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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.

Rider Information Safety

Safety tips for pub-crawling zombies 

Posted by Marisa Helms | Friday, October 13, 2017 12:20:00 PM

Here's how to have fun and stay undead with Metro Transit during the Zombie Pub Crawl in downtown Minneapolis this Saturday, October 14.

You can join the apocalyptic mob by taking one of Metro Transit's many bus and rail options. And, once you're downtown where the beer and brains are flowing, please remember these tips:

  • > When refreshing fake blood throughout the evening, please keep it on your own flesh and off the streets, buses, rail cars and platforms. Cleaning it up after you’re gone really bites.
     
  • > A couple more notes about the bloody business of being a zombie: If we see zombie blood on a transit vehicle, we may have to suspend service, and therefore delay the undead from the festivities. Nobody wants that. And, here's a thought: Why not buy an All-Day Pass via Metro Transit's zombie-friendly app? This will keep your bloody hands off the ticket machines.
     
  • > As the zombie in you shuffles and moans through the streets of downtown, make sure to stay clear of the light rail tracks and only use pedestrian crossings.
     
  • > No brain stealing at bus stops and rail platforms. Zombie horseplay at bus stops and on the platform is dangerous - especially near moving trains.

Have fun and stay undead!

Bus Good Question Light Rail Northstar Rider Information Suburban Transit

Good Question: Why is service reduced on certain dates? 

| Wednesday, July 01, 2015 10:56:00 AM

Customers board Route 767 at the Bottineau Blvd & 63rd Avenue Park & Ride.On dates when fewer customers are expected to ride transit, service is reduced on some bus routes, as well as light rail and Northstar.

These “Reduced Service” days are typically observed holidays when many major employers are closed. Most of the service reductions are on routes used by commuters traveling to downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul or the University of Minnesota.

Unless otherwise noted, light-rail, express and local bus routes operate according to Saturday schedules on Reduced Service dates. (Routes with no service on Saturdays may operate on a limited schedule.) 

In practice, that means there are usually about 20 percent fewer local bus trips and about one-third the number of express bus trips. Light-rail service is reduced less than 10 percent.

Several morning and afternoon Northstar trips are also eliminated on Reduced Service dates, since around 93 percent of those who use the commuter rail line are traveling to work or school.

Metro Transit considers historic ridership patterns when deciding whether and when to reduce service. When there was an observed holiday on Monday, July 5, 2010, ridership decreased about 60 percent compared to the rest of the weekdays that week. Service on that date was reduced by around a third. 

Service is also reduced on holidays to reflect lower demand.

Reducing service on these lower-demand days provides cost-savings that can be re-directed to other needs.

Even if service is reduced customers can continue to use NexTrip, which provides predicted real-time departure information using GPS data from in-service buses. The Transit Information Center is also open.

Reduced and Holiday service schedules are available on metrotransit.org and are also published in Connect, the on-board newsletter.

Service adjustments may be made based on customer feedback. Customers with specific concerns are urged to Contact Us

Bus Good Question Rider Information

Good Question: Why are certain routes operated under contract? 

| Thursday, June 26, 2014 3:00:00 AM

This Good Question response comes in response to customers who ask why certain routes are operated by private transportation companies instead of by Metro Transit.  

While Metro Transit is the primary provider of regular route service in the Twin Cities, the Metropolitan Council contracts a small number of routes to private transportation companies. As of early 2014, around 10 percent of regular route service – 27 of 128 local, express and suburban routes – was operated under contract.

Most contracted routes operate in suburban areas and enjoy consistent running times and stable ridership. While these routes have fewer riders, they provide important connecting service that helps people access other routes and destinations on transit.

Route 80, which runs between the Maplewood Mall Transit Center and Park & Ride and the Sun Ray Transit Center, and Route 225, with service from Shoreview to the Rosedale Transit Center, are good examples of contracted routes that play important roles in the regional transit network.

