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Posts in Category: From the GM

Bus From the GM Transit Information Transit Planning

A new sign of the times 

| Tuesday, October 22, 2013 3:36:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

Metro Transit’s 12,268 bus stops are the most visible, widespread and permanent symbols of our organization. Yet, they have lagged behind the re-branding effort already seen on our buses, customer-waiting shelters, transit centers and Park & Rides.

That’s one reason why we’re redesigning them. Another is to give customers, residents and visitors better access to transit information.

Our goal is to provide as much information as possible at every stop. For years, our busiest boarding locations have included regularly updated route schedules and maps and, in some cases, real time NexTrip signage. Currently, about half of all boardings occur at 125 or so transit stops and 75 percent occur at 550 stops. Route identifiers, schedules and/or maps are posted and maintained at these and scores of other stops.

Part of our business cycle is to perpetually refine routes and schedules to adapt to changes throughout the region. We publish new schedules four times per year. As you would expect, maintaining and posting new schedules and maps physically at every bus stop in our seven-plus county service area presents a large and very costly challenge. That challenge will only increase as transit continues to expand in our region.

Upwards of 90 percent of Twin Cities residents possess cell phones or mobile devices. Month after month our customers increasingly access transit information electronically. This trend provides us an opportunity to cost-effectively provide access to essentially all transit information for the Twin Cities on every bus stop sign in addition to the on-site information at the busiest stops.  

If you’ve been on West 7th Street in St. Paul or on Marquette or 2nd avenues and connecting east-west streets in downtown Minneapolis, you may already have seen some of our newly-designed signs. These signs were placed in the community during a pilot period so we could get feedback from customers and bus drivers.

After receiving a positive response, we plan to begin rolling these signs out in more of our service area.

The red, yellow and blue signs prominently feature the “Circle T” that is instantly recognized in this region and beyond as a symbol for transit service. The signs also include the regional Transit Information Center phone number (612-373-3333), regional website address (metrotransit.org) and a unique Stop Number. We believe these elements will be extremely useful for customers while also eliminating on-location maintenance needed to keep them up-to-date.

Customers who encounter the signs will not merely be directed to our phone number and website. Using a mobile phone, the unique Stop Number can be used to retrieve NexTrip real-time departures for all routes that serve the stop. Customers who call our Transit Information Center can also use the number to receive faster, more effective trip planning assistance. Increasingly, our detour and disruption communications also include unique stop numbers.

Getting these new signs in place will require extensive coordination with each of the 90 cities we serve.  We expect to roll out the new signs to the region in stages and over a period of time – beginning with our busiest facilities and stops, then along the northwest and central corridors.

We look forward to adding more of them in 2014 and beyond and we hope you do, too.

> Improving info at bus stops

Bus From the GM Rider Information

Service that sets the standard 

| Thursday, October 03, 2013 11:10:00 AM

Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb.

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

Customers boarded our buses, light-rail and commuter trains more than 81 million times last year. Despite the high volume of customers, we strive every day to ensure every person who uses our services has the best experience possible.               

Delivering on our promise of service excellence takes dedication and commitment from all members of the Metro Transit team – especially those who interact with customers on a regular basis.

During Customer Service Week (Oct. 7-11), we celebrate the bus and train operators, transit information experts, customer service representatives, customer advocates and Transit Store employees who serve as front-line ambassadors for our agency. But while we’re paying special attention to these employees over the coming week, we also know they play an invaluable role serving our customers year round.    

As the face of Metro Transit, operators have a particularly important role to play when it comes to putting our best foot forward. By being pleasant and helpful, they can do more than get customers where they need to go – they can make transit a bright spot in an otherwise hectic day (as one recent Route 5 customer said of their operator: “She just makes the morning right.”)                               

The response from customers shows operators are in large part delivering exemplary service. Over the last five years operators have received an average of 1,340 annual commendations – one for every 52,000 rides – and achieved an admirable 4:1 ratio of commendations to complaints. 

In a 2012 customer survey, nearly nine of ten riders rated our service as “good to excellent” and the number of customers who said they would recommend our service compared to such popular companies as Apple, Amazon and Jet Blue.   

Such praise is particularly impressive since an operator’s individual interactions are time-constrained. Operators must also balance individual needs against the demands of all customers aboard or waiting for the bus or train as well as others sharing the road.

Our operators have overcome these obstacles simply by doing their job well. One of the few factors under their control is the time they begin their routes. With more than 1,400 daily pull-outs, year-to-date on-time performance is nearly perfect. So far this year, there has been an average of three late pull-outs every day.

Outside of the bus and train, Transit Store employees, Transit Information Center representatives and Customer Relations are also playing a key supporting role.

TIC representatives have answered nearly 800,000 customer calls this year and expect to take another 400,000 more by the end of 2013. Customers who reach out to Metro Transit for personalized route and schedule information can expect friendly, reliable service in record time. With the use of new technology, calls now take less than two minutes to complete.

Such assistance can be invaluable for customers becoming acquainted with transit or trying to reach unfamiliar destinations. One customer who wrote earlier this year said they felt a TIC representative who helped them find their way to interviews in obscure locations “directly contributed” to their success. 

