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Metro Transit is slashing service on buses and light-rail trains by 40% starting Wednesday as the agency responds to the rapidly spreading coronavirus that led to a steep drop in ridership over the past week.

Service will operate on schedules that are often used on days following major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, said spokesman Howie Padilla.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Minnesota two weeks ago, ridership had declined about 60% on buses and light-rail trains. Passenger traffic on the Northstar Commuter line, which runs from downtown Minneapolis to Big Lake, dropped 90%

"We understand that customers may be inconvenienced with this reduction. We stand with our communities through the hardships created by these difficult decisions as we address the effects of COVID-19," said Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra. "However, the 60% service plan will allow reliable deployment of transit operations resources and better manage any shortage of bus and rail operators. This adjustment better ensures that a ride promised is a ride delivered."

By midday Monday, Metro Transit had sent out more than 40 rider alerts informing customers of canceled trips. On Friday it scrubbed more than 60 trips, according to agency messages.

Metro Transit already had cut service between 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. nightly.

The new schedule cuts mean service will be offered less frequently in the urban core and hourly in some suburban areas, or similar to midday travel, Padilla said.

There will be no increased service on lines during morning or afternoon rush hours.

Light-rail trains will run on a 20-minute schedule throughout the day, down from every 8 to 10 minutes during peak periods. Northstar commuter rail line will run only two trips to downtown Minneapolis in the morning and two outbound trips to the northwestern suburbs in the afternoon. Northstar will not run on Saturday or Sunday.

Riders planning their trips can go to for a specific list of schedule changes. Schedules also will be updated on Metro Transit's trip planning website on Wednesday morning, Padilla said

Plymouth Metrolink also will pare service beginning Wednesday to follow Minnesota Department of Health's recommendations of reducing large gatherings and promoting social distancing. Seven of its 13 routes won't run at all and others will run with reduced frequency. Only one passenger at a time will be allowed on the city's on-demand Dial-A Ride shuttle.

"If there appears to be 10 or more riders on an express or reverse route bus, passengers are encouraged to practice social distancing and wait until the next available bus," the agency said.

The changes will be in effect until further notice.

Maple Grove Transit said it will run a "Reduced Service Plan" starting Wednesday. Eight express routes will not run. Only Route 781 will operate between the Maple Grove Transit Station and downtown Minneapolis, the agency said.

The Minnesota Valley Transit Authority on Friday began operating on a modified schedule as passenger traffic on express routes fell 60% last week and ridership dropped by 30% on its local suburban routes, said spokesman Richard Crawford.

SouthWest Transit on Monday cut service at the Carver and Chanhassen transit stations. Trips from the Southwest Station in Eden Prairie, SouthWest Village in Chanhassen and East Creek Station in Chaska were combined. Buses now run every 15 minutes during peak periods, stopping at all three stations before heading downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. The same will happen with return trips in the evening.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768