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Posts in Category: Light Rail

Bus Rapid Transit Fares Light Rail Transit Planning

The proof is in the payment 

| Friday, July 12, 2013 1:17:00 PM

When customers board the METRO Blue LineNorthstar Commuter Rail or use the rear entrance of buses on the new METRO Red Line, no one is at the door collecting fares.

But that doesn’t mean customers are getting a free ride.

This common transit industry practice is called Proof of Payment. In the Twin Cities, fares are checked by Metro Transit Police officers while customers are riding a bus or train or in paid-fare zones like rail platforms. Go-To Cards with stored fares or transfers can be checked with digital handheld devices while paper receipts provide proof of single payment for individually-purchased rides.

By eliminating individual fare checks during boarding, trains and buses spend half as much time "dwelling" at stations and more time moving. The same theory is at work behind Pay Exit service, in which customers pay fares at the end of their trip. The Proof of Payment model is also significantly less expensive and intensive than installing and maintaining gate technology used in older (typically subway or elevated) transit systems. In addition, the presence of licensed, uniformed police officers onboard vehicles and patrolling stations increases safety and security in the transit system.

This approach is sometimes misunderstood as an "honor system" in which customers are easily able to board without paying and there no penalty (except perhaps a moral one). Like some drivers who take a chance by using a parking meter without paying, there are some transit customers who "play the odds." This gamble has a very poor average payoff in a Proof of Payment system because those who have not paid for their trip not only face removal from the vehicle, but a $180 fine, a misdemeanor citation and the possibility of being excluded from the transit system for a month or longerMetro Transit’s fare policy provides for inspection that is “high-visibility, with pleasant, yet firm enforcement.” Officers may cite any individual they believe is purposely evading fare payment.

Citations are rare, however, because the overwhelming majority of those using the Twin Cities transit system pay fares. Based on data collected from tens of thousands of weekly police engagements, fare compliance rates are well above 99 percent. In addition, Metro Transit is continually top-of-class among similar transit systems throughout the country in terms of "farebox recovery"  the share of operating costs covered by customer fares. In other words, in the Twin Cities, customers fund a higher proportion of the transit system's operating costs directly through fares than in similar regions throughout the U.S. 

Outside observers of the transit system who expect to see train customers buying a ticket from a machine on a rail platform should realize not every fare payment is easily visible. A growing majority of customers use Go-To Cards to pay their fare in a split second by simply tapping their card to a reader as they pass by (many customers do this with the card still in their purse or wallet). Other customers use a paper transfer from a bus which they retain and show to officers as proof of payment. Customers can ride on a single fare for 2 1/2 hours at the same fare level.

As with Northstar Commuter Rail and the Blue Line, officers are patrolling buses on the new METRO Red Line at random periods each day. Proof of Payment will also be integral for Arterial Bus Rapid Transit corridors such as Snelling Avenue, where fares will be prepaid at station areas to help speed service.

> Slate: For Mass Transit, Proof of Payment Is The Way To Go

> Metro Transit: Paying for your ride

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line METRO Red Line On the METRO Transit Improvements

METRO Blue Line marks ninth anniversary 

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013 6:50:00 AM

For the last four years, Lisa Nguyen-Gaulke has relied on the METRO Blue Line to reach her job in downtown Minneapolis, a trip she estimates takes half the time she’d spend commuting by car from her Standish-Ericsson home.

Nguyen-Gaulke also uses the Blue Line to get to Twins games or other weekend events and as an easy connection to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Combined with their bikes, Nguyen-Gaulke’s use of the Blue Line allowed she and her husband to downsize to a single vehicle two years ago.

“It makes a big difference, especially with gas as high as it’s been recently,” Nguyen-Gaulke said this week.

Nguyen-Gaulke is among a growing number of residents who – nine years after the Blue Line’s opening and more than 30 years since it was first envisioned – have come to see light rail as an integral part of their daily lives.

As the Blue Line marks another anniversary today, here's a quick snapshot of how the state's first light rail line is performing and a look at what is yet to come.

