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Posts in Category: Community

Community St. Paul Student Pass

Students make the case for expanding transit access 

| Thursday, June 25, 2015 9:12:00 AM

For several years, high school student Spencer Willits has used transit to travel to and from school, work and other activities.

At 16-years-old, he says riding buses and trains has given him greater independence to travel around the Twin Cities and delayed his pursuit of a driver’s licenses.

His ambition now is to help make transit more easily accessible to his peers.

In support of that goal, Willits, Sebastian Alfonzo and Breanna Simon, members of the Saint Paul Youth Commission’s Transit Access Subcommittee, spoke this week to Metropolitan Council members about expanding the Student Pass program to schools across St. Paul.

“Using transit has had a really profound impact on how I get around the Twin Cities, and I think it’s something everyone should have available to them,” said Willits, who will be a junior at Great River School this fall.

For the last three school years, qualified high school students at Minneapolis Public Schools have been provided Student Passes that can be used for unlimited rides while classes are in session. Several other metro-area schools also participate.

Students use regular route buses to get to and from school and enjoy the flexibility of taking an earlier or later trip so they can participate in before and after school programs. Students can also use the passes to get to work or other activities.                                                             

Beginning this fall, more than 1,000 students at St. Paul’s Johnson Senior High School will be provided Student Passes in a pilot project that will help determine if additional high schools in the Saint Paul School District can be included in the program.

The Saint Paul Youth Commission – a group of young leaders focused on community issues –asked the Saint Paul School Board to pursue program expansion last year.

To bolster their case as discussions continue, the Youth Commission provided 14 students at Central and Harding high schools with Go-To Cards that could be used to ride Metro Transit for free from January through June. The students were then surveyed about how they used transit during those six months.

Survey results shared with the Council showed that students used the passes several times a week to get to school and a variety of activities, including work, tutoring and sports.  

Testimonials from those who received the passes were also shared in a short video. In interviews, students said the passes saved them money and boosted their school performance by allowing them greater access to after-school programs. 

Youth Commissioner Alfonzo, a junior at Central High School, said the feedback affirmed his belief that students would greatly benefit from having a Student Pass.

“Students who need this, I feel like they’d jump at the chance,” he said. “It’s something I think would help a lot of people reach opportunities that they otherwise couldn’t.”

Photo: Students from the Saint Paul Youth Commission spoke to the Council's Transportation Committee on Tuesday, June 23. From left are Spencer Willits, advisor Lisle Bertsche, Breanna Simon and Sebastian Alfonzo.

Bus Community Know Your Operator

Top operators recognized for safe driving, customer service 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, June 17, 2015 1:47:00 PM

Operators were recognized for safe driving at Metro Transit's annual Ovations Awards Ceremony.Every weekday morning, operator Rodney Smith makes four 12-mile journeys between Normandale Community College and downtown Minneapolis on Route 535

With a full load of customers in tow, he guides a 40-foot bus through rush hour traffic on Interstate 35W, maneuvers through several lanes to pick up or drop off customers at Lake Street and navigates through congested downtown streets.

Despite the challenges, Smith maintains a safe driving record that stretches back to his first day on the job 35 years ago. Asked how he’s been able to do it, Smith said he’d never really paused to consider his impressive streak. 

“It’s not like you’re marking the days on the calendar,” Smith said. “You just have patience and take it day by day.”

Metro Transit has been keeping a calendar, though, and on Thursday Smith was among a group of five Metro Transit operators recognized for 35 consecutive years of safe driving.

The recognition came at the Ovations Awards Ceremony, Metro Transit’s annual operator appreciation event. More than 50 bus and light rail operators celebrating career milestones were honored for their safe driving records, customer service and attendance at the event.

Two operators were recognized for 30 consecutive years of safe driving and two operators were recognized for 25 consecutive years of safe driving. Another 16 operators were honored for 25 combined years of safe driving and others were celebrated for reaching 25-, 20-, 15-, 10- and 5-year milestones.

Several operators in attendance credited their success to simply being aware of their surroundings, a cornerstone of the Safety Keys training operators go through every three years.

“It’s a lot of skill, a lot of experience, a lot of good training – and maybe just a little bit of luck,” said operator Duane Lundgren who, while being a self-described klutz, has tallied 30 consecutive years of safe driving.

General Manager Brian Lamb took the opportunity to thank operators for their service, commitment to customers and leadership in the organization.