Our Customer Relations representatives are having an equally impressive impact. Through July, they have taken nearly 48,000 customer calls and responded to more than 5,100 email inquiries. They have also helped return nearly 300 bikes and more than 2,500 lost items.

Customer Advocates who play a key role introducing customers to Metro Transit have meanwhile presented to nearly 5,000 people this year.             

As our system grows and more new customers join the transit community, it will remain just as critical for Metro Transit to maintain its focus on customer service. Even as our volume grows I have no doubt the commitment to service excellence that we’ve seen on display will only continue to improve.  

> Mid-year progress report: On the right track

> Comment on Metro Transit service

> Outreach: We’re here to help

> Transit help just a phone call away

> Lost & Found at Metro Transit

> Metro Transit Stores

From the GM METRO Green Line Minneapolis Safety St. Paul Transit Improvements

Green Line progress on track 

| Wednesday, September 11, 2013 2:00:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

The Minnesota State Fair is over but our planning for next year’s event is already underway. One of the most changes we’re preparing for: light-rail connections from the METRO Green Line.

The Green Line’s role in next year’s State Fair service is just one example of the myriad ways transportation in the Twin Cities will change when the region’s second light rail line begins operating.

We’re getting closer to that new reality with every passing day, too. Green Line construction is 96 percent complete and testing is well underway. Light-rail vehicles have been towed the full length of the new track and trains have run on energized segments of the line through the University of Minnesota campus.

Here’s a snapshot of where the project stands today:

> Infrastructure: In August, ground was broken for an enclosed connection that will provide access between the Central Station and skyway system in downtown St. Paul. Over the next several months, more overhead wire and equipment will be installed and ticket machines, NexTrip display signs and security cameras will begin appearing at station areas. Staff will be at Sunday’s St. Paul Open Streets event to provide tours and answer additional questions about these station areas.

> Vehicles: To date, we’ve received nearly half of the 59 new type II Siemens light-rail cars that will be used on the Green and Blue lines. Twenty of these light-rail vehicles have already been put into service on the Blue Line while more are being tested and certified each week. Support vehicles will also be required to maintain and operate the line. In October, we expect to receive a new vacuum truck that will be used for clearing street-embedded track on the Green and Blue lines. Equipment that will be used for snow clearance and overhead line maintenance is also arriving.

> Outreach: A public safety campaign that urges pedestrians and motorists to be aware around stations and construction ares was rolled out earlier this year. As testing activities accelerate, we will focus the campaign more heavily on safety around trains themselves and continuing to share this message with schools and other groups located on and near the line. 

> Service: More trips on several connecting bus routes were added in late August, giving customers an early opportunity to become acquainted with the new bus schedules over the months ahead. It’s expected that more than one-third of Green Line rides will be transfers from buses. A comprehensive plan for optimizing bus service in the Central Corridor area was completed last year. 

> Personnel: About half of the 176 new jobs – from rail supervisors to technicians to track maintainers and helpers – have been filled. Nine Green Line train operators have begun training and by the end of the year the majority of the 61 new operators will have moved over from our bus operations division.   

In both obvious and subtle ways, the METRO Green Line will change the fabric of the Twin Cities. We at Metro Transit hope you’re looking forward to it as much as we are.

Bus Community From the GM Light Rail

Back to school with Metro Transit 

| Friday, August 23, 2013 11:00:00 AM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

High school students across Minneapolis are heading back to class next week – and for many of them Metro Transit will be the way they get there.

When classes resume on Monday our successful Go-To Student Pass partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) will begin its second year, providing students with safe, convenient and affordable transportation to and from classes, extracurricular activities and other destinations.

After a successful “freshman year,” 2,200 new students from South and Southwest high schools will join the program for the first time. Eligible students at Edison, North, Patrick Henry, Roosevelt, Washburn and Wellstone high schools will also again use Go-To Student Passes, which are integrated with their student ID cards and allow unlimited rides between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.

If last year’s response is any indication, the passes should be put to good use. By the end of the 2012 school year, nearly 3,800 students were using passes nearly 7,000 times each weekday, totaling 1.5 million rides on buses and trains by the time classes let out for summer.

It takes careful planning and preparation to accommodate new student riders while continuing to deliver the safe, convenient and reliable service our commuting customers rely on every day.

To accommodate these new South and Southwest students, nearly 50 daily trips will be added to existing routes. In all, there will be around 120 scheduled trips added to provide comfortable service for students and regular customers on routes near MPS high schools.

And while transporting students safely is nothing new for Metro Transit, public transportation may be new to many of these young people. As the school year begins, Metro Transit, MPS and other partners will staff busy transfer areas and help students understand the Code of Conduct they are expected to abide by.

Based on last year’s experience, we expect students using passes for the first time to quickly adapt and make the most of transit. Students who used Go-To Student Passes gave the program overwhelmingly high marks. In response to a survey, 91 percent said they “liked” or “loved” their passes.