  • > Ridership is exceeding expectations. Nearly 10.5 million customers boarded Blue Line trains in 2012, a record number of passengers for the 11-mile light rail line. Ridership levels have been trending nearly 30 percent ahead of projections for the year 2020. In Metro Transit's 2012 Customer Survey, 60 percent of respondents said they were on their way to work; 15 percent were running errands and 9 percent were on their way to school. Riders said they chose transit because they had no access to a vehicle, wanted to avoid stress and avoid gas and parking expenses. More than 42 percent of passengers have ridden for more than five years and more than 90 percent rated service as “good” or “excellent.”
  •  
  • > Development is surging. At the north end of the Blue Line, housing and office projects are planned or underway in the North Loop and near Target Field. Directly adjacent to the Nicollet Mall Station, a 26-story apartment building is rising from the ground -- the first high-rise in Minneapolis in 30 years. Plans to add offices, green space and apartments near the site of the new Vikings Stadium are taking shape. East of the 38th Street Station, a 180-unit apartment building, Longfellow Station, is nearing completion. And in Bloomington, plans for a 50-acre transit-oriented development around the Bloomington Central Station are taking shape as the Mall of America continues to expand.
  •  
  • > Property values along the corridor have been strengthened. Single-family homes within a quarter-mile of the Blue Line have sold for 4.2 percent more than homes in a comparison area, with values increasing an average of $5,000 per home. A 2013 study found home values within a half-mile of hi-frequency transit like the Blue Line performed 48 percent better during the recession compared to those farther away.
  •  
  • > Connectivity is growing. With the opening of the METRO Red Line last weekend, customers in the south metro have access to a frequent, all-day service connecting to the Blue Line at the Mall of America Transit Station. In 2014, the METRO Green Line will provide light rail passengers with a convenient connection to St. Paul and the University of Minnesota. When the Interchange transit hub adjacent Target Field opens next spring, connections between transit services, including the Northstar Commuter Rail line and bus service, will further improve. Future connections include the Snelling Bus Rapid Transit Line, which would run from the 46th Street Station and along Snelling Avenue to Rosedale Center, and the Green Line Extension, which would run light rail between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.
  •  
  • > Service will continue to improve. A dozen new light rail vehicles have been added to the Blue Line fleet in the past few months, providing service with all three-car trains during peak periods and special events. The vehicles are designed to be more energy-efficient and comfortable for passengers. Planned streetscape improvements on Hiawatha Avenue will make the corridor more inviting to pedestrians and bikers. And reconfigured traffic signal technology will help move traffic more quickly along Hiawatha Avenue. A growing police force will provide additional law enforcement presence throughout the entire Metro Transit system.
Bus Light Rail Retro Transit Transit Information

Transit help just a phone call away 

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013 9:00:00 AM

 

Technology has dramatically altered the way Metro Transit’s customers plan their trips, offering real-time information that allows users to see the best way to get from Point A to Point B with just a few clicks.

That doesn’t mean Metro Transit has lost its personal touch, however.

Nearly 40 transit experts at Metro Transit’s Fred T. Heywood Office Building in Minneapolis work all but two days a year to provide customers with personalized transit directions over the phone. Callers can get directions by simply telling the experts where they are and where they want to go. Experts can also help customers learn how to walk to their nearest station or final destination and help plan a future trip. Trip planning assistance is available in 170 languages.  

While Metro Transit’s website and third-party apps now play a growing role in customers’ trip planning efforts – Metro Transit’s online trip planner drew more than 6 million users last year – there is still a healthy appetite for a more personal experience.

Transit experts receive about 5,000 calls a day and have together handled more than 1 million annual calls each of the last eight years (in 2012, there were 1.2 million calls answered; the record was set in 2009 with 1.24 million calls answered).

“It’s not as if we’re hauling lumber around. We serve people, and people really appreciate that one-to-one contact,” said John Howley, who has managed the Transit Information Center for the last seven years.

While the basic function is the same, technology has changed the way the Transit Information Center works. Before Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner launched in 2000, transit experts manually plotted trips using a giant map, where each route had been taped.

Today, that labor-intensive approach has been replaced with a computerized system that can instantantly provide experts the information they need to serve customers. Calls that once took up to 20 minutes to resolve now often take less than two minutes.

Gary Bier (who goes by another name on the phone) has seen the evolution since becoming a transit expert nearly 35 years ago, when fares were just 35 cents. Besides the changes in technology, Bier has seen the level of service grow dramatically.

While there is more to remember now, Bier has developed a vast knowledge of Metro Transit’s routes and schedules and can quickly come up with solutions when customers call. Some of that knowledge comes from memorizing routes before the call center moved to a computer-based system.

“Kind of like a GPS, I can picture it all in my head,” Bier said.

Cathy Taylor has spent 13 years helping Metro Transit customers navigate the system. She said most callers are looking for directions to appointments, school or a new job.

During a recent Friday morning, Taylor helped a man in downtown Minneapolis find his way to a medical appointment in Golden Valley, confirmed weekend departure times for a man with an outdated printed map and walked a Minneapolis resident through her early-morning commute to Edina.

The calls showed how Taylor is able to come up with more creative trips based on how much time people are willing to wait, whether they will walk longer distances to their final destination or are comfortable transferring to another bus, giving people more options than they might come up with on their own.

"This is really much more of a personal schedule," she said.

Those needs are why Howley believes transit experts will continue to play a vital role for Metro Transit customers, no matter how much technology evolves. “That need will always be there,” he said. 