He credited operators for helping Metro Transit grow ridership in ten of the last 11 years – the first such period of growth in a century – and said they all played an important role in shaping the next generation of top operators.

“It isn’t just about what we build, it’s about who we are,” Lamb said in his address. “And you are the best of who we are.”

    > Metro Transit Awards and Recognition

    > Know Your Operator

Community METRO Green Line Minneapolis St. Paul

At one-year mark, Green Line going strong 

| Monday, June 15, 2015 5:09:00 PM

Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb at Central Station, celebrating the Green Line's one-year anniversary.For the last eight months, Aaron Martin has used the METRO Green Line to get to not one but two jobs – one at the Town Hall Brewery in Cedar-Riverside and another at the Oceanaire in downtown Minneapolis.

The ease of his commutes is a near-daily confirmation that he made the right decision moving last fall to an apartment in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood, where he can walk just a few blocks to the Fairview Avenue Station.

“I get frustrated with traffic, so the trains are really a godsend for me,” Martin said as he traveled westbound on his way to work.

Such stories have become commonplace since the Green Line opened a year ago. More than 11.1 million Green Line rides have been taken since light-rail service began on June 14, 2014, and average weekday ridership is nearly 25 percent higher than anticipated.

On Monday, Martin and other customers were invited to celebrate the Green Line's success by wearing Green Line anniversary buttons that can be used to receive discounts at businesses along the corridor (those who didn't receive a button can simply show retailers an image of it). Businesses and local leaders who had high hopes when the Green Line opened also took the day to reflect on how the Green Line has re-shaped the urban landscape. 

Standing alongside business owners and supporters at Central Station, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he found it hard to believe the Green Line had been in service just a year given how much a part of the city’s character it has become.

He pointed to redevelopment projects in downtown St. Paul and along University Avenue as a testament to the Green Line’s “catalytic” effect and the promise it holds for helping “build on the future of St. Paul.” Around $3 billion in development has occurred or is planned within a half-mile of the Green Line.

General Manager Brian Lamb pointed to the ways the Green Line has expanded cultural and recreational opportunities, such as the new possibility of light-rail themed double-headers featuring the Minnesota Twins and the St. Paul Saints. (Several times this season, the Saints and Twins play home games on the same day, allowing fans to catch action at both transit-friendly ballparks.)

More importantly, though, Lamb said the Green Line has expanded access to opportunities.

A study from the University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory released this week found that workers in St. Paul could, on average, reach over 2,000 more jobs by transit than they could before the Green Line opened. Job accessibility in some areas more than doubled due to the Green Line and improvements in connecting bus routes, the U of M study found.

“The Green Line is about more than rides, it’s about access,” Lamb said.

Though she doesn’t use the Green Line to get to work, St. Paul resident Dana Gehant values her ability to use the Green Line on her daily visits to her mother in Minneapolis. Like Martin, she grew tired of driving and gave up her car in favor of transit. Her hope now is that the Green Line will lead to further light-rail expansion in the region. 

“My only complaint is that it (the Green Line) doesn’t go further,” she said.

    > Mass Transit: Metro Transit has the Twin Cities seeing green

    > Green Line residents are enthusiastic about light rail

    > Connections ground businesses, arts on Green Line corridor

    > Green Line has been magnet for housing development

    > MPR: Green Line success driving transit, business hopes

    > Star Tribune: A year into Green Line, development on University Avenue is still looking to pick up speed

    > Pioneer Press: With Green Line, 2,000 more jobs accessible, study finds

Bus Community In the News

Spanish classes help operators break through ‘invisible wall’ 

| Wednesday, June 03, 2015 1:24:00 PM

Metro Transit operators practice their Spanish at a recent class in St. Paul. During a recent trip on Route 21, operator Ken Peters encountered a customer who spoke limited English but needed help figuring out where to transfer downtown. 

Fortunately, Peters had spent the previous eight weeks studying words and phrases that would help him communicate basic information in the language he suspected she spoke – Spanish. It didn’t immediately click but, Peters said, the information he was trying to convey eventually registered. 

For Peters, the ability to help the customer get where they needed affirmed his decision to expand his Spanish skills beyond the few words he had in his vocabulary.

“I could tell she spoke some Spanish, so I thought I’d get into the wading pool,” Peters said of his recent experience. “It took a few minutes, but it was so nice to be able to communicate and break through that invisible wall.”

