St. Louis Park woman is a transit-riding rock star

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Nadine Babu of St. Louis Park is something of a transit rock star.

On the strength of an essay, Babu, a social media strategist, won a year’s worth of free transit rides, compliments of Metro Transit.

The transit system is celebrating a big milestone.

Nadine Babu of St. Louis Park holds the ceremonial free pass she won in a Metro Transit contest marking the system’s passage of the three billion ridership mark. Standing behind Babu is Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Its 3 billionth customer boarded a bus or a rail transit line and unobtrusively made transit history.

“It happened this week,” said John Siqveland, Metro Transit public relations manager.

“We can be fairly precise tracking ridership but not to the person,” he said.

But for Babu, the oversized, ceremonial free pass officials handed her was not her sole transit distinction.

Babu raised thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Minnesota Chapter and is the chapter’s Woman of the Year.

Her image graced the side of Met Transit buses in a society ad, the buses Babu rode as a college student, a graduate student, and now as businesswoman.

“I love not paying parking fees,” said Babu.

“I love being able to text. I love being able to put on makeup when I go somewhere,” Babu said at a ceremony today (Nov. 29) at the busy Uptown Transit Center in Minneapolis.

Babu, a native of Racine, Wis., fondly remembers taking a bus to a Vikings’ game at TCF Bank Stadium in awful weather and not only getting to the stadium without delay but the camaraderie shared on the bus.

A Green Bay Packers’ fan, Babu wore her team’s green and gold colors, attire that stood out on a bus with a purple flush.

About a 100 transit riders submitted enteries in the contest sponsored and judged by Metro Transit, officials looking for creativity and transit themes in the winning entry.

Transit officials began keeping ridership counts back in 1972, according to Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb.

Back in those days, instead of the sleek, fuel efficient buses used now, buses trailed plumes of exhaust, Lamb said.

Back in those days, craning the neck and checking wrist watches were the means of anticipating the arrival of a bus.

Now buses are tracked on GPS, travel times known to the minute, Lamb explained.

The Metro Transit system broke the 1 billion ridership mark in 1984, topping 2 billion in 1999.

Siqveland, noting that the transit system is expanding — Central Corridor Light Rail opening in 2014, other lines in the works — believes the 4 billion customer mark could be passed in about a decade.

Currently, about 260,000 customers board Metro Transit buses and rail lines every day.

Customers boarded transit buses and trains 81 million times last year.