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Bus Bus Rapid Transit Express Bus METRO Orange Line Minneapolis Suburban Transit Transit Planning

METRO Orange Line more than the sum of its parts 

| Monday, May 19, 2014 12:00:00 AM

From Christina Morrison, METRO Orange Line Project Manager

Bus Rapid Transit is not a new concept for Interstate 35W. In fact, several improvements have been made to set the table for BRT, including bus-only shoulders, the 46th Street Station, MnPASS lanes and the downtown transit corridor known as Marq2.

This infrastructure was built even though the larger BRT project, the METRO Orange Line, was not fully funded. That's one great thing about BRT – it's nimble and can be built in pieces. The Orange Line combines all the station, roadway and service improvements that we’ve been building in pieces for decades to complete the BRT picture on I-35W.

Beginning in 2019, the Orange Line will deliver frequent, all-day service to job, housing and retail centers in Minneapolis, Richfield, Bloomington and Burnsville while relieving congestion on one of the state's busiest roadways. This enhanced transit service will not only serve those traveling downtown but reverse commuters accessing more than 30,000 jobs, as well as services, education and other destinations outside the downtown core.

We know the demand for transit in the I-35W corridor is strong and will continue to grow. In 2012, express and local bus routes in the I-35W corridor attracted nearly 14,000 daily transit riders. Ridership on the limited-stop bus service the Orange Line would replace, Route 535, has increased by more than 15 percent since 2011, topping more than 430,000 rides in 2013.

Existing customers ask why we don't simply put more buses on Route 535, and that’s a good question. While more buses could provide a short-term benefit, investing in the Orange Line strengthens our regional transit network while providing several key long-term benefits:

> Better station infrastructure. Like other METRO lines, Orange Line stations will be more comfortable and accessible -- with on-demand heat, ticket machines, enhanced transit information (including real-time, NexTrip signs) and security features. These stations will not only serve the Orange Line but complementary local and express routes, making transfers easier and more efficient. At the border of Richfield and Bloomington, Orange Line stations on Knox Avenue are also being incorporated into redevelopment plans that will create a more transit-, pedestrian- and bike-friendly environment.

> Reduced travel times. A complete trip on the Orange Line will take around 35 to 40 minutes, one way. Travel times are reduced by allowing customers to pay their fares before boarding and using 60-foot buses with front, middle and rear entries. A new southbound lane exclusively for transit vehicles and carpoolers from 42nd Street to downtown Minneapolis, traffic signal technologies and a new underpass bringing Knox Avenue beneath I-494 will also make for a speedier trip.

> Improved level of service. Route 535 will do the work of multiple local and express routes. The Orange Line will operate on a simpler routing that is more user-friendly, predictable and reliable. Each streamlined trip saves operating dollars that can be reinvested into additional service on the Orange Line and connecting routes in the corridor.

These benefits are explained in greater detail in the recently released draft of the Orange Line Project Plan Update. The update summarizes work that has been done to date and provides an outline of the steps that need to be taken to begin construction.

I encourage you to read through this plan and offer your feedback. Public comments will be accepted through the end of May and incorporated before the Metropolitan Council considers the project later this year.

Your feedback is important to refining plans as we look forward to construction beginning in 2016 and opening the Orange Line for service in late 2019. Please share your input and help us make the Orange Line a success.

For continued updates, subscribe to the Orange Line Project Update newsletter. You can also join the conversation on Twitter (@MetroTransitMN) as we host a "Tweet Chat" about the Orange Line between noon and 1 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20.

    > METRO Orange Line

    > Draft Project Plan Update

    > METRO Orange Line FAQs

    > I-35W Transit/Access Project

Bus Rider Information Transit Planning

Take a seat 

| Wednesday, February 19, 2014 8:20:00 AM

Metro Transit customers who use routes 6, 12 or 21 may have noticed a couple of seats go missing beginning earlier this month.

Two aisle seats are absent from in front of the rear exit door on two-dozen newly-ordered 40-foot buses, leaving each vehicle with 36 seats. The buses were ordered without the aisle seats in a trial to see if opening more space improves passenger movement when buses on these popular routes fill up.

Although removing seats may seem counterintuitive, the extra room is intended to encourage passengers to move further toward the back of the bus instead of standing near the front. The extra space can also be used by customers riding with larger items.

Clearing space in the front of the bus makes it easier for customers to board, reducing the time spent at stops and keeping buses on schedule. The seats were removed from some buses on routes 6, 12 and 21 because customers each of the routes has frequent on/off boarding activity.