Peters is among a group of 18 operators from Metro Transit’s East Metro Garage who have been equipped to begin breaking through language barriers while interacting with customers. Over the last two months, the operators have met each week to review vocabulary, practice pronunciation and recite basic dialogue they could use to communicate with Spanish-speaking customers.

This is the first time formal language training has been made available to Metro Transit operators. A group of Metro Transit police officers recently-completed a similar curriculum that will help them communicate with Spanish speakers.

Among the words operators reviewed during a recent class: “línea” (line, or route), “silla de rueda” (wheelchair), “hora pico” (a slang term for rush hour) and “cochecito” (baby stroller). Operators also practiced how to describe when a bus will arrive, directions and numbers needed to identify bus routes.

“The goal is to just get a few phrases with the correct pronunciation so we can communicate for that 30 seconds and help someone on the bus,” said Teresa Schweitzer, a language instructor who helped lead the operators.

Schweitzer was impressed with the progress operators had made, but stressed they would all need to continue practicing to maintain their skills. Reflecting the fact that the class was more a beginning than an end, operators who completed the course were given study materials and pins that read “Yo aprendo el español” – “I’m learning Spanish” – at the end of the program.

Among those eager to continue learning is dispatcher and part-time operator Marjory Burns, who came into the class knowing little more than how to count to ten in Spanish. Her goal now is to become fluent.

“If anybody spoke to me in Spanish before, all I could really say is ‘si’ or ‘no’” Burns said. “It’s kind of embarrassing when someone asks you a question and you don’t know what they’re saying.”

Operator Bob Glynn hadn’t spoken Spanish since elementary school decades ago and was similarly at a loss when customers attempted to speak with him in Spanish, something he says occurs almost daily (8 percent of Metro Transit’s bus customers identify as Latino, according to the latest Customer Survey).

With his newfound language skills, Glynn is looking forward to establishing deeper connections with the Spanish-speaking customers he interacts with.

“I want them to see we care enough to know their language and that they’re someone we want to communicate with,” Glynn said. “I think that will open the door to a lot of new relationships.” 

   > Fox 9: Metro Transit drivers take volunteer Spanish lessons

   > Star Tribune: Metro Transit police are breaking through the language barrier

Lee esta historia en español...

Clases de Español Ayudan a Empleados a Romper Barreras 

Durante un reciente viaje en el bus con ruta 21, el operador Ken Peters se encontró con una cliente que hablaba muy poco Inglés la cual necesitaba ayuda para saber dónde, como, cuando y a que bus debe transferirse para llegar al centro de la ciudad. 

Afortunadamente, Peters había estado ocho semanas  estudiando las palabras y frases que le ayudarían a comunicar información básica en el idioma que sospechaba que ella hablaba (español). No fue de inmediato, pero, Peters dijo que si fue posible explicarle a la señora como transferirse al siguiente bus y llegar a su destino final.  

 La capacidad de ayudar al cliente, le dió la motivación para decidir ampliar sus conocimientos en este idioma y aprender mucho más acerca de esta nueva lengua. Pude notar que la señora hablaba español, asi que intenté hablarle en español,” dijo Peters acerca de su reciente experiencia. “La conversación solo tomo unos minutos pero se sintió muy bien poder comunicarse en otro idioma y poder ayudar.”  

Peters se encuentra entre un grupo de 18 operadores de East Metro Garage de Metro Transit que han sido preparados para empezar a aprender el idioma, y romper las barreras mientras ayudan a los clientes que hablan esta lengua. En los últimos dos meses, los operadores se han reunido cada semana para revisar el vocabulario, practicar la pronunciación y recitar el diálogo básico que podrían usar para comunicarse con los clientes de habla hispana. 

En una clase reciente, los conductores de autobus practicaron ciertas palabras tales como: "línea" (o ruta), "silla de rueda", "hora pico y "cochecito. Los operadores también practicaron cómo describir cuando un autobús llegará a su destino, direcciones y números necesarios para identificar las rutas de los buses. 

El objetivo es obtener sólo unas pocas frases con la pronunciación correcta para poderse comunicar y ayudar a alguien en el autobús", dijo Teresa Schweitzer, una maestra de idiomas, que ayudó a los operadores. 

