Minneapolis customers are likely familiar with the METRO Blue Line’s service to the Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. But there’s an equally-convenient transit option St. Paul residents can use to reach the same destinations: Route 54.
Running nearly nine miles from the recently reopened Union Depot in Lowertown St. Paul, the limited stop, Hi-Frequency service offers quick and reliable service to Terminal 1-Lindbergh and the Mall of America Transit Station, which also acts as a hub for the METRO Red Line and METRO Blue Line.
Buses stop in downtown St. Paul and along West Seventh Street before crossing the Mississippi River and making their way to Bloomington. In total, it takes 24 minutes to get from downtown St. Paul to the airport, equal to the time it takes to go from downtown Minneapolis to the airport on the METRO Blue Line.
Nicki Beyioku is among the Metro Transit customers who have come to rely on Route 54 as a quick way to get to the airport and avoid paying for parking. Heading out-of-state this week, she left her car at her downtown St. Paul office and boarded the bus at Fifth and Minnesota streets, a practice she repeats six or seven times a year.
“I could call a friend, but this is just so convenient,” she said.
Route 54 isn’t just about getting the airport or Mall of America, though. St. Paul residents can board Route 54 for just 50 cents in St. Paul’s Downtown Zone, accessing major entertainment venues like the Xcel Energy Center and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.
With several stops on West Seventh Street, Route 54 also offers access to small businesses, restaurants and employment centers along the growing commercial corridor. Among the major developments now taking place on West Seventh Street is the reuse of the Schmidt Brewery, which is being converted into nearly 250 live-work spaces for artists.
Home to streetcars until 1952, transit service on West Seventh Street has gradually expanded in recent decades.
A limited-stop predecessor to Route 54 began in the mid-1970s. Then, buses made just two stops on West Seventh Street. When the Mall of America opened in 1992, Route 54 was created to run every half-hour. Weekday service moved to 15-minute intervals in 2004. In August, buses will begin running every 12 minutes to accommodate increasing ridership.
The additional service has led to a growing customer base. Customers boarded Route 54 nearly 1.4 million times in 2012. By 2030, an estimated 7,000 passengers will board each weekday – up from around 4,000 weekday boardings today.
To accommodate future growth, plans call for improved station areas, real-time signs, off-board ticket vending equipment and low-floor buses – amenities designed to speed travel time for buses and improve the overall customer experience.
After the changes, buses would begin running every ten minutes between the Mall of America and downtown St. Paul on West Seventh Street during peak periods and with greater frequency during nights and weekends.
The state has already dedicated $5 million to the planned station improvements, and another $3 million in federal funds for buses and technology. There are hopes to obtain another $15 million so that construction can begin in 2015 and completed by 2016.
Improvements at four key downtown St. Paul stops, including the station at Fifth and Minnesota streets, are also planned. Designs are still in the works but are expected to include features such as real-time signs, heated shelters and ticket vending machines. The hope is to complete the improvements before the METRO Green Line opens next year, enhancing connections between bus and light rail service.
The station improvements in downtown St. Paul are being funded by a $2.6 million federal grant, a portion of which is also being used to build a vertical connection between the Green Line's Central Station and the St. Paul Skyway system. The Metropolitan Council on Wednesday awarded a construction contract for the vertical connection to PCL Construction services; work is to begin later this year and be complete before the Green Line's mid-2014 opening.
Route 54 At a Glance
Type: Urban Local (Limited-stop)
Service: Route 54 is part of Metro Transit's Hi-Frequency Network, with service at least every 15 minutes during peak periods. Buses travel between the Union Depot, in Lowertown St. Paul, and the Mall of America Station in Bloomington. At the Mall of America Station, customers can connect to the METRO Blue Line and the METRO Red Line. Route 54 stops at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Terminal 1-Lindbergh, and at five locations on West Seventh Street. Route 54 is also part of St. Paul’s Downtown Zone, with 50-cent fares.
Route length: Nine miles.
Vehicles: Standard 40-foot and 60-foot articulated ("accordion") buses.
Ridership: Nearly 1.4 million customers boarded Route 54 buses in 2012. Since 2004, ridership has grown from about 1,800 weekday and Saturday rides to more than 3,800 daily rides.
History: Limited-stop service in this corridor was launched in the mid-1970s. When the Mall of America opened in 1992, Route 54 began offering service every half-hour seven days a week. Weekday service moved to 15-minute intervals in 2004 and buses were re-routed to West Seventh Street, replacing Route 69.
Future: West 7th Street is among the corridors under consideration for Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, which would expand service in the corridor up to every 10 minutes during peak periods. Infrastructure improvements such as enhanced station areas, real-time signs, off-board ticket vending equipment and low-floor buses are also envisioned.