Prabhu Prakasham boards a Route 615 bus once a month to get from his Hopkins apartment to Park Nicollet, on Excelsior Boulevard in St. Louis Park. At least three times a week, Alexander Nemets takes it the other direction from his St. Louis Park home to go shopping at Cub Foods and Sam’s Club.
The non-car owning customers were among a group of 20 passengers who recently boarded a westbound bus as it made its way from St. Louis Park to downtown Hopkins and Ridgedale Center on a warm late afternoon.
Also on the bus: Jennifer Robinson, who uses Route 615 so regularly she’s memorized the schedule, is on a first-name basis with the driver and is confident she could get behind the wheel and know exactly where to go.
“I think it’s safe to say I’m one of the more frequent users,” said Robinson, who was traveling from the St. Louis Park Library to downtown Hopkins.
Because of its popularity, Route 615 will offer an extended weekday schedule when service changes take effect on Saturday, Aug. 24. Instead of making its final weekday trips between 5 and 6 p.m., the last trip will run between 7 and 8 p.m.
Route 615 is directly contracted by the Metropolitan Council and operated by a third-party provider, not Metro Transit. But it is a part of the regional transit network with scheduled connections to other routes, common fares and technology, and the same trip planning and customer service resources that make using it seamless for riders.
To further build on this connection, Metro Transit is introducing a suite of transit upgrades in St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka that go into effect in August.
Weekday hours on Route 9N, which travels between Minnetonka through downtown Minneapolis to the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station, will be extended and new Route 614 will begin service between Ridgedale Center and Minnetonka Heights. Route 614 trips will leave every hour from 5:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. on Saturdays.
Steve Mahowald, a senior planner at Metro Transit who helped organize the adjustments, said the goal is to improve service for suburban residents who rely on transit just as much as their urban counterparts.
Launched in 2001, Route 615 shows how important suburban transit can be. One of just a handful of so-called “suburban circulators,” the bus weaves a path through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka and stops at major shopping destinations, service centers and residences.
Among the landmarks on the route: the Excelsior & Grand mixed-use development, the Miracle Mile Shopping Center, Knollwood Mall, Ramsgate Apartments, the Hopkins Center for the Arts, Greenbrier Condos and Ridgedale Center.
Customers who don't own a car describe the service as vital to their daily lives and say it allows them to get to appointments, shop or simply see friends despite not owning a vehicle. They also say Route 615 plays an important role filling the gaps between other commonly-used bus routes that connect the western suburbs and Minneapolis, including routes 17D and 12.
For customer Dan Tonn, Route 615 completes his commute from Hopkins to his job in Mound. Tonn boards the bus outside his Hopkins apartment and rides to Ridgedale where he catches Express Route 675 to Mound Transit Center, where he is just a short bike ride away from his office.
Tonn owns a car but said he uses transit because it saves gas money and is a more enjoyable ride. Without Route 615, he said, “I would bike a lot further and be a lot hotter.”
Route 615 At a Glance
Type: Suburban Circulator
Service: Route 615 provides hourly weekday service. The first trip begins at 7:15 a.m. and the final trips begin at 4:51 p.m.
Route length: 11 miles
Stops: 70 eastbound stops and 80 westbound stops.
Vehicles: 30-foot buses
Ridership: Route 615 attracts an average of 170 customers on weekdays and 87 customers on Saturday.
History: Suburban circulator service was added in the early- to mid-90s.Route 615 was launched in 2001. Service is contracted directly by the Metropolitan Council.
Future: Beginning with service changes that take effect Saturday, Aug. 24, Route 615 will offer an extended weekday schedule. Service on weekdays will be available two hours later and begin a half-hour earlier.