Bruce Pedalty hadn’t boarded a bus in 20 years. But this week, assigned to jury duty in downtown St. Paul and wanting to avoid parking costs, he decided to give it another try.
“It was just too easy not to,” Pedalty said as he traveled east on Route 63.
Unlike Pedalty, many of the passengers recently interviewed aboard Route 63 have spent years if not decades using the bus to run errands, get to work or make their way to class.
The route serves a mix of commuters, students and residents as it moves along Grand Avenue, past the University of St. Thomas and Macalester College, retail nodes and residential areas. East of downtown St. Paul, buses travel on 3rd Street East and McKnight Road, serving additional residential areas and shopping centers.
Chris Wood is among those who have long used Route 63. For the last 20 years, he has commuted by bus between his home near Snelling and Grand avenues and his job downtown. Wood characterized his decision to rely on transit as a rationale response to the responsibilities and high cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle.
“Driving is a choice. It’s not mandatory,” he said. “When I’m making a choice to do something I need to have a reason and I just don’t have a reason to drive.”
Jamie Wersal was also motivated by simplicity and cost savings when she elected to buy a Metropass and start commuting to her new job downtown a few months ago. She spends her time on Route 63 browsing Facebook or simply looking out the window and relaxing.
“I like looking at the sights,” she said. “I know I see them every day but they’re still pretty.”
East St. Paul resident Kassie Church has a similar motivation for using Route 63. Instead of looking out the window, though, she spends her time on the bus buried in a book. “I like to read and obviously, I can’t read when I drive,” she said.
The convenience of Route 63 will be further enhanced when the METRO Green Line opens June 14.
On the west end, the route will be extended north on Cretin Avenue to connect with the Raymond Avenue Station. Service will also be increased with trips every 10 to 20 minutes during rush hour and every 20 minutes midday, nights and weekends.
John Hershey, the neighborhood liaison for the University of St. Thomas, said the new Green Line connection will make it easier for students, faculty and staff to take transit to downtown Minneapolis.
While many of the school’s 6,000 undergraduates live on or near campus, they frequently travel across the Mississippi River for entertainment and shopping, he said. The university’s law and graduate business schools are also located in downtown Minneapolis.
“The more options we have, the more it opens things up and allows people to think more creatively about using transit,” Hershey said.
For Kate Westfall, who lives in Summit-University and has commuted for years on Route 63, the Green Line is all about entertainment. Westfall and her friends are already making plans to attend baseball games at each end of the Green Line. The St. Paul Saints stadium sits at the east end, in Lowertown, and Target Field is at the west end in Minneapolis.
“We’re all kind of excited about the idea of making that a super day and going to two games in one day,” she said.
The Green Line’s arrival comes nearly 124 years after St. Paul’s first electric streetcar line opened on Grand Avenue, encouraging a wave of residential and business development.
Noreen Farrell, a self-professed transit advocate who has used Route 63 since moving to St. Paul in 2000, is glad to have rail service back in the mix. Farrell lives near Grand Avenue and Dale Street and plans to use the Green Line to get to shows and other events in Minneapolis. “We do a lot of things in Minneapolis so there’s a good chance we’ll use the light rail,” she said.
Pedalty, the customer who returned to the bus after a two-decade hiatus, said he too would be open to making trips on the bus and train a more regular part of his routine. “My wife and I are talking about it,” he said.
Route 63 At a Glance
Type: Urban Local
Service: From the University of St. Thomas, Route 63 buses continue to downtown St. Paul along Grand and Smith avenues. The route travels into St. Paul’s east side on Kellogg Boulevard and 3rd Street East. Buses stop at Sun Ray Transit Center and then continue south on McKnight Road South. Buses operate approximately every 13 to 30 minutes during rush hour, every 20 to 30 minutes midday and every 30 minutes in the evening and on Saturday. Buses operate every 30 to 60 minutes on Sundays. Weekday service runs from approximately 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Route Length: Approximately 11 miles
Stops: 92 eastbound; 88 westbound
Vehicles: Standard 40-foot buses; all buses on the route are hybrids
Ridership: Nearly 1.24 million customer boardings in 2013, with an average of 3,384 passengers per day
History: St. Paul’s first electric streetcars operated on Grand Avenue beginning in 1890. The streetcar line led to residential development and drew several schools to the corridor, including St. Thomas College, St. Paul Academy and Macalester College. Prior to the electric streetcars, horsecars ran on Grand Avenue between Dale and Victoria streets beginning in 1883. Streetcars were replaced by buses in 1952.
Future: On the west end, Route 63 will be extended north from Grand Avenue to University Avenue to connect with the METRO Green Line’s Raymond Avenue Station and routes 16, 30, 67 and 87. The route will also connect with the Green Line’s Central and Union Depot stations. Service will improve to every 10 to 20 minutes during rush hour, and every 20 minutes midday, evenings and weekends. The A Line (Snelling Avenue Bus Rapid Transit) will include stations at Snelling and Grand avenues.