St. Thomas students draw rider-ready results from Metro Transit data


Carl Nelson


Marshall Curry, Maria E. Dahmus, Kelly Morrell


Metro Transit, St. Paul, MN
Community Size
733,098 (2018 Census Estimation)
University of St. Thomas
Sustainable Communities Partnership
Case Type
Project Stories
School Size
Greater than 5000
Focus Areas
Economic and Social Inclusion
Economics, Research, Statistics
EPA Region 5, USA

As the Twin Cities’ primary public transit service, Metro Transit strives to provide an efficient, accessible, and inclusive network of public transportation for its 1.5 million weekly rides. The institution is an integral part of the urban fabric, and seeks to “engage the community in [its] decision making…provide well crafted communication and offer opportunities for public involvement” (Mission Statement). Recently, Metro Transit needed help investigating ridership data to understand trends in local transit use and intelligently improve its system to meet customer needs.

Enter the University of St. Thomas Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) program. As a member of the EPIC-Network, their unique program was a perfect match to meet Metro Transit’s needs. Students have imagined improvements to a service they rely on while gaining practical skills, and Metro Transit has learned from an indispensable ridership demographic. For example, through SCP, Metro Transit partnered with the Department of Economics to analyze two years of passenger data through their annual DataCom competition.

Using ridership data provided by Metro Transit, students analyzed “two years (~73 million observations) of automatic passenger counts by route, stop, and time-of-day; ten years (~350,000 observations) of daily ridership by route; and geographic identifiers and site descriptions for Metro Transit stops.” Their research was conducted as part of DataCom 2018, an annual data analysis competition sponsored by the Department of Economics which asks students to “analyze real-world data to answer their own research questions” (DataCom website). The rigorous competition was an ideal setting for the task at hand. 

Students asked pressing questions and provided original research. They used GIS and regional bus data to determine ideal park-and-ride placement, examined the correlation between minimum wage increases and increased transit ridership, recommended new bus shelter locations based on rider data and route frequency, and developed formulas to understand and predict route lateness. Their deliverables ranged across relevant topics and disciplines to benefit Metro Transit. While the conference format differed from the usual EPIC model, DataCom complemented ongoing projects in SCP courses and encouraged an exchange of resources and ideas between students and Metro Transit.  

Completed student data analysis projects generated novel ideas for more efficient, inclusive, and cost-effective public transportation. By inviting students’ participation in data analysis, Metro Transit and SCP engaged key issues impacting future riders, city planners, and transit workers.

Read the full story of the partnership.

Community Results

“The collaboration [was] an opportunity to tap into creativity, and get our data into the hands of some people that could come up with new questions.” -Eric Lind, Metro Transit Data Scientist
Metro Transit lists expansion and modernization of existing facilities as a goal, specifically the “expansion of transit capital vehicles or facilities to serve new markets or provide an improved experience for existing customers, such as enhancements to customer information signage, retrofits to existing transit stations, and placement of additional passenger waiting shelters” (TPP Transit, 6.41)
“It was amazing to see all of [the] projects. The creativity is the most impressive thing… {students] went into the data, rows and rows of it…and [their] topics were right on the money. These are exactly the kinds of things that we are thinking about at Metro Transit” -Eric Lind, Metro Transit Data Scientist
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