Schweitzer estaba impresionada con el progreso que los operadores habían hecho, pero hizo hincapié en todo lo que tendrían que seguir practicando para mantener sus habilidades. A los operadores que completaron el curso se les dió materiales y pasadores que decían "Yo aprendo el español" al final del programa. 

Entre los conductores con ganas de seguir aprendiendo, hay operadores como Marjory Burns, quien ya sabía los números del uno al diez en español pero ahora su objetivo es llegar a hablar espol con fluidéz. 

"Si alguien me hablaba en español antes, todo lo que podía decir era 'si' o 'no'", dijo Burns. "Es un poco vergonzoso cuando alguien te hace una pregunta y no sabes lo que te están diciendo." 

El contuctor Bob Glynn no había hablado español desde hace décadas (desde que estaba en la escuela primaria). Se dió cuenta que había perdido u olvidado sus conocimientos acerca de este idioma cuando algunos clientes trataron de hablar con él en español y el no podía responder. Glynn dijo que esto se produce a diario, debido a que ocho por ciento de los usuarios de autobuses de Metro Transit se identifican como latinos, según la última encuesta al cliente. 

Con sus reciéntes descubrimientos de habilidades lingüísticas, Glynn está a la espera de establecer conexiones más profundas e interactuar más con los clientes de habla hispana. 

"Quiero que vean que nos importa mucho saber su lengua y que son personas con las cuales queremos comunicarnos", dijo Glynn. "Creo que va a abrir la puerta a una gran cantidad de nuevas relaciones." 

Bus Community Safety Shelters

On West Broadway, shelters get a steward 

| Friday, May 15, 2015 8:38:00 AM

There are a few more watchful eyes making sure transit shelters along West Broadway Avenue are staying clean and safe.

The West Broadway Improvement District has adopted more than a half-dozen shelters along the North Minneapolis corridor, which stretches about two miles from the Mississippi River to Sheridan Avenue.

Clean-up crews hired to help maintain the special service district pick up litter at and between the shelters three times a week, supplementing maintenance performed by Metro Transit’s Public Facilities staff. If there are issues like broken glass or graffiti, crew members are encouraged to inform Metro Transit.

Crew members come from Better Futures Enterprises, which provides employment opportunities for adults who have faced challenges in their lives.

To recognize the Improvement District’s commitment, the group’s name and logo is featured on the adopted shelters.  

Board member Tara Watson, who owns two West Broadway businesses, said the adoptions are part of a broader mission to make the corridor a vibrant destination.

“In order to make change you’ve got to have your hands in certain things, and this is one of those things,” she said. 

After receiving approval from the city last year, the West Broadway Improvement District began providing services in January. In addition to cleaning the right-of-way, the district will support a branding effort through banners, holiday lighting and decorations. The district’s initiatives are supported through a special assessment on property owners. (Property owners voted overwhelmingly in favor of the assessments.)

More than 60 shelters have now been adopted through Metro Transit’s Adopt-A-Shelter program. The adoption of several sites is unique.

Businesses, individuals or groups that adopt shelters alert Metro Transit to special maintenance needs, report vandalism or other repair needs. Some adopters go beyond this commitment by performing light maintenance like litter removal.

Bill Hultberg, who manages the Adopt-A-Shelter program for Metro Transit, said assistance from adopters is critical to maintaining Metro Transit’s network of more than 800 shelters.

“Having those extra eyes and ears available to tell us where we’re needed is extremely helpful,” he said. “With the help of our adopters, we can quickly identify and address issues and ensure our shelters are safe, secure and clean.”

Bobby Hardimon is one of several crew members who works for Better Futures Enterprises. A 30-year resident of North Minneapolis, he said the clean-up efforts have already made a noticeable impact.

When he started going out a few months ago, it wasn’t unusual for him to come away with several bags of trash. The load gets lighter every week, Hardimon said.

“People are starting to get more conscious about it,” he said during a recent trip up the corridor.”I’m even starting to see people do it on their own.”

The shelter adoptions come amid the West Broadway Transit Study, which will identify future improvements on the corridor. Residents can learn more about the study at an open house at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, at the North Community YMCA.

Photo: Bobby Hardimon, of Better Futures Enterprises, picks up litter near a shelter at Broadway and Sheridan avenues. Hardimon is one of several crew members who work on behalf of the West Broadway Improvement District to help keep the corridor clean.

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