Intercity Bus Service in Minnesota

Published on: April 29, 2022

Intercity bus service is an integral part of public transit for the people of Minnesota, but what exactly is intercity bus service? Intercity bus service is defined as “regularly scheduled, fixed route, limited stop service for the general public that connects places not in close proximity and makes meaningful connections to the larger intercity network.”

In 1991, FTA’s Section 18(i) intercity bus set-aside program began which began providing federal financial assistance for intercity public transportation service. This funding was created as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). Then, in 1994, this Section 18(i) program was codified as Section 5311(f).

In 2017, the MnDOT Office of Transit released a publication entitled “Qualifications and Nine Key Points about Intercity Bus Programs” and defined nine key points of intercity bus service:

  1. Regularly scheduled bus service (not demand service);
  2. Available to the general public (not reservations only);
  3. Limited stops;
  4. Operates on fixed routes (does not deviate from route);
  5. Connects two or more urban areas not in close proximity;
  6. Makes meaningful connections to national intercity network;
  7. Predominately passenger service;
  8. Not charter service; and
  9. Not air, water or rail service.

A Minnesota Intercity Bus Study conducted in 2014 listed the following intercity bus services in Minnesota:

Jefferson Lines provides the biggest number of intercity bus routes and serves the biggest number of cities within Minnesota. Even though Greyhound reduced routes in the 1990s and during a restructuring in the mid-2000s, Greyhound still offers several route options. Megabus offers several route options serving Minneapolis.

In addition to intercity bus service, Amtrak also provides rail service connecting several locations within Minnesota. The Minnesota Amtrak station are located on the Empire Builder route that conducts travel between Chicago and the West Coast and has the following station locations:

  1. Detroit Lakes
  2. Red Wing
  3. St. Cloud
  4. St. Paul-Minneapolis
  5. Staples
  6. Winona

Amtrak was initially created by Congress in order to improve intercity passenger rail service while at the same time relieve private railroad companies. In 2012, Shira Bergstein authored a report titled “Increasing Access to Amtrak’s Passenger Rail Network”. Amtrak’s strategic plan was to connect bus service in certain corridors that were not currently being served by Amtrak. These bus connections are called “thruway” routes wherein passengers are making a portion of their trip via bus service. Case studies were conducted in California, Oregon and Washington. Bergstein concluded that thruway routes served two purposes: 1) trunk service that connected or supplement rail corridor service; 2) or feeder service that links passengers in rural communities to passenger rail. Bergstein further concluded that Amtrak had the capability to further develop these thruway routes in order to increase access to intercity a passenger rail system.


Intercity bus service is an integral part of helping rural communities expand their horizons and assist passengers in traveling to distant locations outside their specific rural community. As with all transit, the pandemic has caused many intercity services to be reduced and sometimes suspended. However, despite the challenges facing intercity services, the transit industry continues to persevere and work hard to ensure passengers stay connected not only to their communities, but to communities outside their network.

National RTAP has established an Intercity Bus Peer Forum where upon registration you can be connected to a forum for peer discussion and various resources/training. Additional resources are provided below.


This article was published by RLS & Associates.

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