Ground Level

  • Getting There
  • The Demand Gap
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Gas prices are up. The elderly population is growing. Distances are great. Money for buses is tight. For many outstate Minnesota residents, getting to work, to the doctor, to the grocery store and elsewhere is tougher than it used to be.

As a result, some communities are trying new ways to help people get around, from personal transportation consultants to programs that keep seniors driving longer.

High tech transit emerging in the woods

Increasing demand and uncertain budgets have rural Minnesota transit systems looking to combine technology and personal service to become more efficient.

Lift weights and play ping pong to keep driving

Keeping elderly people in their cars is one way to address the economic and demographic factors that make it harder for many Minnesotans to get where they want to go.

Fixing a ride, fixing a life on the Iron Range

Sometimes people need more than just a ride to work. A four-year-old program in northern Minnesota aims to provide transportation but also set low-income people on a better path.

Lowering barriers to a reliable car

While public transit can be an answer for some low-income people, in outstate Minnesota the overwhelming majority need to solve the problem with a car.

Getting There: live chat

Our open online discussion for you to add your voice to the conversation about transit. We have folks from rural transit systems, MnDOT and more, so make a comment, ask a question or just sit back and enjoy the ride

More people are getting there in Montevideo

Minnesota's fastest growing transit system over the past five years? The one run by the small town of Montevideo.

Getting to the concert in Pipestone and other unmet needs

Outstate Minnesota's unmet transportation needs range from getting to an evening concert to finding a way to ride a bus to the Twin Cities, members of the Public Insight Network say.


The number of outstate transit systems in Minnesota has grown substantially over the decades. Service ranges from fixed routes seven days a week in cities like St. Cloud and Duluth to on-demand dial-a-ride in more rural areas.

Last year, these local transit systems outside the Twin Cities spent $61 million to deliver 11.5 million passenger trips. A little over half the money came from state government, a fifth came from the federal government and a quarter from local sources. (By comparison, transit systems in the Twin Cities spent $417 million to deliver 94 million passenger trips.)

Transportation planners have determined that outstate transit systems meet about three-fifths of the passenger demand. The Legislature established a goal by 2015 of meeting 80 percent of projected passenger demand.

That would be expensive. According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, it would mean 15 million passenger trips and substantially greater operating costs. It would also require more capital investment.

Spending data source: Minnesota Department of Transportation

How we get around in Minnesota

What is your Minnesota transportation experience like? We asked our Public Insight Network, here's what some of our sources had to say. Follow along to see how the demand gap really hits home.



The Minnesota Department of Transportation created an interactive county by county map of transit systems across Minnesota.

The 2011 report by the Minnesota Department of Transportation highlighting the transit accomplishments from the last year including; ridership, financial and performance information; and provides a snapshot of every public transit organization in the state..

Report from Growth & Justice

A report from the MN Department of Transportation


Outstate transit ridership rose 12 percent between 2007 and 2011. Outstate Minnesota is thought of as dominated by car travel, and it is. And what's intriguing is that some places, like Montevideo, Wadena, Hibbing and St. Peter, far outstripped the overall rate of increase. Others, like Northfield, Faribault and Nobles County, declined by double-digit percentages.


10 transit systems in Minnesota with the largest percentage gains and losses 2007-2011. | Graphic by William Lager, MPR News

We identify topics that are significant and complex and that play out uniquely at the local level. We want to explore those issues in which people taking action in their communities make a difference and can serve as guides for others.

Ground Level launched in early 2010 and shines a light on a variety of topics, from the growing complexity of Minnesota's local food system to cities preparing for new fiscal realities, from exurban growth in Baldwin Township to the quest to expand broadband access across the state.

We experiment with coverage on a variety of platforms. This includes text, audio and video online, of course - the Ground Level blog, a series of topics pages and social networking, for example. It also includes on-air coverage, public forums both virtual and real-world and collaboration with community-based media.

Our audience consists of Minnesotans interested in community life, particularly those who are taking an active part in it or helping others do the same.

Ground Level is very much an experiment -- in finding ways to learn about and tell stories, in working with other organizations, in walking up to the line between providing insight and advocating specific actions. Our goal is to inform and give people the ability and incentive to engage with their community. We invite your feedback and your ideas, via the blog, twitter at @MPRGroundLevel, phone calls, emails, whatever. Join us.

About the team:

Dave Peters

Dave Peters directs MPR's project on community journalism, looking for ways Minnesota residents are making their towns, cities and neighborhoods better places to live. He joined MPR News in 2009 after more than 30 years as a newspaper and online reporter and editor. Contact Dave

Bush Foundation

Support for Ground Level is provided
by the Bush Foundation.