After COVID Slowdown, Fewer State Fair Bus Options for Northwest Metro Riders
In contrast with past years, the Metro Transit park & ride lot at 63rd Avenue and Bottineau Blvd in Brooklyn Park is an empty place. For years, during the 12-day run of the Minnesota State Fair, people would pack the parking garage, hop on a bus, and go to the fairgrounds.
But Metro Transit officials say if you live in the northwest metro, you’re going to need to find another way to get to the Great Minnesota Get-Together. The State Fair Express Bus won’t be operating in Brooklyn Park for a third consecutive year.
“It can be a parking mess over at the fairgrounds, it’s hard to know exactly where to go,” said Brian Funk, chief operating officer of Metro Transit.
Anyone who’s ever tried driving to the fairgrounds themselves can attest to the difficulties of finding parking.
“There’s a lot of people who want to compete for those limited spots on-site,” Funk said.
It’s one of the reasons why Metro Transit launched the State Fair Express Bus service 30 years ago.
“Year after year, we were adding sites, adding ridership,” Funk said. “We were well over half a million rides just during the 12 days of the State Fair on those express services.”
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and with it came a loss of riders, and a loss of bus drivers.
As a result, Metro Transit could no longer offer rides to the fair at many of their usual sites.
“Last year, we were at three sites,” Funk said. “A lot less demand because people weren’t sure about whether they were ready to go back to the fair itself or not.”
Few State Fair Express Bus Options
But now, Funk says staffing levels are beginning to creep back up (thanks to an increase in starting pay and a signing bonus of up to $5,000), which will allow them to have four State Fair Express service sites:
- Blaine – 95th Ave. Park & Ride, NW corner of I-35W & 95th Ave. NE
- Minnetonka — I-394 & Co. Rd. 73 Park & Ride, SW corner of I-394 & Co. Rd. 73
- Bloomington – 30th Ave. Park & Ride, NW corner of 30th Ave. and 82nd St.
- Cottage Grove – Cottage Grove Park & Ride, along Hwy. 61 on W. Point Douglas Rd. between 80th St. and Jamaica Ave.
“We made the determination to use our park and ride on 95th Avenue and 35W in Blaine,” Funk said. “And so depending on where you’re at in the northwest metro, it could work to shoot over that way.”
Bottom line: people have a few options.
However, next year, Metro Transit’s goal is to get closer to pre-pandemic levels of service.
“For 2024, we’re really committed to trying to grow this service again and look at northwest metro, northeast metro,” Funk said. “We think that those are markets that both could benefit from this service.”