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Do you need a car in Minneapolis? An insider’s peek.

Do you need a car in Minneapolis? An insider’s peek.

Minneapolis is Minnesota’s biggest city and with the state capitol, Saint Paul, forms one-half of the “Twin Cities”.

Minneapolis has seen many improvements to its public transportation system over the last 20 years, as well as other initiatives to allow easy, low-cost transit across the city and wider Metro Area for those who can’t, don’t, or won’t use a car.

  • So, do you need a car in Minneapolis?
  • How is public transport in Minneapolis?
  • Are there options outside of public transportation?
  • Can you easily live in Minneapolis without a car?

Are there things to do in Minneapolis without a car? Let’s investigate!

Public Transport Minneapolis

First, let’s cover what the city offers in public transportation.

The Twin Cities’ public transportation network is run by Metro Transit which currently operates a number of regular light rail lines and bus rapid transit routes throughout the Metro Area.

Both buses and the light rail are accessible for all and cater to those looking to go car-less. Most light rail stations have bike stands and most buses have bike racks mounted on their front.

All can be ridden with tickets, valid for 2.5 hours, purchased from bus drivers or at ticket machines at train stations, for $2.50.

Alternatively, you can get yourself a rechargeable Go-To Pass that can be purchased online, at an authorized retailer, by mail, through the Metro Transit app, and ticket machines at rail or transit stations.

One bonus with all Metro Transit buses and light rail trains is that they have complimentary Wi-Fi on board each vehicle, so you can browse to your heart’s content while you ride without using your own data!

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Light Rail lines

  • Blue LineThe first light rail system employed in Minnesota in 2004. A 2-track line that currently links Target Field Station in Downton Minneapolis with the Mall of America in Bloomington, it hosts 20 stops from start to finish. As of 2020, the line is extending into Brooklyn Park, with a slated completion in 2024.
  • Green Line – Established in 2014, this 2-track line connects Target Field Station in Downtown Minneapolis to Union Depot in Saint Paul, which also serves as an Amtrak hub. The line has a total of 24 stops from start to finish, including the State Capitol. Plans are to extend the line by almost 15 miles to connect Eden Prarie to the Green Line by 2023, however, due to poor soil conditions along the proposed route, the $2 billion, infrastructure project (the largest in Minnesota’s history) is currently seeing delays.
light rail Minneapolis MN

For more information on the lines, check out this Minneapolis light rail map.

Metro Bus Rapid Transit routes

  • Red Line – A rapid transit bus route connects the Mall of America to the Apple Valley Transit Station, allowing a bridge between Apple Valley and the Blue Line. The Red Line has only 5 stops from start to finish. There are plans to extend this route to Lakeville, but these aren’t expected to take shape until around 2040.
  • A Line – A rapid transit bus route connecting the Blue Line at the 46th St Station and Rosedale Transit Center, holds 20 stops from start to finish.
  • C Line – A rapid transit bus route connecting 7th St & Park Station in Downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center Transit Station, includes 20 stops from start to finish.

Numbered bus routes

The system of numbered, short-distance bus routes used in the Twin Cities is gradually being augmented with or phased out by the newer bus rapid transit system. The list of the various bus routes, maps, and schedules can be found here.

Park & Ride

Metro Transit operates a huge number of park & ride facilities in and around Minneapolis that allows car owners easier access to public transportation and save them from city traffic and wrestling with Minneapolis parking.

Bicycle & scooter sharing systems

The city operates a seasonal bike share system through Nice Ride Minnesota, with 1,700 bicycles available to hire throughout Minneapolis and Saint Paul, with rides starting at $2.50.

As of 2021, the city of Minneapolis has awarded contracts to Lyft and Bird to provide electronically powered scooters as part of a scooter-share system, the first being rolled out in April.

See related: Best places to take pictures in Minneapolis

Other transportation options

Public transportation might not be your thing, or maybe you’re just looking to challenge yourself, either way, you’ve options at your disposal.

Rideshare, Taxis & Limos

Rideshare firms in the form of Uber and Lyft are well established in the city.

There are also a number of private taxi & limo firms throughout Minneapolis and the Metro Area.

Car Share systems

Car share programs through HOURCAR and Zipcar are a great answer to the question “do you need to rent a car in Minneapolis?”