    > For TIC rep, job changes but motivation stays the same

    > Trip Planner sets new record

How to reach the Transit Information Center

To reach Metro Transit’ Transit Information Center, dial 612-373-3333. (This is the same number that provides access to NexTrip, Customer Relations and a number of other resources). Transit experts are available from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The Transit Information Center is closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. 

Photos: Transit expert Jared Fette speaks to a Metro Transit customer at the Transit Information Center, June 2013 (top). A transit expert uses a guidebook to manually plot a trip in the Transit Information Center in 1999, before the system was converted to computers.

Bus Light Rail Links of Interest Transit Information Transit Planning

Apps put transit in the palm of your hand 

| Friday, June 07, 2013 4:04:00 PM

In addition to Metro Transit’s mobile website, the agency provides third-party developers the information they need to build apps that provide route and schedule information, frequently in real time. That trove of data comes primarily from The Minnesota Geospatial Commons, which collects GIS information from the seven-county metro region, and Metro Transit's real-time departure info system, NexTrip.

Standing at the corner of East Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue and need to find a bus to Uptown? There’s an app for that. In fact, there are several.

Several developers have already put that data to use, creating apps that offer information about Metro Transit routes and schedules. The Pioneer Press has reviewed several available options; a complete list of apps with Metro Transit information can be found here.

Here’s a quick look at some of the available apps that could be of help to Metro Transit riders:

The Transit App. The Transit App automatically locates the nearest transit stop or can be used to find the nearest stop to a manually-entered address. After the stop has been identified, the app shows the next scheduled arrival and provides real-time information about the location of the bus or train. After entering a desired destination, the app can be used to get specific route information and to provide an estimated travel time. Free,  iPhone,  thetransitapp.com

HopStop. Like The Transit App, HopStop allows users to enter their location and preferred destination to find the nearest stops, routes and estimated travel times. The app also features full schedules and allows users to post live updates, adding a unique conversational element. Free. hopstop.com

Google Maps. Like its web-based bigger brother, Google’s map app automatically locates a user or allows a start address to be manually entered. Enter the final destination and select the bus icon to see what transit options are available. Free, iPhone, web. google.com

Twin Cities Tripr. The Tripr app allows users to search by route or stop and provides information about the next available local service or express bus. Information on Northstar, the Blue Line and the Red Line is also available. Free. iPhone. appannie.com

In addition to these apps, Metro Transit’s website is available in a web-friendly format. Simply enter metrotransit.org or metrotransit.org/mobile into your browser. The site allows users to view schedules, NexTrip (real-time departures), plan trips and locate service. On GPS-enabled devices, the “Find Me” feature can also be used to determine your location with just a touch.

Twin Cities Transit and mspbus.org also serve mobile web users.

Bus Good Question Light Rail Promotions

Good Question: Why are free rides offered to some events? 

| Tuesday, February 26, 2013 3:42:00 PM

With St. Patrick's Day around the corner and basketball and hockey seasons underway, customers have asked us about Metro Transit's free ride promotions.

Minnesota Wild bus light rail Metro TransitWe partner with organizations and events throughout the year to provide free trial rides in exchange for advertising and promotional opportunities. For instance, Metro Transit’s partnership with the Minnesota Timberwolves offers fans with game-day tickets free rides on buses and trains before and after games. In exchange, Metro Transit receives a valuable advertising package that promotes public transportation to fans before they get to the arena and also during games at Target Center.

Factors considered for selecting events and partnerships include the amount of value received in exchange for rides, minimum ride and attendance projections, transit service levels to the event and partnerships that are aligned with Metro Transit’s Mission Statement and Guiding Principles.

Promotions are a great way to get to know us!

Graphic promotion for TimberwolvesThe free rides are generally redeemable with a downloadable pass that is shown to bus drivers or Transit Police officers. We ask customers to answer a couple of questions before they download their pass. Last year, about 80 percent of those downloading passes said they had never tried transit or had only used it occasionally, and 75 percent said the free rides made them more likely to attend the event.

Miller Lite Free Rides promotions during St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve are different because rides are paid for directly by MillerCoors Brewing. In 2012, there were about 89,000 free rides given to customers during these annual programs.

Free trial rides offered through promotions or partnerships total about 0.3 percent of total annual ridership. 

Similar to sampling programs popular in the private sector (for example, free food samples in grocery stores), these trial rides provide easy opportunities for event goers to try transit. Our customer research shows that once people try buses and trains, they overwhelmingly have a good experience (90 percent) and are likely to refer our service to friends and family (95 percent). Sporting events are targeted because surveys show that fans who normally don’t take transit are willing to try it to games and then continue riding to other events. 

> See Metro Transit's Event Calendar for upcoming promotions and events

> Star Tribune: Try before you ride: free rides on the Red Line

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