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Posts in Category: Good Question

Bus Express Bus Good Question

Good Question: Why use a 40- or 60-foot bus? 

| Friday, January 03, 2014 12:00:00 AM

This week’s Good Question comes in response to customer Amity Foster, who asked why 60-foot articulated buses are not used on more local routes, such as Route 5.                                 

Buses are assigned to specific routes based on a number of factors, including frequency (how often they run) and span of service (how early and late in the day the route operates).

To best match vehicle type with demand, higher capacity 60-foot buses are typically used on express routes that operate only during the busiest times of day (rush hours) and make fewer stops. Because more customers ride each trip and travel longer distances, the additional seats on 60-foot buses provide customers with a more comfortable trip. Operationally, using 60-foot buses is also more efficient because it reduces the total number of trips, drivers and vehicles needed to operate the route. Metro Transit also operates some coach buses  these are assigned to the longest-distance express routes that customers generally board at only one point (such as a Park & Ride).

Local routes that have a high frequency of service throughout the day – in some cases up to every 5 minutes during rush hour – use 40-foot buses because there are more trips with customers traveling shorter distances and getting on and off more frequently throughout the route. Even though there are fewer seats than a 60-foot bus, the seats become free more often and the frequent customer circulation increases the overall carrying capacity on a 40-foot bus.

Some articulated buses are assigned to a few urban routes throughout the day, such as those serving University of Minnesota students traveling during peak class times, but 40- and 60-foot buses are not generally used interchangeably on the same route.

Metro Transit continually evaluates route capacity, level of service and schedule performance to determine which vehicles are most effective on which routes. These considerations are also considered when making new bus purchases.

Future Bus Rapid Transit lines are expected to use both 40- and 60-foot buses. The A Line (Snelling Avenue BRT) is expected to use 40-foot buses with the ability to carry 400 customers an hour because of faster trip times and increased service levels.

Metro Transit currently has more than 900 buses in its existing fleet. The majority of these buses are 40-foot diesel-fueled and hybrid models. There are roughly 170 60-foot articulated buses.

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Bus Express Bus Good Question Suburban Transit

Good Question: Why don't operators always use bus-only shoulders? 

| Tuesday, November 26, 2013 5:00:00 PM

This week’s Good Question comes in response to customers who frequently ask why bus operators sometimes choose not to use bus-only shoulders to avoid traffic.

Customers who rely on Metro Transit enjoy several advantages – avoiding gas and parking costs, reducing their environmental impact and the ability to sit back and relax while a professional does the driving.

Another benefit to those taking a bus on busy highways and interstates: avoiding traffic (Twin Cities commuters spend more than 21 percent of their time in congestion, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation's latest Congestion Report).

Metro Transit’s buses use MnPASS Express Lanes on I-35W and I-394 to avoid congestion coming into and out of downtown Minneapolis, a benefit that will soon extend to I-35E north of downtown St. Paul. More than half of Metro Transit’s routes also have access to 300-plus miles of bus-only shoulders that can be used during periods of heavy congestion. These bus-only shoulders don’t look visually different from other shoulders but are specially built to accommodate the extra weight and width of a bus.

With more than three times the number of miles than all other metro areas combined, the Twin Cities is a leader in the use of bus-only shoulders. The model is being replicated in other parts of the country, such as North Carolina. While a cost-effective way for buses to avoid traffic, there are certain conditions under which operators may chose not to use the shoulder. Operators consider the following factors when deciding whether to use a bus-only shoulder:

  • > Road conditions. Sinking drain covers, potholes or other road defects can interrupt the use of bus-only shoulders.
  • > Weather. Heavy snow, slush and ice must be adequately cleared to allow for safe use of a bus-only shoulder.
  • > Obstructions. Road debris, stalled motorists and construction vehicles are unavoidable obstacles that prevent the use of bus-only shoulders.
  • > Traffic. Bus-only shoulders may only be used when traffic has slowed to less than 35 miles per hour (the max speed is 15 miles per hour greater than traffic, with a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour).
  • > Other vehicles. Extra-wide vehicles in mixed-traffic can prevent the use of bus-only shoulders because of clearance issues. Emergency vehicles also take priority on shoulders.

Bus operators are specially-certified before driving to routes with bus-only shoulders. And while many operators elect to use the shoulders, the decision to use them is entirely up to the driver based on conditions and their professional judgment.

Ultimately, safety comes before speed. Metro Transit operators have a proven record of knowing when and how to use bus-only shoulders. Since the use of bus-only shoulders began in 1991 there have been no major responsible accidents.

    > Transit Advantages

    > Good Question

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Bus Fares Good Question

Good Question: Why offer transfers? 

| Thursday, October 17, 2013 9:15:00 AM

This week’s Good Question comes from Andrew Balfour, who emailed to ask: “Why are transfers allowed? Why not just have payment required for each trip and a lower per-trip cost instead?”

Metro Transit operates nearly 130 routes in 90 metro-area cities. Because one-seat rides can’t be efficiently delivered to all customers across this broad territory, buses run on a grid system that allows customers to easily combine routes to reach their final destination. Transit Centers where multiple routes converge serve as key transfer points in this system.

Transfers offer several distinct advantages to customers and transit providers.

For customers, using transfers to travel two or more routes is more cost-effective and simpler than paying separate fares at each boarding. For Metro Transit and other regional transit providers that use the same fare system, transfers simplify fare collection and speed boarding which adds up to more service hours.

