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Posts in Category: Rider Information

Bus Community Good Question Rider Information

Rider's Almanac: Insights and Inspiration 

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

Unless you’re a regular rider of Route 23, you probably wouldn’t know Melanie Benson. You also wouldn’t know that she’s been driving for nearly 40 years, celebrating milestones and mourning losses with customers she has come to regard as family.

Thanks to Rider's Almanac, readers can get a glimpse into Benson's world.

The ability to tell the backstories of those who dedicate their lives to transit is just one of the reasons we created this blog a year ago. The 120 stories that have appeared here over the last 12 months are intended to provide a more complete picture of what Metro Transit does, why it does it and the customers and communities we do it for. I hope the picture is better coming into focus. It is for me.

Before I joined Metro Transit and took over the blog six months ago, I used the same bus route to get to work each morning and took occasional trips on the METRO Blue Line. Because I had previously reported about transit and regional development, I had also boarded the Northstar Commuter Rail Line before dawn, followed construction of the METRO Green Line and was familiar with plans to build out new transitways like the Green Line Extension and A Line (Snelling Avenue Bus Rapid Transit).

But there's a lot more I didn't know. I didn’t know about bus operators like Randy Finch who dedicate their careers to making sure their peers are prepared to handle anything they encounter on the road. I didn’t know about the track maintainers who manually inspect every inch of the METRO Blue Line every week. I didn’t know that someone could spend 50 years making sure buses get from A to B – or just how well it was working. I didn’t know that Metro Transit promoted carpooling and vanpooling. And I didn't know that Minneapolis high schoolers had ridden buses more than 2 million times thanks to the Student Pass program.

These are stories that can't be told merely through a fact book. But they are also the kind of stories that are invaluable to understanding the benefits transit brings to Twin Cities. As I look forward to 2014 -- one of the most exciting years in this organization’s 138-year history -- I will continue to share what I learn here so that the understanding of what we do becomes even richer.

The Green Line’s opening is a milestone that I and many others are looking forward to. You'll no doubt hear plenty about this landmark project, the development it's inspiring and the lives it's changing. But it’s not the only story you’ll find here.

In the year ahead, I will continue spotlighting routes through our growing collection of Route of the Week stories, to continue introducing readers to operators like Benson through our Know Your Operator series and to find many other ways of putting customers behind the scenes of our operation. I will also answer more of your Good Questions, share the stories of the Metro Transit Police Department and highlight the ways our services continue to evolve to meet customers’ needs.

As the blog enters its second year, I’d like to ask for your help in making this space as insightful and valuable as it can be. Ask questions on Twitter, Facebook or e-mail us at goodquestion@metrotransit.org. Tell us about your favorite driver. One-up the story of the couple that met and became engaged on Route 6. In short: engage.

Thank you for reading Rider’s Almanac in 2013. It’s been a fun ride but it’s hardly over yet.

-Drew Kerr, Public Relations Specialist

Five posts to revisit from 2013

    > Know Your Operator: Melanie Benson

    > Route 21: A crosstown with culture, community

    > Using ‘Keys’ to put safety first

    > Good Question: Why offer transfers?

    > The Love Bus

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 METRO Green Line Rider Information Safety University of Minnesota

When the rubber hits the tracks 

| Wednesday, November 06, 2013 3:00:00 PM

As Metro Transit bus operator Byron Phillips crossed Church Street and continued east on Washington Avenue, he did something he’d never done before. He steered the 40-foot bus to his left and drove straight onto the METRO Green Line’s light rail tracks.

Phillips’ move will be repeated by some 1,500 bus operators in the coming weeks as they are trained ahead of the opening of the Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall, which cuts through a busy commercial area on the University of Minnesota campus. Bus drivers for the U of M’s Campus Connector, SouthWest Transit and Minnesota Valley Transit Authority are receiving similar training.

Set to open on Dec. 7, the Transit/Pedestrian Mall puts buses and light-rail trains on the METRO Green Line on the same part of the street between Walnut and Church streets. Lanes for bicyclists and emergency vehicles sit on the north and south sides of the three-block area while the Green Line’s East Bank Station and other pedestrian amenities sit in the middle of the corridor.

Facing this new environment for the first time, Phillips was unsure how to react. But after making a pass through the area he said he thought it would be easy to get used to driving on the tracks.

“At first I was thinking ‘Oh boy,’ but it’s not that bad,” he said after moving slowly through the corridor with an instructor and two other operators in training. “There’s nothing jolty or bumpy about the ride at all.”

For now, operators are training in a fenced-off environment without trains. But activity on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall will pick up when buses return later this year and trains begin running in mid-2014.

Around 225 Green Line trains are expected to pass through the area every day. Another 20 bus routes will meanwhile make around 1,200 trips down the Transit/Pedestrian Mall each weekday. The level of bus service is consistent with activity before the Transit/Pedestrian Mall was closed in mid-2011 for Green Line construction.

Signals will be used to manage bus and train movements, keeping them at least 40 feet apart at all times. There will be no bus stops between Church and Walnut streets. Customers will board at Coffman Memorial Union, just west of Church Street, and at Oak Street on the east end.  

Bus drivers are also being trained to travel at speeds of no more than 15 miles per hour and to communicate with supervisors to determine how to proceed if an emergency vehicle enters the area.

Special street markings will be used to guide bicyclists crossing at intersections while pedestrian traffic will be directed to designated sidewalks.

“For a bus driver it’s a pretty easy maneuver: you make a lane change to the left to get on and a lane change to the right to get off,” said Dan Stoffer, assistant manager of training for Metro Transit. “What makes it more challenging is just all of the other things going on around you.”

