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Posts in Category: Transit Planning

Bus Rapid Transit Rider Information Transit Planning

Doing data science at Metro Transit  

| Thursday, January 25, 2018 11:00:00 AM

Rebecca Freese has worked as a data science intern for Metro Transit’s Strategic Initiatives Department since June 2016. She’s currently a graduate student at the University of Minnesota studying biostatistics. Freese wrote this post for the Rider's Almanac to share her experience with the important Strategic Initiatives projects she’s been working on and to entice others to apply to the Metro Transit internship program.

Growing up in a small town, public transportation wasn’t an option for me until I moved to Minneapolis to study mathematics in college. Without a car, I soon started to rely on buses and trains to get where I needed to be each day. With graduation approaching, I happened across an internship with Strategic Initiatives at Metro Transit, and the rest is history. Here’s a little more about the department and the projects I’ve worked on.

What is Strategic Initiatives?

Strategic Initiatives’ mission is to “improve the efficiency of transit operations and the customer experience with rigorous data analysis, research, and collaboration.” What that boils down to is we develop models, data visualization techniques, and provide analysis to help the agency make data-driven decisions.

Examples of this include forecasting ridership for a certain route for the next few months, investigating the effects of route and fare changes, and analyzing customer and employee surveys. We mainly use the statistical computing language software R, but occasionally branch into other languages, depending on project need. We’re a small group with a wide range of backgrounds, but we all have a common passion for our work.

What does a data science intern do?

During my time at Metro Transit, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects. I’ve built an interactive mapping tool using R Shiny to visualize where bus accidents have occurred. Transit safety specialists can use this tool to determine if more training is needed on a particular stretch of road and to alert bus operators (drivers) about trickier locations.

I’ve also analyzed survey data that asks Metro Transit customers what features are important to have at a bus stop, and where the agency should prioritize placing shelters. The plot below shows the how important participants felt each of the features were to have at a bus stop. The dark and light green colors represent the proportion of people who felt a particular feature was essential or very important, whereas the purple and red indicate the proportion of people who thought that feature was just nice to have or not important. We can see that the benches, posted schedules, safe street crossings, and shelters had the highest proportion of people indicating they were essential or very important. Lights inside the shelter and wide sidewalks were marked as not important most frequently.

Similar questions were asked about where people preferred to have bus shelters, and highly ranked locations included where many people wait for the bus and near hospitals, social service centers, and senior housing. This information was then used as the basis for updating guidelines for where Metro Transit places bus shelters and what features to include in them.

Bikes on the A Line (Rapid bus service)

A fun project I worked on during the summer of 2017 was visualizing when and where A Line customers tend to use the bike racks mounted on the front of the bus. Magnetic counters were installed on all A Line buses, so that when someone takes their bike on or off the bus, the time and location of the event is recorded. This data helps us better understand our multimodal customers, particularly, where they prefer to ride their bike and where they prefer to ride the bus. Maybe we should consider installing more secure bike lockers and tire pumps at stops where many bikers get on or off the bus? As more data are collected, we hope to be able to tell waiting customers if there’s an open spot for their bike on the next bus approaching.

Below is an interactive plot showing the stations along the A Line where customers used the bike racks on the bus, between April 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. Locations where someone puts their bike on the bus are at the top of the plot, and where they get off is on the bottom. The thicker the ribbon between two locations, the more people have taken that trip. Hover above “origins” or “destinations” to get the option to sort the stations alphabetically or by how many people use the bike racks. You can also click and drag the name of a station to a new location for custom sorting. Additionally, hovering above a colored ribbon gives the percentage of people who ride the bus with their bike on each of the segments.

We can see that for southbound customers, people have ridden the A Line with their bike 570 times between Rosedale Transit Center and Snelling and University, which is 8% of the total trips. The majority of customers who put their bike on the bus at Snelling and University, heading south, ride to the 46th St Station.

Play around with sorting the stations by origin or destination and see what inferences you can make.

A Line plot for bike rack usage

I like this plot for a few reasons. One, because it’s kind of pretty (although the director of our department wishes he could run a hairbrush through it to untangle it), and two, it shows a lot of information quickly.

I will admit, it’s got a lot going on, but once you find an interesting pattern, you can dig deeper with other plots or models to investigate further. For example, why are the above-mentioned trips so popular? We could look into bike lanes in the area to see if that stretch of road is biker-friendly. It’s very likely that the areas where bikers prefer to ride the bus are along roads with heavy traffic or without marked bike lanes. Snelling and University is probably a popular station because of its proximity to the Green Line.

Would you like to be a data science intern for Metro Transit?

If you’ve made it this far, I have good news! My internship is coming to an end this spring, so we are in search of a data science enthusiast to take my place. This is not the kind of internship where you’re stuck going on coffee runs for the office or doing other mindless busywork. This is a hands-on environment to hone your skills while working with a supportive and dedicated team.

If any of what I mentioned above appeals to you, check out the positions available in Strategic Initiatives:

Performance Analyst

Data Scientist 

Students interested in interning at Metro Transit are invited to submit applications through Sunday, Feb. 4. Applicants must be enrolled in a post-secondary education program or have graduated within the past year. Interns work full-time, from late May through the end of the summer. Some interns may also stay on in part-time roles through the school year. All interns are paid $18.50 an hour.

Internship positions are available in Strategic Initiateives, Marketing, Engineering & Facilities, Finance, Service Development and Rail Operations. There are also positions in the Green Line Extension and Blue Line Extension project offices and the other Council divisions.

Review openings and learn more at the Metropolitan Council's internships page.

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

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