SouthWest Transit has declared this year’s Minnesota State Fair service a success, despite being in the red financially.
The agency, which transported 115,679 passengers to and from the State Fair via four locations in Eden Prairie, Chanhassen and Chaska, saw ridership increase by about 11%, breaking the previous record set in 2018, stated SouthWest Transit, in a Sept. 9 news release.
But despite a record-breaking amount of rides, SouthWest Transit did not make enough money to break even, the release said.
“With the level of service SouthWest Transit operates, the way we provide service (load-and-go based on demand), the customer service staff we employ just for the fair, the distance we travel for each trip and the additional costs specific to our operation, such as leasing parking and bus storage and layover stalls, the funding we generated through fares and the parking/administrative fee was not enough to allow the agency to break even,” said SouthWest Transit Chief Executive Officer Len Simich, in the release.
The agency charged $6 for a round-trip adult fare to the fair, plus a $2 surcharge per vehicle parked in the lot. This year, SouthWest Transit made $344,902 (approximately $5.96 a passenger — SouthWest Transit charged different fares based on age), said SouthWest Transit Marketing Coordinator Brittany Stevens, in an email to Southwest News Media. The total revenue includes the $2 parking and administration surcharge per vehicle.
Expenditures this year totaled $350,128, equaling a loss of $5,226, Stevens said, noting that this figure does not include the costs related to the "10 minor accidents we had during the fair, which primarily consisted of damaged bus mirrors and a few scraped side panels."
SouthWest Transit estimates that those costs will add another $25,000 to the deficit from this year's State Fair service, Stevens said.
SouthWest Transit said in the release if it was allowed to charge $8 for adult round-trips to the State Fair like it did last year, it would have been enough to cover costs. In 2018, SouthWest's revenue was $324,701 (approximately $6.22 per passenger), Stevens noted. Expenditures that year were $326,447, equaling a loss of $1,746.
The agency was not allowed to charge $8 because the Metropolitan Council, which oversees transit in the seven-county metro area, cited a federal rule that does not allow SouthWest Transit to charge more than other regional transit providers, which charge $6, the release stated.
“Our operation continues to set ridership records year after year. And, when surveying past customers, the overwhelming majority indicated a willingness to pay the additional $2 for the way SouthWest Transit operates its service,” said Simich.
Looking ahead to the State Fair in 2020, SouthWest Transit’s service to the Great Minnesota Get-Together could look a lot different, the release said.
“There is a strong possibility our service will look a lot different in 2020,” said Simich. “Weekday and Labor Day service could be reduced or eliminated unless things change. While this is not what we want to do, we will not compromise on providing premium service, nor can we continue to use funding we need to provide our core services all year long.”
Some of the issues SouthWest Transit says it needs to address before next year’s State Fair include:
- Negotiating parking stalls used Monday-Friday during the State Fair’s 12-day run;
- Attracting more than 70 temporary drivers, along with permanent drivers, to provide service to the State Fair; and
- Having enough drivers to work the final day of the fair, on Labor Day, because several of the temporary drivers need to be off the clock earlier than the fairgrounds close in order to drive school buses the following day.
During this year’s State Fair, SouthWest Transit provided service at four locations: Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie (Monday-Friday, except Labor Day), SouthWest Station in Eden Prairie (Saturdays, Sundays and Labor Day), SouthWest Village in Chanhassen (Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day) and East Creek Station in Chaska (Saturdays and Sundays).