A total of 62 cars are operated between the two companies and are a really cheap alternative to car ownership or long/short-term rental.

Bicycling

Minneapolis bike trails map over 80 miles throughout the city (over 200 miles if you count the Metro Area as a whole) that largely avoid road traffic making for a safe, speedy, and cheap way of getting around and seeing the city.

Minneapolis is regularly featured as one of the best biking cities in North America and I encourage you to see for yourself!

Caution is advised when cycling around city roads because you’ll be sharing with other traffic. Also, cycling around the city in that Minnesota winter can be truly excruciating.

bike trail in minneapolis

By Foot

Walking, jogging, running, hiking, skipping, your own marching pace, whichever way you feel the need to use your feet to propel yourself in the desired direction.

Easily the slowest form of transport but entirely free you can make use of those Minneapolis bike trails as well as Minneapolis’ Skyway.

The Skyway is almost its own ecosystem; an intricate series of enclosed walkways connecting buildings around the city center, and a fantastic alternative to walking outdoors in winter!

minneapolis skyway

See related: 12 Epic Things to do along the Minneapolis Riverwalk

Buying or renting a car

Car ownership or rental is still the most popular option for transport in Minneapolis.

While on the surface it may seem convenient (shorter trips, no stops, no unnecessary waiting outside of heavy traffic, privacy, independence, capacity to transport people, pets, and non-live cargo), it is certainly the most expensive.

When you factor in gas, insurance, maintenance, and parking (not to mention the cost of buying or renting the car itself), it adds up.

And if you’re living in Minneapolis, permanent parking brings its own set of costs.

Parking, in general, can be a nightmare, especially in the city center. And woe betide you if you leave your car out on the street in a snow emergency!

See related: Best Things to do in Minneapolis, MN

Things to do in Minneapolis

So we’ve figured out the various means of getting from A to B, but what to do with this knowledge?

The Blue Line Grand Tour

You’ve jetted into MSP, you’re only here for a day and you’ve got tickets to that Minnesota Twins game this afternoon.

You could head there now…but it’s 9:00 am. You don’t wanna wait on the steps like some chump, so you’re going to have to find something to do, as well as navigate there AND on a budget.

Wait; how do you get there? You’re only here for a day so no thanks car rental!

And do you really want some rideshare driver to hold your hand and ferry you, taking all the fun out of your adventure? Pfft! No! So what then?

My friend, welcome to the Blue Line Grand Tour!

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First, you need to get yourself some Twins merchandise (without paying the extra you would at the stadium), so hop on that Blue Line and head south to the Mall of America in nearby Bloomington.

Keep your eyes left along the way to silently pay your respects to those interned at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery as you pass.

The Mall of America

You’ve arrived at the MOA!

mall of america sculpture

Get yourself over to Lids and pick up some merch. Now see if you can leave the mall without getting too distracted (seriously, good luck).

Once you’ve escaped the alluring clutches of MOA, hop back on that train and head back the way you came, past the cemetery and the airport.

Fort Snelling

Wait; your inner history buff wishes to know more about Minnesota’s fighting past!

Take a break at Fort Snelling Station and enjoy a pleasant, leafy 20-minute stroll up to the historic Fort Snelling and the Fort Snelling Chapel.

After enjoying some well-earned history, it’s time to get back on track(s). Walk back the way you came to Fort Snelling Station and jump back onto the Blue Line.

See related: 7 Best Minneapolis Walking Tours for History Buffs

Minnehaha Falls

Heading north, you’re inspired by the natural beauty as you trundle along, enough that you want to see more!

Stopping off at 50th St – Minnehaha station, take the 10-minute walk to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots in the whole state; Minnehaha Falls, within the Minnehaha Regional Park.

Minnehaha Regional Park

Your outstanding natural beauty quota filled, it’s time to press on, so back to 50th St – Minnehaha station and away you go!

Feed yourself

By now you’ve worked up a powerful hunger and your tummy rumbles. Looking for sustenance, you disembark at 38th St Station and head west along the namesake street.

The first eatery you see is the Cardinal Restaurant and Bar, a fine establishment, but there is more the further you go, including, Ted Cook’s 19 Hole BBQ, Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub, Standish Cafe, and Sisters’ Sludge Coffee Cafe & Wine Bar.

Once filled with local fare, jump back on the Blue Line and continue your quest!