Metro Transit’s operators began training on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall Oct. 13 and are driving on the tracks for an hour each morning and afternoon, depending on the construction schedule. The plan is to have all Metro Transit operators certified by the end of the year.

Similar to certifications for operating on the Marq2 corridor and the I-35W and 46th Street Station, the training comes in addition to regular education trainers routinely go through.

Denny Johnson, an instructor leading the driver training, said he’s been encouraged by what he’s seen so far. While the opening of the Green Line is exciting, he believes the novelty of buses traveling on train tracks will diminish as more buses and trains begin using the Transit/Pedestrian Mall.

Similar operations are in effect in cities around the world, and peer regions of the Twin Cities including Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Seattle. Johnson also compared the Transit/Pedestrian Mall to Nicollet Mall, a transit-only corridor that fills with pedestrians on summer days with farmer's markets.  

“We're not used to the visuals but this isn't really all that different from Nicollet Mall,” he said. "If all stay aware and operate professionally, we can do this well and without incident."

> Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall

> Buses return to Washington Avenue Dec. 7

> Using ‘Keys’ to put safety first

> Close call on the METRO Blue Line provides safety reminder

> Metro Transit safety and security efforts win industry accolades

Photo: Denny Johnson, instructor, drives east on the Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall during recent training. Below right, a bus travels east on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall during a training exercise.  

Bus Express Bus Light Rail METRO Blue Line Northstar Rider Information Safety Winter Weather

Rider refresher for flurries in forecast  

| Monday, November 04, 2013 12:20:00 PM

Snow is back in the forecast...and Metro Transit is ready.

Record-setting winter storms in 1991 and 2010 are the only times in Metro Transit’s modern history where bus service was temporarily suspended due to weather. The all-season METRO Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line are rarely delayed due to snow and ice.

Getting around in the winter does require some adjustment, though. Here are a few important things to know as the snow begins to fall:

Head out early 

Although Metro Transit adds extra buses and drivers to help keep service on schedule and often has access to transit advantages, severe weather can slow travel for everyone on roadways. Check your schedule and consider taking an earlier trip to give yourself some extra time to reach your destination.

Stay safe

During winter, it's especially important to never run alongside moving buses and trains. Brush up on this and other safety tips here.

Cleanup is prioritized to keep buses and trains moving safely and on schedule

When snow falls, bus garages, rail yards and support facilities are cleared first so that buses and trains can begin service on schedule. Park & Ride lots and ramps, Transit Centers and high-traffic customer areas like light-rail stations are cleared next. Ultimately, plans call for clearing all 700 Metro Transit-owned customer-waiting shelters throughout the seven-county metro area as well as a path that allows customers to board and exit buses. If snow has not been cleared from a boarding area, bus drivers will stop where it is safest for customers to board. Instead of standing on snowbanks, wait in a clear area near the posted bus stop sign and board there.

Heat is on, but the right clothes are still key

Busy transit centers, Park & Rides lots and train stations on the Blue Line and Northstar are equipped with heaters to keep customers warm while they wait. Buses and trains are also heated. Still, anyone taking transit should dress warmly and in layers so they can comfortably withstand low and variable temperatures. Snow boots or other winter footwear such as ice grips/cleats are encouraged as train stations, bus boarding areas, and the bus and train floors can become slippery from snow and water. Light-colored or reflective clothing can and clip-on safety flashers can also help operators see and identify customers.

Keep informed with real-time service updates 

Although buses and trains are reliable in severe weather, traffic and road conditions do affect operations. To keep customers informed about delays and detours, Metro Transit shares real-time service updates via Facebook (facebook.com/MetroTransitMN) and Twitter (twitter.com/metrotransitmn). Information is updated approximately every 15 minutes. Route-specific detours are posted online at metrotransit.org/snow.             

> Good Question: How does Metro Transit prioritize winter storm cleanup

> Metro Transit on Twitter

> Metro Transit on Facebook

> Star Tribune: Transit tips for the cold

Bus Express Bus Light Rail Rider Information Transit Planning

Trip Planner sets new record 

| Thursday, October 03, 2013 3:21:00 PM

Image of the Metro Transit Trip Planner Web tool.

Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner is more popular than ever.

The online tool helped customers plan a record 657,458 trips last month, beating the previous record of 656,017 planned trips set in September 2011.

Available at metrotransit.org and metrotransit.org/mobile, Trip Planner allows users to find individualized route and schedule information by entering start and end points as well as the time they want to travel. The service also displays an estimated travel time and calculates the amount of carbon emissions saved by taking transit.

Transit Information Manager John Howley said September is always a popular month as students return to class. But use of the service has grown steadily since it was launched in 2000.   

“The trend has been upward pretty much ever since it hit the ground running,” he said. “It’s been our fastest growing source of information all the way along and has been just wildly popular.”

Year-to-date there have been around 5.3 million trips planned using Trip Planner. Howley said he expects to see the Trip Planner used more than 7 million times this year, beating last year’s total of 6.5 million.

Customers can get additional transit information by using the Personal Bus Schedule feature and through NexTrip, accessed about 150,000 times daily. Representatives at the Transit Information Center and third-party apps built based on publicly-shared Metro Transit data are also available

Frequent transit users can store trip plans, access Go-To Card balances and compile other personalized information by creating an account at My Metro Transit.

Metro Transit's online growth is not constrained to route planning, either. The metrotransit.org website saw 901,839 visits in September – a new record. Year to date, there have been more than 7.5 million visits to the website. Metro Transit’s Facebook page also surpassed 20,000 fans last month.

> Trip Planner

> Trending Towards Transit

> Star Tribune: Trip Planner program helps Metro Transit's website traffic soar

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