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Awards Bus Transit Improvements Transit Planning

TransitMaster upgrade improves the customer experience 

Posted by Marisa Helms | Thursday, November 09, 2017 3:15:00 PM

Most customers are unaware of all the behind-the-scenes technology that goes into catching a bus.

In fact, at the core of every rider experience, and the decisions we make to improve operational efficiency, is a computer system called TransitMaster.

Bus Operations has been using TransitMaster since 2002 to provide the entire agency with data that can be used to share real-time bus departures with customers, deploy extra buses when operators need support due to extreme weather, events or traffic, and write more accurate schedules.

And soon, an enhanced version of TransitMaster will enable buses to communicate location data more accurately and faster than ever before, adding up to significant gains for customers and staff.

Manager of Technology Systems Gary Nyberg and Transit Control Center (TCC) staff are systematically rolling out the TransitMaster upgrade over the next couple of months to all 950 buses. Each bus, which is equipped with an onboard cellular router, will communicate location data to TCC and NexTrip. NexTrip is the customer-facing system that feeds the mobile app, the website and the electronic schedule displays located at various bus stops and shelters.

Nyberg said when the upgrade is fully implemented by the end of 2017, buses will be able to send their location message every five to 10 seconds.

“That’s a huge improvement from the current 30 to 60 seconds,” Nyberg said. “It enhances a customer’s experience by improving NexTrip prediction accuracy and reliability, and therefore, their trust in Metro Transit.”

The latest TransitMaster improvements also provide the foundation for another key technology called Transit Signal Priority (TSP). TSP improves on-time performance because it allows a bus to request a longer green light or request that a red light be turned to green.

The TransitMaster upgrade also uses an embedded gyroscope sensor to improve accuracy when a bus is at the Mall of America, at Transit Centers, or whenever a bus is otherwise not receiving a valid GPS signal. A gyroscope is a small device that always maintains its direction and orientation to the earth, so whenever a bus’s GPS device loses its GPS signal, the gyroscope kicks in and continues to send accurate location data to TCC and NexTrip.

“Now we’ll know even more precisely where every bus is, everywhere, at all times,” Nyberg said. “That’s key, and it further improves the way we can manage our system and the accuracy of the data it provides to operations, planners, and to our customers.”

Other teams also rely on TransitMaster data and will benefit from the system upgrade.

Street Operations uses TransitMaster’s real-time information to better understand operators’ experience with delays. Service Development analyzes TransitMaster data to adjust schedules and routes. And Customer Relations staff use TransitMaster to respond to a customer who calls because their bus didn’t show up. With TransitMaster, Customer Relations staff can look at a live screen to see where the bus is in that moment and give the customer an answer in about 30 seconds.

“TransitMaster’s improvements are invisible to the customer, but they make us better able to deliver on the promise of service," Nyberg said.

Editor's Note: Nyberg’s leadership with TransitMaster and other important technology projects led to his TCC colleagues secretly nominating him for an Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Minnesota award. In October, Nyberg was presented with a 2017 ITS Minnesota Public Sector Achievement Award in recognition for his outstanding contributions to the ITS community and for improving the efficiency of public transportation operations in Minnesota.

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

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