Availability of New Northstar Link Fare Media

On Friday, October 1, 2021, Northstar Link will resume charging fares for all transportation services.

When fares resume, Northstar Link will be implementing new fareboxes and fare payment options including a new smart card and mobile app, known as the Metro Bus Smart Ride Card and Metro Bus Smart Ride App respectively. Northstar Link is operated by Metro Bus.

Effective Wednesday, September 8, the new Smart Ride Cards and the Smart Ride App will be available to the public online and at select outlets.

The Smart Ride App will be available on the App Store for iPhone users and Google Play for Android users by searching for “Smart Ride.” The Smart Ride App can be used to purchase 31-Day Passes for Northstar Link. Customers can board buses using the Smart Ride App with a 31-Day Pass. Learn more at catchthelink.com/smart-ride/.

Customers can purchase Smart Ride Cards with passes or Stored Value on them online at smartridecard.com. Shipping and handling fees apply and customers can expect to receive their Smart Ride Card in five to seven business days. Customers can also register their Smart Ride Cards online through the same portal to protect their passes and value against loss, theft or damage of their Smart Ride Card. All sales are final and value can only be transferred to a new card if the original was registered.

Smart Ride Cards will also be available at select partner outlets throughout the service area beginning September 8. Pass outlets will be selling pre-loaded Smart Ride Cards with $25 of Stored Value on them which can be used to pay fares on Northstar Link as well as any Metro Bus services. Additional pass outlets may be added at a later date. Locations include:

Beginning Sunday, September 19, customers will be able to purchase Smart Ride Cards with value and/or passes at the Metro Bus Transit Center located at 510 1st St. S in downtown St. Cloud via the Ticket Vending Machine or the customer service counter. Customers will also be able to exchange unused passes, tokens and change cards at the Transit Center daily from 9 AM to 2 PM, including weekends, through October 16. Smart Ride Cards will also be free during this time. All previous fare media will be transferred over to Smart Cards, including partial ride passes and 31-Day Passes activated on or after March 17, 2020.

The option to exchange passes, tokens and change cards will last until Saturday, October 16, after which Smart Ride Cards will cost $3 in addition to the cost of any passes or stored monetary value purchased to the card. All unused passes from prior to the implementation of the new fareboxes, tokens and change cards will be have no value after October 16. The new fareboxes will no longer offer change.

Customers can still pay their fare with cash but are encouraged to only use exact change. Fareboxes and Bus Operators are not able to give or make change.

Fares will not change for any Northstar Link services.

Northstar Link customers can visit the Metro Bus Mobility Training Center at 700 West. St. Germain in St. Cloud to try the new farebox or call the Mobility Training Center to schedule free travel training at 320.529.4487. Customers are also encouraged to visit catchthelink.com, follow Northstar Link on Facebook and Twitter and monitor communications onboard buses and at the Transit Center for updates and more information.

Federal public transportation masking mandate extended to January

On August 20, 2021, the Federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extended mask requirements on all public transportation until January 18, 2022, including those already vaccinated. The Federal requirements override State masking changes. TSA requirements were developed in consultation with the Department of Transportation and the CDC.
Per Security Directive (SD) 1582-84-21-01B: Security Measures – Mask Requirements, passengers are required to wear cloth or filter masks covering their mouth and nose on a bus or in a facility for public transportation. Not following this requirement is a violation of federal law.
Federal guidelines define a mask as a material covering the nose and mouth of the wearer, excluding face shields.

The CDC mandate includes three exceptions to the masking mandate:

  • Children under the age of 2,
  • People with disabilities who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.), and
  • People for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations

Passengers must stipulate they qualify for one of these exceptions if they are not wearing a mask.

Masks are available to the public at the Metro Bus Transit Center.

Holiday Service Schedule

Northstar Link Commuter Bus will not operate on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays and will run a modified schedule for Friday, Nov. 27 and Thursday, Dec. 24 to coordinate with the Northstar Commuter Rail train schedule, Route 888. Metro Bus service will not be available when the last trip arrives in St. Cloud on Dec. 24.

Route 887F is not operating at this time. Fares are suspended until further notice. Complete schedule information is available at www.CatchTheLink.com/schedules/ for the bus and www.metrotransit.org/northstar for the train.

New fareboxes and fare payment options coming soon

Northstar Link is preparing for installation of new fareboxes for all buses in its fleet. The modern fareboxes will bring new ways for passengers to pay their fare. Touchless pay options will be available using the new Metro Bus Smart Ride Card and mobile phone application known as the Smart Ride App. Cash fares and Smart Ride Tickets for short-term use will also be available across all services.

