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Declining ridership, costs contribute to suspension of Northstar service to Twins games

The Northstar line currently has trains running into Minneapolis from Big Lake, Fridley, Coon Rapids-Riverdale, Anoka and Ramsey Stations.

MINNEAPOLIS — Editor's note: The video above first aired on KARE 11 in March 2022.

Twins fans coming into Minneapolis from the city's northern suburbs will have to plan a new route to and from Target Field this season, as Metro Transit confirmed its Northstar line will no longer operate specifically for games.

Metro Transit's Laura Baenen told KARE 11 that declining ridership and additional costs contributed to the decision, saying Anoka County — the commuter rail's largest funding partner — is withdrawing its financing. 

"During the pandemic, transit ridership on commuter express routes declined significantly. Northstar was no exception to this, and at one point was down over 95% of pre-pandemic ridership. Metro Transit reduced Northstar service at the start of the pandemic due to the steep decline in demand. At this point, Metro Transit would like to be able to provide more Northstar service including to Twins games, but cannot prudently take on additional costs of doing so without receipt of operating funds expected from Anoka County, the largest county funding partner for Northstar. The Metropolitan Council continues to work with Anoka County regarding Northstar service levels and the county’s funding commitment," the statement said.

A representative from Anoka County said the COVID-19 pandemic has "drastically affected ridership" on the Northstar service, and it had first asked Metro Transit for adjusted costs back in 2020. The county says it did not have a funding agreement in place with Metro Transit for 2021 or 2022.

"Anoka County asked Metro Transit for adjusted costs due to pandemic-related ridership decline in the fall of 2020. Just last week, we finally received figures detailing adjusted shares for subsidizing Northstar. We are in the process of reviewing these figures," a statement from Anoka County said.

The county representative added that even when the payment is complete, it "will not have direct bearing on the number of trains to and from locations," and that the county "has no decision-making authority over this service." 

The Northstar line, which started Twins service in 2010, provided more than 81,500 rides for 64 Twins games back in 2019.

Anoka is one of three counties that provide funding for the Northstar service, in addition to other sources like rider fares and the State of Minnesota. According to Metro Transit, each funding source is currently under a Five-Year Master Operating Funding Agreement (MOFA) that went into effect in 2018. The agreed-upon arrangement, which is still in effect until the end of the year, establishes how much each source is obligated to pay in order to fund their portion of operation costs.

Baenen told KARE 11 that Metro Transit currently has annual grant agreements in place with all of its other funding partners, and has received each of their payments. The last annual grant agreement made with Anoka County took place in 2020; and according to Baenen, the county withheld funding for the last six months of that year. She said the county is now responsible for millions of dollars in missed payments.  

The Northstar line currently has trains running into Minneapolis from Big Lake, Fridley, Coon Rapids-Riverdale, Anoka and Ramsey Stations. Suspension of Twins service will not have an impact on daily Northstar commuter rides, according to Metro Transit. 

The revelation comes as the Twins prepare to host the Seattle Mariners later this week for their home opener.  

The representative from Anoka County added it "has no decision-making authority over this service."

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