 3 days/week 19,200
Total baseline span of service 277,300

* As demand warrants based on individual system performance policies (See Performance Chapter)

Urbanized Service Improvements

The service plan also includes service improvements for urbanized areas over 50,000. The urbanized area improvements were based on survey responses from the urbanized transit systems. These improvements include expanding the hours of operation (span of service) and capacity of the ADA complementary paratransit service transportation service required by the ADA for individuals with disabilities who are unable to use fixed route transportation systems. Increasing the frequency of fixed route buses during peak hours in the morning and evening, and adding fixed route transit service to areas currently without any service (Figure 6-3).

Figure 8-3: Urbanized Service Improvements by 2025
ADA Complementary Service Service to Support Fixed Route Improvements, Increased Capacity 104,800
Unserved Areas Improve Service Coverage 31,600
Peak Hour Frequency Provide 30 Minute Peak Hour Frequency 33,100
Regional Express Routes Commuter Service into Metropolitan Areas 30,000
Total Urban Improvement Hours 199,500

Small Urban and Rural Service Improvements

For small urban and rural areas, the service plan calls for regional mobility routes connecting smaller communities to the larger communities in the region (Figure 6-4). This will allow connections to shopping and medical facilities on a more regular basis.

Figure 8‑4: Rural Service Improvements by 2025
Regional Mobility Routes operating minimum of 2 day/ week connecting communities for shopping and medical 32,000
Total rural improvement hours 32,000
Total Improvements (baseline, Urban and rural) 508,000
Figure 8‑5: Greater Minnesota Total Annual Estimated Service Hours (in millions)
YEAR Service Hours
2015 1.2 Actual
2020 1.45
2025 1.72
2030 1.83

Estimating Ridership from the Service Plan

To determine if the proposed service plan would meet the forecasted 90% need for 2025, high and low estimates of passengers per hour, or (pph), were used to project ridership for the additional service and compared to the ridership target of an additional 4.8 million rides by 2025. Transit system provider performance standards of 15 pph for urbanized fixed route service, 2.5 pph for urbanized ADA complementary paratransit service, 15 pph for regional express service, and 3 pph for all dial a ride service were used for the low estimate (see Chapter 8 Performance Standards). For the high estimate, the 2014 average passengers per hour for each system type were used (21 pph for urbanized, 8 pph for small urban and 4 pph for rural.)

The 508,967 additional hours of service could result in a low estimate of 3.5 million additional rides and a high estimate of 6.3 million additional rides by 2025. Based on this calculation, implementing the baseline span of service should grow ridership enough to meet the legislative target of meeting 90 percent of demand by 2025. (Note: These ridership numbers do not account for service provided by tribal public transit providers.)

Figure 8‑6: Projected Ridership with Baseline Span of Service Improvements

Municipalities 50,000 + Weekday

20 hrs/day




Municipalities 50,000 + Saturday

12 hrs/day




Municipalities 50,000 + Sunday Service

9 hrs/day




Municipalities 2,500– 49,999


12 hrs/day (7,000 49,999)

9 hrs/day (2,500 - 6,999)




Municipalities 2,500– 49,999

Saturday Service


7,000 – 49,999 Sunday Service

9 hrs/day

9 hrs/day







County Seat Towns

< 2,500

8 hrs./day; 3 days per





Total Baseline 277,370 1,710,510 3,575,197

Figure 8-7: Projected Ridership with Urban Improvements (Municipalities > 50,000)

ADA Complementary Service

Service to support

fixed route





Unserved Urban Areas

Improve urban transit coverage

service coverage




Peak Hour Frequency

Provide 30-minute

peak hour frequency




Regional Express Buses

Six routes




Total Urban Service Improvements 199,597 1,735,944 2,550,922

Figure 8‑8: Projected Ridership with Rural Service Improvements

Regional Mobility

Route operates min. 2 days/week connecting communities for shopping and medical




Total Rural Service Improvements 32,000 96,000 150,400
Grand Total of all service improvements 508,967 3,542,454 6,276,119

Meeting 100 Percent of the Need

In addition to identifying the service hours to meet 90 percent of the transit need, the legislature also directed MnDOT to calculate the hours required to meet 100 percent of the need. There are public transit needs that cannot be met efficiently. Many of those needs are part of the remaining 10 percent of need. However, strategies to meet the last 10 percent need to coordinate services because public transit cannot efficiently deliver the service. There are three elements involved with reaching the remaining 10 percent of need. First, the strategies identified in the Chapter 7, Strategic Direction, complement the service plan. For example, coordinating with Transportation Network Companies and improving links with other transportation modes will help people complete those remaining, needed trips. Second, transit can work to eliminate the gaps in service by increasing frequency, coverage, and adding more evening hours in rural areas. Finally, developing transit routes for traditional-time commuters and regional travelers will meet the remaining need. The baseline span of service makes significant strides in providing access to transportation for communities; however, the demands of some commuters may not be met. This remains an opportunity for transit in the future.

Service Plan under Reduced Resources

While funding levels are sufficient to support the current level of transit service in Greater Minnesota, transit agencies may face future budgetary challenges similar to those experienced in the last recession. Many transit agencies saw decreases in state and local funding in 2010 and 2011. Agencies were forced to cut service, raise fares, lay off employees and implement hiring freezes, among other actions. The actions came even as agencies were expected to serve an increased number of riders.

MnDOT has provided a local-level service evaluation framework in the Chapter 8 to serve as guidance when evaluating any service changes, including service reductions. When service changes or fare increases are proposed, the transit system is required to seek input from the affected communities.


By expressing the future service need in the form of a service plan, transit systems have a clear picture of what improvements will meet the potential transit user’s preferences. The planning horizon for the service plan is nine years and fully implemented by 2025. During the next nine years, it is forecasted that transit systems will incrementally work towards implementing the service plan. Not all service will be implemented at once. Some years, transit systems may focus on improving span of service, while in other years, the systems may focus on expanding service coverage.

1. Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. 2013. Methods for Forecasting Demand and Quantifying Need for Rural Passenger Transportation: Final Workbook. Technical Report TCRP 161 Transportation Research Board