The current Northstar Link fareboxes are over 20 years old. The new fareboxes, Smart Ride Cards and Smart Ride App will modernize the way Central Minnesotans are able to pay their bus fares. More information is available at https://www.ridemetrobus.com/home/smart-ride/.

The farebox transition will take place overnight on a weekend late in 2020. The date is yet to be determined. The date of the transition will be announced in the coming weeks. Service will not be interrupted for the transition.

We encourage customers to begin to use up their “old” fare media, including 31-Day Passes and 10-Ride Passes. The current passes will no longer be valid. Change cards will no longer be available or accepted after the transition.

Stay tuned to catchthelink.com and follow Northstar Link on Facebook and Twitter for more updates regarding the fare payment changes.

Service reduction effective Wednesday, March 25 to match Northstar Rail

As part of the nation-wide effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19, Northstar Link will reduce its schedule to match the Northstar Rail. There will be two southbound trips in the morning to meet the train along with two return trips northbound. There will also be two northbound trips in the evening after meeting the train as well as the two preceding southbound trips each afternoon to meet the train. There will not be Fabulous Friday (887F) or weekend service.

2020-03_NSL Reduced Service COVID-19_image_V2

We encourage customers to only make essential trips at this time. Reducing the number of people on buses will make it easier for passengers and employees to follow social distancing guidelines.

Stay tuned to this website and our social media accounts for more information and updates.

Northstar Link continuing regular service at this time

Northstar Link prioritizes the health and safety of our passengers and employees. To that end, we want to keep our passengers and the public informed on the steps we are taking in regards to COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus.

We are continuously monitoring reports provided by federal, state and local government agencies and communicating with various organizations and affiliations, including the Minnesota Safety Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We encourage everyone to educate themselves on the recommendations of the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Based on what has been communicated, we are taking the following preventative measures:

  • We have been cleaning and will continue to clean our buses regularly.
  • All efforts will be made to allow as much fresh air as possible into buses.

All Metro Bus services will remain status quo, unless directed otherwise by our federal or state partners.

Northstar Link Holiday Service Schedule & Free Rides for Vets on Veterans Day

In honor of their service, all Veterans and active military ride free with a military ID on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Northstar Link Commuter Bus will not operate on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays and will run a modified schedule for Friday, Nov. 29 and Monday, Dec. 24 to coordinate with the Northstar Commuter Rail train schedule, Route 888.

Route 887F will not operate on Friday, Nov. 29. Regular fares apply for all routes.


Complete schedule is available at www.CatchTheLink.com/schedules/ for the bus and www.metrotransit.org/northstar for the train.


New Metro Bus privacy requirement may impact health care, residential care and social service providers

Northstar Link respects the privacy of our passengers. To protect their privacy, Northstar Link requires written authorization from passengers regarding who may communicate with Northstar Link on the passenger’s behalf. This requirement is effective May 1, 2019, and impacts all passenger communications discussion about issues or concerns.

How to provide authorization: Northstar Link is a service of St. Cloud Metro Bus service. The authorization is provided through the completion of the Metro Bus Passenger Release of Information form. This form  is available for everyone on the Northstar Link website. If the passenger has a legal guardian (Power of Attorney, Conservator, etc.) who is responsible for their well-being, proof of the legal guardianship is required.

Special Note for Caregivers, Health Care providers, Social Workers, Group Homes and Nursing Homes: This requirement impacts staff who set up rides for their patients/residents. In order for staff to talk about any issues with Northstar Link on behalf of the facilities’ clients, the facility or caregiver must be listed on the Passenger Release of Information form signed by the passenger or their legal guardian. Remember, if a legal guardian is authorizing, Northstar Link must have proof of the legal guardianship.

Download the form here: https://www.ridemetrobus.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Passenger-Release-of-Information-Authorization-Form.pdf

Northstar Link Winter Holiday Hours 2018

Northstar Link Commuter Bus will not operate on the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays and will run a modified schedule for the Friday after Thanksgiving and Monday, Christmas Eve to match the Northstar Commuter Rail train schedule, Route 888. Route 887F will not operate on Nov. 23, the Friday after Thanksgiving. Regular fares apply for all routes.

holiday hours 2018 nsl

Fare information is available at www.CatchTheLink.com for the bus and www.metrotransit.org/northstar for the train.