Operator and customer feedback is being collected over the coming months to help decide if more buses should be similarly arranged in the future. Feedback on the trial setup can be sent to Customer Relations by commenting online here or by calling 612-373-3333 on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

    > Good Question: Why go out the back?

    > How to ride

Bus From the GM Rider Information Transit Planning

Improving service, with your help 

| Tuesday, December 10, 2013 12:01:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

In recent years, Metro Transit has spent considerable time planning for light rail and Bus Rapid Transit. While these efforts will continue, we also want to focus attention on the expansion of the regular-route bus system that serves as the foundation of what we do. That's where the Service Improvement Plan comes in.

The Service Improvement Plan we're creating will serve as the blueprint for prioritized improvements as our bus system develops over the next 10 to 15 years. It's an important piece of work and we look forward to working with our partners and customers as the vision takes shape.

To begin putting the Service Improvement Plan together, we assembled what we have already been hearing from our customers and stakeholders. Throughout the year, planners have analyzed suggestions we have received through Customer Relations and other project-specific outreach efforts. Some suggestions are very detailed route ideas while others are more general.

Some primary themes have already emerged, including faster travel speeds, improved core urban bus routes, expanded urban crosstown routes, more suburb-to-suburb bus connections and more express service.

With these fundamentals in place, we recently asked policymakers and community leaders to participate in workshops that provided an understanding of Metro Transit’s planning principles. In a hands-on exercise, attendees were given maps and yarn that represented available resources, then invited to design a fictional transit system. The exercise illustrated basic planning tradeoffs we face every day. (‘Should I evenly distribute my yarn across all areas of the map to provide low frequency service everywhere or focus on certain areas, providing higher frequency in corridors with more demand?’) Using this understanding, these leaders will begin engaging their constituents and community members to develop additional suggestions we can consider as we work on the Service Improvement Plan.

Through community outreach and direct communication with our customers, we’ll also continue to solicit, collect and analyze feedback. When these efforts conclude in February, staff will draft a plan that prioritizes recommendations for service improvements and present it to the public for additional review. When complete, the Service Improvement Plan will inform the decisions we make as funding for additional service becomes available throughout the years ahead.

As customers who use buses and trains every day, your feedback is important in shaping the Service Improvement Plan. Whether you have ideas about the routes you ride every day, suggestions for new service, or both, I encourage you to participate in this process. You can begin now by completing an online survey at metrotransit.org/sip or by e-mailing your comments to sip@metrotransit.org.

    > Service Improvement Plan

    > From the GM

Bus Minneapolis St. Paul Transit Information Transit Planning

Signs of Change 

| Friday, December 06, 2013 11:00:00 AM

Scott Bergevin and Laura Matson have a lot of ground to cover.

When service changes occur every three months, the pair is responsible for replacing or adding hundreds of new schedules at Metro Transit bus stops from Blaine to Lakeville, and Stillwater to Mound. In August, nearly 900 signs were added or replaced over the course of five days – the largest workload Bergevin recalls in his decade on the job.

“There’s a lot you have to get done in a week, which means you have to organize it really well,” he said.

With a fresh round of changes introduced to nearly 40 Metro Transit routes Dec. 7, Bergevin and Matson were back in the field this week visiting hundreds of bus stops, Transit Centers and Park & Rides in a rush to refresh schedule information at hundreds of locations. Scheduled and maps are changed at the last possible moment to avoid confusion among customers.

At the same time, nearly 503,000 new printed "pocket" schedules were being single-handedly distributed to libraries, grocery stores, recreation centers and other busy public facilities by Schedule Distribution Coordinator Wally Keifenheim. In 2012, more than 3 million such schedules were distributed at locations throughout Metro Transit’s service territory.

On Tuesday, with snow imminent, Bergevin and Matson found themselves racing the clock as well as the weather.

In the morning, the pair made stops at the Rosedale and Northtown transit centers before winding through the University of Minnesota's West Bank, Cedar-Riverside and along Central Avenue. Later, they traveled from the Union Depot south on Robert Street, then back north on Snelling Avenue. At the end of the day, they had surpassed 130 miles on the road.

After joining Metro Transit earlier this year, Matson said the time spent on the road has given her a new appreciation for the complexity of getting correct information out to the hundreds of locations Metro Transit serves.