Routes may also be operated under contract to meet new service demands, to demonstrate a new service type or because of operational constraints.

Route 83, which runs on Lexington Parkway, is operated under contract not just because it is a new service but because a railroad overpass near Como Park requires the use of smaller buses. Many contracted routes use small buses because of such operational constraints or because ridership does not warrant the use of a larger, 40-foot bus.

Even if a route is operated under contract, customers pay the same fares and use the same fare payment technologies (Go-To Cards, Metropass, etc.) as they would when riding a bus operated by Metro Transit.

Routes have been operated under contract since transit service began in the Twin Cities. Private companies such as Medicine Lake Lines and Lorenz Bus Service received operating subsidies from the Metropolitan Transit Commission after the agency became public. The practice continued with the introduction of the BE Line in Bloomington and Edina and a Roseville Circulator in the early 1990s.

Photo: Route 87 is operated under contract by First Transit, Inc. The route runs from the Rosedale Transit Center to Highland Village, with service to the University of Minnesota's St. Paul Campus and the METRO Green Line's Raymond Avenue Station.

Have a “Good Question” that you want answered? Email it to goodquestion@metrotransit.org.

Bus From the GM Light Rail Northstar Rider Information

Saving big by trading the car for transit 

| Wednesday, May 28, 2014 12:00:00 AM

From General Manager Brian Lamb

A recent Route of the Week story features transit customer and former auto driver Maxine Veith. Three years ago, Maxine’s vehicle started to show its age. Instead of throwing good money after bad, she decided to get a Go-To Card and started riding Route 767.

We know from customer surveys that Maxine is not alone. The cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle is among the top reasons people try Metro Transit.

According to the department of Driver and Vehicle Safety, the average age of cars on Minnesota roads is now 11.3 years. Not only are our cars getting older, but the cost of repairs is going up. The 2014 edition of “Your Driving Costs” recently released by the American Automobile Association (AAA) finds that auto maintenance costs have ticked up again – resulting in about a 15 percent increase since 2012.

AAA published the first edition of their report 64 years ago when gas was 27 cents a gallon. The Interstate System wouldn’t exist for another six years. This year, AAA estimates it will cost 59.2 cents per mile to own and operate an average sedan. This cost assumes the cost of fuel will be $3.28 a gallon (though the gas station near Metro Transit's Minneapolis offices is currently advertising $3.53).

Although insurance and depreciation costs dropped slightly from 2013, driving an average automobile 15,000 miles is still expected to add up to nearly $8,900 per year. Costs are significantly higher for SUVs, trucks and vans. And this doesn’t include parking.

These costs add up quickly. For an average family, transportation is the second-highest expense behind housing. Here are some examples of daily savings for households choosing transit. This table shows the average length of a customer trip and the average fare paid, factoring all fare levels and discounts for frequent riders using employer, student or other programs (Metropass, children and seniors, College Pass, disabled veterans, Fares Direct, etc.).

Mode Avg. Roundtrip Miles AAA est. Car Cost ($0.592/mile) Avg. Fare Savings/Day
Bus 8.1 $4.80 $2.30 $2.50
Light-rail 10.6 $6.28 $1.94 $4.34
Northstar 50.5 $29.90 $6.48 $23.42

As you can see, there are clear savings for those who choose transit – even for a few trips per week. Factoring in parking, too, the American Public Transportation Association recently reported that a multi-car Twin Cities household would save $887 each month by living with one fewer car and choosing transit or using other alternatives to driving alone.

Many of Metro Transit's customers can’t afford to drive. But more than two-thirds of customers have automobiles and still chose to take a bus or train. Without transit service, folks like Maxine would be pouring more money into the gas tank and less into their savings accounts and our local economy.

I invite you to see how much you can save by pledging to replace a drive-alone trip with transit through the Switch My Trip campaign. Fill out a pledge and start saving today!

    > Switch My Trip

    > APTA Transit Savings Report and Calculator

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