Asking customers to pay for each trip would not only eliminate these advantages, but would lead to a more complicated route structure and less efficient service.

With a transfer, customers get unlimited rides at the same fare level, in any direction, within 2½ hours of the original fare. Roughly one-third of Metro Transit bus customers use transfers during their trips. In a 2012 customer survey, 40 percent of METRO Blue Line customers reported transferring to a bus before or after riding a train. The same survey found that 25 percent of Northstar customers transferred to light rail and that 21 percent transferred to a bus. 

Combining routes and switching between buses and trains is especially easy for those with Go-To Cards, the most popular form of paying fares, or who use a Metropass or U-Pass. These "smart" fare cards automatically store transfers and can be used to conveniently pay the difference when transferring to a service with a higher fare, such as a Northstar commuter train or rush-hour express bus.

Customers who pay their fare in cash simply ask the driver for a paper transfer; paper tickets dispensed by rail ticket machines work in the same way. In the past, paper transfer slips were manually torn by operators in a “transfer cutter." Today, a magnetic stripe automatically records the expiration time and can be used when boarding another bus or as a proof of payment on the Blue Line, Red Line or Northstar. 

Metro Transit’s use of transfers is not unique. Most U.S. transit agencies offer them. Those that don’t typically sell day passes that provide unlimited rides for up to 24 hours (Metro Transit offers passes that are good for unlimited rides in 7-day and 31-day increments).

Free transfers were offered by Twin City Lines beginning in 1890, around the advent of the electric trolley network. The transfers were only free to a point, however. Customers traveling between Minneapolis and St. Paul faced a double fare and trips to the suburbs cost a dime or more extra. The transfers were good for an hour and could only be used to continue a trip in the same direction.

Return trips could not be made with a transfer until 1998, when the transfer window was extended to 2½ hours and the magnetic stripe fare collection equipment was implemented. The changes allow those customers with longer trips more time to reach their final destination. Customers making a round-trip also have a greater ability to return on the same fare. 

Note: If a transfer expires while riding a Pay Exit bus, when fares are collected at the end of a trip, customers will be asked to pay the full fare. Transfers are not provided in Downtown Zones, where fares are 50¢ per ride. 

> Transfers: Ride all you want for 2½ hours

> Paying for your ride

> Fares & Passes

> The proof is in the payment

> Transit Centers

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Bus Good Question

Good Question: Why go out the back? 

| Wednesday, September 11, 2013 12:00:00 PM

This week’s Good Question comes from Ken Paulman (@kenpaulman), who asked: "How much time is wasted by people exiting out the front instead of the rear door?"

Like virtually every transit agency, Metro Transit generally encourages customers to depart buses using the rear exit. This allows customers to step aboard, pay their fares and get settled on the bus quickly as others circulate through the back door. Following this practice where possible adds up into time savings which helps buses to remain reliably on schedule.


“It’s good practice because it helps the flow of passengers getting on and off and, if you’re sitting near the back, it’s much easier to use the back door than to weave through customers who might be standing in the aisle,” said Douglas Cook, a Metro Transit Customer Advocate who helps teach new customers how to use Metro Transit at How-To-Ride sessions. 

Not every customer should use the rear exit, however.

To use the ramp or lift, customers with wheelchairs or mobility devices use the front door for boarding and departing. Customers who board with strollers or large luggage that is kept in the area near the front entrance are asked to exit through the front door to reduce interference with other passengers. Those using onboard bike racks should also be prepared to exit from the front door so they can alert the bus driver that they will be retrieving their bike. In winter, conditions at bus stops may also make it safer to exit out the front door. 

Customers on most afternoon and evening express trips departing the downtowns or University of Minnesota area pay fares at their destination (typically a Park & Ride) instead of paying as they board. This "Pay Exit" approach is another way of speeding passenger boardings and providing more reliable and efficient service.

> How To Ride

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Good Question Light Rail METRO Blue Line

Good Question: Why doesn't the METRO Blue Line have NexTrip? 

| Friday, August 23, 2013 2:00:00 PM

This week’s Good Question comes from William Lindeke (@BillLendeke), who asked: Why don't we have NexTrip technology on the METRO Blue Line?

Adding NexTrip to light rail on the METRO Blue Line has been a lower priority than adding it to buses. This is because light-rail trains operate most hours of the day – typically every 10 minutes – and are very rarely delayed due to weather or traffic congestion (on-time performance is 95 percent).

However, NexTrip will be added to the Blue Line next year as technology upgrades are implemented for the METRO Green Line. When installed, the system will display real-time departure times on existing digital signs at every station platform on the Blue and Green lines.

NexTrip information is also accessible by calling 612-373-3333 and at Third-party developers who use the GPS-based data from buses and Northstar trains to build their own mobile apps can incorporate real-time departure information into their software as well.

NexTrip technology was introduced to Metro Transit customers in 2008 and has been available for all Metro Transit buses and most regional buses since 2009; Northstar was added to the system in 2012. The system uses GPS technology on vehicles to track their location and predict departure times.

NexTrip displays are currently installed on Marq2, regional Park & Ride lots, select transit centers and the Union Depot in St. Paul. Future plans call for the use of NexTrip displays on Arterial Bus Rapid Transit corridors, including Snelling Avenue.

> About NexTrip

> Apps put transit in the palm of your hand

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