“There are a lot of little details – a lot more than you’d think,” she said. “But we have a very methodical approach that makes it work.”

Matson and Bergevin travel together so one can act as the navigator, providing directions and updating information that will later be entered into a comprehensive database. Replacing large posters at transit centers like the Union Depot can also take an extra set of hands.

The largest project to come from this month's service changes involves the U of M campus, where buses are returning to Washington Avenue for the first time since 2011. The change is one of several being made in preparation for the METRO Green Line, which opens next year.

Not every schedule or route adjustment has such a significant impact on service, but even slight variations require signs to be changed.

Schedules and maps need to be replaced as service is modified to provide more reliable transfers and keep pace with ridership trends. Construction detours also play a role.

“All the route has to do is change by one minute and we’re out here,” Bergevin said.

Bergevin is spending more time in the field not just because of the changes that are made but because of the growth Metro Transit has experienced since he started ten years ago.

When Bergevin started, pocket schedules were simply displayed inside customer-waiting shelters. Today, Park & Rides, Transit Centers, Marq2 and some of the busiest stops have route maps. Stop numbers that can be used to get location-specific route and schedule information are also being introduced. (The numbers can be used with Metro Transit's mobile site or when speaking with representatives from the Transit Information Center).

Over the next few years, Metro Transit plans to continue rolling out new bus stop signs across the region while identifying other possibilities for providing additional transit information. A new survey invites customers to share thoughts about the value of having route numbers, a map of nearby landmarks or route destinations and other information at bus stops. The survey will be used as more information is tested in the field to determine impacts on ridership.

    > A new sign of the times

    > These routes will change on Dec. 7

    > 2012 Facts

Bus From the GM Transit Information Transit Planning

A new sign of the times 

| Tuesday, October 22, 2013 3:36:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

Metro Transit’s 12,268 bus stops are the most visible, widespread and permanent symbols of our organization. Yet, they have lagged behind the re-branding effort already seen on our buses, customer-waiting shelters, transit centers and Park & Rides.

That’s one reason why we’re redesigning them. Another is to give customers, residents and visitors better access to transit information.

Our goal is to provide as much information as possible at every stop. For years, our busiest boarding locations have included regularly updated route schedules and maps and, in some cases, real time NexTrip signage. Currently, about half of all boardings occur at 125 or so transit stops and 75 percent occur at 550 stops. Route identifiers, schedules and/or maps are posted and maintained at these and scores of other stops.

Part of our business cycle is to perpetually refine routes and schedules to adapt to changes throughout the region. We publish new schedules four times per year. As you would expect, maintaining and posting new schedules and maps physically at every bus stop in our seven-plus county service area presents a large and very costly challenge. That challenge will only increase as transit continues to expand in our region.

Upwards of 90 percent of Twin Cities residents possess cell phones or mobile devices. Month after month our customers increasingly access transit information electronically. This trend provides us an opportunity to cost-effectively provide access to essentially all transit information for the Twin Cities on every bus stop sign in addition to the on-site information at the busiest stops.  

If you’ve been on West 7th Street in St. Paul or on Marquette or 2nd avenues and connecting east-west streets in downtown Minneapolis, you may already have seen some of our newly-designed signs. These signs were placed in the community during a pilot period so we could get feedback from customers and bus drivers.

After receiving a positive response, we plan to begin rolling these signs out in more of our service area.

The red, yellow and blue signs prominently feature the “Circle T” that is instantly recognized in this region and beyond as a symbol for transit service. The signs also include the regional Transit Information Center phone number (612-373-3333), regional website address (metrotransit.org) and a unique Stop Number. We believe these elements will be extremely useful for customers while also eliminating on-location maintenance needed to keep them up-to-date.

Customers who encounter the signs will not merely be directed to our phone number and website. Using a mobile phone, the unique Stop Number can be used to retrieve NexTrip real-time departures for all routes that serve the stop. Customers who call our Transit Information Center can also use the number to receive faster, more effective trip planning assistance. Increasingly, our detour and disruption communications also include unique stop numbers.

Getting these new signs in place will require extensive coordination with each of the 90 cities we serve.  We expect to roll out the new signs to the region in stages and over a period of time – beginning with our busiest facilities and stops, then along the northwest and central corridors.

We look forward to adding more of them in 2014 and beyond and we hope you do, too.