Additionally, 79 percent engaged in learning opportunities outside of school “very often” or “sometimes,” and 60 percent said they engaged in extracurricular activities more than before thanks to the Go-To Student Pass. Students in the survey reported using their Go-To passes to frequently travel to the library, athletics, jobs, school clubs and tutoring.

In September, Metro Transit will further strengthen the connection between the school community and our “onboard community” by welcoming the entire Minneapolis School District into the Metropass program. With the addition of MPS to this employer-based program, educators and MPS staff will be able to use a Metropass to ride buses and trains right alongside students.

Acquainting students, educators and their families with the value of our service translates into a better long-term understanding and appreciation for how public transportation links people, communities and opportunities throughout the region. That’s a lesson we think everyone can get behind.

> MPS Go-To Student Pass

> Go-To Card User's Guide

> MPS Student Pass rides surpass the one million mark

> Rosenblum: Metro Transit Student Pass is a vehicle for achievement

Bus Express Bus From the GM State Fair

Metro Transit: The fast and friendly way to the State Fair 

| Wednesday, August 14, 2013 11:04:00 AM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

As customers might imagine, providing service to the Minnesota State Fair is no small undertaking. It’s often said that we run the two largest bus systems in the state during the 12 days of fun that end every Labor Day.

In order to provide safe, reliable and convenient trips to and from the Great Minnesota Get-Together, our preparations begin long before the gates open. This year is no exception. Mechanics, drivers, transit control center staff, street supervisors and other Metro Transit staff have been gearing up for this year’s fair for months. We’ll field more than 60 extra buses during fair weekdays and more than 70 extra buses during weekends. During the fair, staff will put in hundreds of extra hours to ensure we deliver top-notch transportation and customer service.

We put in this extra effort not only because it’s natural to integrate transit into one of the state’s largest events but because we are passionate about contributing to the excitement and tradition that make the fair such a uniquely Minnesotan event.

With nearly 1.8 million annual visitors, the State Fair is a showcase for everything that makes our state great – transit included. For some people, taking the bus to the fair is only a variation on their everyday commute. For others, it will be the first time they’ll step foot on a bus all year. By providing fast, friendly and reliable fair service, we have a great opportunity to showcase our day-to-day service, too. With Metro Transit personnel staffing booths in the Grandstand and the Eco Experience exhibit, we’re easy to find for further one-on-one conversations about how to use the transit system.

Whatever lasting impacts fair service has on commuting habits, transit has long since established itself as the mode of choice for fairgoers looking to avoid the frustrations of traffic and parking (there are just 9,000 parking spots on the fairgrounds). 

Transit became a part of the State Fair experience in the late 1800s when streetcars began ushering thousands of fairgoers to the fairgrounds. By 1907, more than 250,000 people were using streetcars to get to the fair, peaking at more than 24,000 customers an hour during the busiest evenings. A decade later, more than 382,000 people would ride streetcars to the fair.

When streetcars went out of service in the 1950s, buses became the transit mode of choice. Fair service was initially delivered through regular routes, but express buses have been operating from regional Park & Rides for the last two decades – inspired by successful integration Park & Ride lots into bus service for the 1992 Super Bowl at the Metrodome.

As our service continues to evolve, the number of fairgoers using transit keeps growing. Fairgoers took 467,000 rides on State Fair express or regular route bus service last year. The long-term growth in fair ridership reflects our ongoing commitment to improving service. A few highlights of new improvement's we're making this year:

> Customers can order passes online and print them at home or download them to a mobile device. Our staff will have handheld readers at express sites to instantly scan the passes, reducing cash handling and speeding service. Groups that order advance Bus Bargain Tickets online by Aug. 21 receive a healthy discount.

> Families and fairgoers can incorporate Northstar Commuter Rail into their trip plans. A new State Fair Express site at Northstar's Fridley Station provides an easy connection between the rail line and the fairgrounds – especially on weekends when a Northstar Family Pass is the only fare a group needs to get all the way from as far away as St. Cloud to the fairgrounds (connecting to the Big Lake Station using the Northstar Link).

> Route 960 will run every 15 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Hennepin Avenue through downtown Minneapolis instead of Nicollet Mall, providing more consistent trip times. (Return trips are scheduled to run approximately every 15 minutes from noon until midnight.)

> Maplewood Mall Transit Center and Park & Ride is now open and will provide covered parking for hundreds of fairgoers coming from the east metro.

> The METRO Red Line will serve as a new option from the south metro to connect with State Fair service at the Bloomington site adjacent to Mall of America. 

As always, we budget all State Fair services to be self-sustaining – with fares covering all aspects of the operation. 

Thank you for choosing Metro Transit and enjoy the fair!

> State Fair Express Bus Bargain Tickets

> State Fair Express Bus Service

> Regular-Route Bus Service to the State Fair

> Minnesota State Fair

Related:
> Pioneer Press: State Fair preparing a place for streetcar arch's return trip

Top Left: General Manager Brian Lamb; Middle Right: Streetcars lined up outside the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand around 1910, courtesy Aaron Isaacs; Below Left: Metro Transit's 2012 exhibit, located in the Grandstand. Cover photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair.

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