Updated 4:15 p.m.
An influx of college students back into the Twin Cities helped the Green Line hit an all-time high of 40,445 weekday rides in the first week of September — a figure that flirts with ridership projections 15 years ahead of schedule.
The Green Line averaged 40,445 weekday rides between Sept. 1 and Sept. 5, up from 36,801 during the last week of August, Metro Transit data show.
The region's newest light rail opened in June and is already 25 percent above its goal of 27,529 weekday rides by 2015. It's set to surpass a 2030 forecast of 40,936 daily passenger trips.
"Any time you're above not only the projections for the first full year operation, but you're even coming close to long-range ridership goals — that's what you're hoping for," said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb.
When the Blue Line opened in 2004, engineers didn't anticipated ridership to surge above projections and had to add cars and retrofit stations along the line to accommodate larger-than-expected crowds.
Lamb said Metro Transit learned a lesson and built the Green Line's trains and platforms with long-term growth in mind.
During rush hour, up to 39 cars service the Green Line, according to Metro Transit, which can each hold 200 passengers when fully loaded. That means at the day's peak, the train can hold a maximum capacity of 7,800 riders.
The September ridership numbers give Metro Transit officials some hope that fares could end up financing more of the operation than officials initially projected.
They see lots of potential in transporting people to special events and sports stadiums across the Twin Cities, including big crowds for the Minnesota Vikings stadium set to open in 2016. One in five fans who went to the Vikings' preseason games this fall at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus rode the Green Line.
Original plans called for rider fares, state sources and county improvement funds to split the Green Line's costs evenly. Lamb said Metro Transit now expects fares to provide more funding, although he said it was too early to tell how much revenue ridership could rake in.
Lawmakers are anxious to see riders shoulder more of the Green Line's operating cost, forecast at $35.5 million in 2015.
"I don't think it's ideal to have taxpayers from across the state paying for operations of these trains when they've already paid for the construction costs that exceed $1 billion," said state Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen.
Ortman was unimpressed with the latest ridership data.
"They're more than what was, I thought, a very low bar that was set for this system," she said.