> Improving info at bus stops

Bus Express Bus Light Rail Rider Information Transit Planning

Trip Planner sets new record 

| Thursday, October 03, 2013 3:21:00 PM

Image of the Metro Transit Trip Planner Web tool. Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner is more popular than ever.

The online tool helped customers plan a record 657,458 trips last month, beating the previous record of 656,017 planned trips set in September 2011.

Available at metrotransit.org and metrotransit.org/mobile, Trip Planner allows users to find individualized route and schedule information by entering start and end points as well as the time they want to travel. The service also displays an estimated travel time and calculates the amount of carbon emissions saved by taking transit.

Transit Information Manager John Howley said September is always a popular month as students return to class. But use of the service has grown steadily since it was launched in 2000.   

“The trend has been upward pretty much ever since it hit the ground running,” he said. “It’s been our fastest growing source of information all the way along and has been just wildly popular.”

Year-to-date there have been around 5.3 million trips planned using Trip Planner. Howley said he expects to see the Trip Planner used more than 7 million times this year, beating last year’s total of 6.5 million.

Customers can get additional transit information by using the Personal Bus Schedule feature and through NexTrip, accessed about 150,000 times daily. Representatives at the Transit Information Center and third-party apps built based on publicly-shared Metro Transit data are also available

Frequent transit users can store trip plans, access Go-To Card balances and compile other personalized information by creating an account at My Metro Transit.

Metro Transit's online growth is not constrained to route planning, either. The metrotransit.org website saw 901,839 visits in September – a new record. Year to date, there have been more than 7.5 million visits to the website. Metro Transit’s Facebook page also surpassed 20,000 fans last month.

> Trip Planner

> Trending Towards Transit

> Star Tribune: Trip Planner program helps Metro Transit's website traffic soar

Carpool Go Green Promotions Rider Information Rider Profile Rideshare Transit Planning

Enjoying the shared ride 

| Monday, September 30, 2013 2:45:00 PM

Thomson Reuters carpoolers together as they prepare to leave work at the end of the day.When Jan Kaster’s knees began to go and she found it too difficult to use the bus, she thought she might have to retire early. But the Thomson Reuters editor found a way to keep working: she joined a carpool.

Using Metro Transit’s Carpool Matching Tool, Kaster connected with fellow employee Kristen Estrada, one of more than 800 Thomson Reuters workers who have created an online profile that connects carpoolers by home address, place of employment and other preferences.

The online tool, being promoted in October as part of Carpool to Work Month, helped the then-strangers discover they lived just a mile apart and worked at the same building.

Kaster said she was thrilled to have found a match so she could continue to come to the office, get dropped off near the door and receive help loading her heavy bag in and out of the car.

“I really appreciate that I’m still able to work,” she said recently from Thomson Reuter’s Eagan headquarters. “I wasn’t ready to quit yet.”

Kaster’s continued employment is just one of the many benefits that have come from the carpool, which began in early 2012 and grew to include another employee, Brandon Dandl, earlier this year.

For Estrada, the only driver in the group, providing rides to and from work helps cover her transportation costs. Kaster and Dandl each pay $3 for every 10-mile, 20-minute trip they take.

The group also gets to use a preferred carpool parking area near the building entrance – a perk that becomes especially important in winter. Though they haven’t needed it, the carpoolers are also eligible for the Guaranteed Ride Home, which covers the cost of a cab if a carpooler needs an emergency ride home.

Carpooling has also allowed the group to learn more about each other’s work. Kaster has spent 23 years as the editor of the U.S. Code Annotated, a 400-volume compilation of federal laws. Estrada sells hard copies of the books and Dandl sells electronic versions.

“When I learned that I thought, ‘Oh, great, I can ask you all about this,’” Estrada said, “I’ve been able to ask her about the book and how laws are written and have really learned a lot.”

Work isn’t the only topic of conversation among the group, however. As the trio has spent more time riding together, they have swapped advice and shared more of their personal lives. Estrada’s one-year-old baby will occasionally share the back seat with Dandl as the group rides together to drop her off.

They also listen to Minnesota Public Radio to catch up and discuss the news and have made a routine of listening to KDWB’s War of the Roses every Thursday morning (in the farcical skit, a significant other listens in as their mate is asked where they’d like to send a dozen roses).

While the practical benefits are important, the carpoolers say the camaraderie they enjoy has become one their favorite parts of sharing the ride. 

“We all get to vent a little bit, which can be very therapeutic,” Kaster said.    

> October is Carpool to Work Month

> Set up a Commuter Account

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