With everyone working from home, shouldn’t we rethink transit?

The global pandemic brought about many changes in life, some temporary and some permanent. One of the permanent changes appears to be how and where we work. Many businesses were forced to test the concept of working from home and it turns out productivity went up, not down. Ford Motor recently announced 30,000 employees working from home during the pandemic will be allowed to continue. Employment website Indeed reports more and more jobs include a work-from-home option, even as the pandemic winds down. Here in Minnesota, Target Corporation recently announced they will not need office space for 3,500 employees working in downtown Minneapolis, recognizing the normalization of working from home.

After a year of navigating the pandemic, businesses are changing the way they think and operate regarding where employees work. Government needs to do the same when it comes to how people get to work. Specifically, Ramsey County needs to reconsider the need for the Rush Line bus rapid transit project running from St. Paul to White Bear Lake.

Ridership on Metro Transit was down 50% in 2020, and it’s not likely to return to pre-pandemic levels. The Northstar Commuter Line saw a whopping 96% decline in ridership! Many questioned the Rush Line ridership projections even before the pandemic, noting that Route 265 carried only 196 commuters a day back and forth from White Bear Lake to Maplewood Mall and beyond.

The Rush Line project was opposed from the beginning because of what it will do to White Bear Lake’s best asset – its “small town feel.” A bus running through the city every ten minutes until 10:00 pm seven days a week was never a good idea.

The Rush Line project is currently a proposal from Ramsey County to the Federal government for $475 million in capital funding. Because one of the criteria for funding is community support along the line, cities along the line like White Bear Lake, Vadnais Heights, Gem Lake and Maplewood will soon debate “municipal consent” resolutions.

Ultimately, the decision to move forward with Rush Line belongs with the Ramsey County Board. Let’s hope they are able to pause and look at the new reality resulting from the pandemic and rethink their position on this project.