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U.S. Bank Stadium

Tearing into Downtown Minneapolis, it isn’t long until you spot the giant, gleaming U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings.

It’s well worth a look and easily accessible, having its own Blue Line station to take a break and press your nose against this 70,000+ seat monolith to sports which is one of the best things to do in the entire state of Minnesota.

Last-minute supplies

Back on the Blue Line, you wonder if you have all you need for the game. Sure, you’re merched up and aren’t starving, but you haven’t brought snacks and you’ve done hotdogs and pretzels to death.

Alternative? On the Blue Line Grand Tour?

You betcha!

You’re just one stop away from Government Plaza station, and from there, it’s just a short walk to the Downtown Minneapolis Farmers’ Market, one of 3 Minneapolis farmer markets.

Grab some of Minnesota’s organic bounty and press on!

See Related: Best Bars in Minneapolis Ranked

Home Run! The North Loop

Back on the train, and here we are, nearing the home stretch as we enter the Warehouse or “North Loop” District of Minneapolis. There are plenty of great hotels in the North Loop of Minneapolis and it’s easily accessible by the light rail from the airport.

We’re just gonna let the train roll on into Target Field Station, and that’s where the real journey ends, right outside Target Field.

baseball stadium in minneapolis

Still, got time to kill?

Well as luck would have it, you are a stone’s throw away from a couple of fine local breweries such as Fulton and Modist Brewing Co. to help whet your whistle.

See related: 12 Best Breweries in Minneapolis Ranked

The sweetest victory is cherry flavored

The game was a real nail-biter and you need to soothe those battered nerves with a civilized stroll and visual dessert. Time to wrap up the evening with a trip to the world-famous Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

You jump back on the Blue Line at Target Field Station and ride the few blocks to Nicollet Mall Station (pronounced “Nic-let”  like “Chiclet”).

After you disembark, head to the corner of N 5th St and Nicollet Mall to find the bus stop on the Nicollet side.

Hop on the Number 4 or 6 bus (Minn Drive/Xerxes Ave/Southdale) and ride all the way to Lyndale Ave S & Vinewood Place.

Cherry and the Spoon - Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Your final approach shows what’s in store, the Spoonbridge & Cherry!

Well, that concludes the Blue Line Grand Tour, and how much did you spend on travel?

Probably no more than $10, and when you compare that to the $40+ cab or rideshare fee from MSP to Downtown, think about how much richer you are in dollars and experiences!

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So, do you need a car in Minneapolis?

In short; it depends on you. You can easily find a cheap rental car by using Kayak or consider grabbing a Lyft around town.

Minneapolis and the Metro Area at large have a well-established Public Transportation system that is reliable, cheap, safe, (mostly) clean, constantly improving, and serves the entire metro area.

It’s an alternative to sitting in traffic, allows locals an affordable means to see beyond their own neighborhood, and visitors a cheap way of experiencing the best parts of the city.

The downsides are that you do lose independence and the (slightly dubious) convenience of car ownership if you’re looking to live a car-less life.

Getting from A to B in Minneapolis is still faster by car which will rarely be parked further from your home than any bus stop, rail station, bike, or scooter share with wait times depending only on yourself.

While it may be safer to use public transport in winter, waiting at a bus stop after your bus was delayed in the freezing snow, might make you wonder which is actually safer as you catch frostbite.

And when it’s not one of Minnesota’s 3 winter seasons, it’s the 4th season; roadworks.

Those harsh winters batter Minneapolis’ roads, which affects all commuters because ALL of Minneapolis’ public transportation within the city runs on the road – even the light rail in the cities is affected by roadworks as most of the tracks run parallel to conventional traffic, with many intersections crossing over light rail lines.

The best real alternative to car ownership/rental in Minneapolis is a combination of public transportation and investing in your own bike.

It is easy enough to traverse the city by bike and easily the most pleasant if using the many hiking and biking trails, but cycling in the winter has its own obvious drawbacks.

But what about mundane things like having to get groceries or helping friends move?

Neither is terribly fun if you have to lug stuff on a bike or a bus.

And what if you’re looking to get outside the Metro Area? What then?

If you’re confining yourself to just Minneapolis and no further than the outskirts of the Metro Area, you can survive without a car, but you might find yourself wishing for one in winter.

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