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Bus Bus Maintenance

Fareboxes stay the same, but new challenges arise 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, July 07, 2017 3:16:00 PM

Lead Revenue Mechanic Technician Tim Maloy has spent the past 20 years repairing and maintaining fareboxes, a job he says continues to pose new challenges every day. To improve reliability, Maloy has been on a campaign to replace the metal pieces that hold transfer cards so they are less prone to jam. Metro Transit has been using the same fareboxes for nearly a quarter-century.

But even after more than 20 years of keeping them in shape, Lead Revenue Mechanic Technician Tim Maloy says his job is as interesting as ever.

“It’s a little strange to be working with the same piece of equipment after all this time, but there are still days they beat you up,” he said from the Instruction Center, where he and several other farebox technicians work. “There’s never boredom.”

The intrigue comes in part from the fact that the fareboxes are largely mechanical pieces of equipment – carefully-calibrated sets of plastic gears, belts, sensors and circuit boards that pull in cash and coins deposited by cash-paying customers.

With so many moving parts, the margin for error is small. Lint, sunflower seeds and other small debris that comes from a customer’s pocket can easily jam the machines.

The puzzles technicians face aren’t easily  solved by reading a manual or running a quick diagnostic test, either.

“There are things you can look at, but you don’t really have a troubleshooting process,” said Trevor Scholtz, one of two-dozen farebox technicians. “All you can do is take it apart and eventually find out what’s wrong with it. And the only way to test is to put it all back together again.”

More recently, Maloy has been on a campaign to steadily replace the metal pieces that hold stacks of transfer cards in what’s known as a trim unit, which attaches to the coin and bill collecting machine. A slight offset in the old design would cause more than one ticket to get fed into the machine, frequently causing jams that required repair.

“That’s been my main goal, because that was what was contributing to the bulk of our road calls,” said Maloy, whose 37-year career also includes stints as a vault puller and in Central Counting.

The majority of the cassettes have now been replaced, and farebox-related road calls have been cut in half.

Just like any other mechanical failure on a bus, fareboxes that break down while in service can cause a bus to be replaced. Farebox technicians may also be called out to replace parts or make quick repairs during a layover. To prevent those kind of situations, each service garage has at least one farebox technician who spends their mornings repairing fareboxes before pull-out each morning.

Maloy and several other Farebox Technicians at the Instruction Center also focus heavily on preventative maintenance, disassembling, cleaning and rebuilding each machine every six months. Each rebuild takes up to four hours.

“It’s the only thing that keeps these things going this length of time,” Maloy said.

Technicians at the Instruction Center also maintain ticket vending machines that customers use to purchase fares at stations and vault equipment used to securely collect farebox collections when a bus pulls in.

Technicians do not maintain the fare care readers, but they did take the lead on a recent fleetwide replacement and will continue to outfit new buses with the latest technology. 

Like Maloy, several technicians have spent long careers working with fare collection technology, and are still excited about what they do.

Technician Lisle “Butch” Vickerman helped install the existing fareboxes 24 years ago, crawling under buses to detach older machines that accepted only coins and tokens, and weren’t able to count the change. These days, he spends his time repairing circuit boards.

“It’s still fun after all these years,” Vickerman said.

    > Balancing the books between the farebox and the bank

Bus

New buses bring new look both inside and out 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, May 30, 2017 1:35:00 PM

Metro Transit's newest buses replace three rows of front-facing seats on the passenger side with a single row of inward facing seats that customers can put in the up or down position.New 40-foot buses that recently began arriving feature a more open seating arrangement and several other improvements.

The Gillig-made, standard-diesel buses replace three rows of front-facing seats on the passenger side with a single row of inward facing seats that customers can put in the up or down position.

The change is intended to make riding a crowded bus more comfortable and to provide additional space for mobility devices, strollers or other large objects.

The buses also have an easier to use wheelchair securement system and frameless windows that are easier to maintain and better looking. These features were also included in the buses used on the A Line, a rapid bus service on Snelling Avenue.

Ten of the new buses will arrive this year. The buses will be sent to the East Metro, Heywood and Nicollet garages.

Metro Transit has around 900 buses in its fleet, the majority of which are 40-foot standard diesel buses. 

To provide feedback on the new buses, contact Customer Relations

Bus Community Light Rail

Tech program helps jobs seekers find new hope, career path 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, May 12, 2017 9:19:00 AM

Participants in the Metro Transit Technician program work on a pantograph at the Hiawatha Operations & Maintenance Facility.Some eager job seekers are getting an opportunity to pursue careers as Metro Transit technicians. 

The Metro Transit Technician program combines workforce readiness and on-the-job training, support toward earning a degree and an internship. Participants can enter the program with little to no experience but apply for full-time roles by the end of the two-year program. 

Participants pursuing careers in bus maintenance are currently enrolled at Hennepin Technical College while working as interns in several of Metro Transit's bus service garages. A second group of participants pursuing careers in rail vehicle and systems maintenance recently began their on-the-job training. 

WCCO recently caught up with a few of the participants working in the Hiawatha Operations & Maintenance Facility, where they were repairing a light-rail vehicle.  

    > Technician training program gets national recognition

The Metro Transit Technician program is not currently accepting new applications. Job seekers interested in learning more about career opportunities at Metro Transit should visit metrotransit.org/jobs

Bus Carpool Community In the News Minneapolis Rider Profile Rideshare

Awards recognize sustainable transportation leaders 

Posted by jennasbennett | Thursday, May 04, 2017 9:51:00 AM

Beth Reissenweber, far right, with colleagues from Augsburg College at the 2017 Commuter Choice AwardsWhen Augsburg College began building its new Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion in 2015, the college lost about 20 percent of the 1,000 parking spaces at its West Bank campus.

The sudden loss in parking led Beth Reissenweber, the school’s Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer, to take an active role in promoting a culture that placed sustainable transportation options ahead of driving.

To set the tone, she began commuting from Edina on Route 578.

“I thought it was really important to lead by example,” Reissenweber said. “I wanted to inspire others at Augsburg to try transit so I gave up my heated parking and started taking the bus.”

Reissenweber, also contacted Transit for Livable Communities and Metro Transit to create learning opportunities for her staff, including a light rail tour, Nice Ride bike rental education, and carpooling classes.

“Once construction started, we changed how we talked with our employees about commuting,” she said. “Instead of leading with parking options, we started leading with transit and multi-modal commuting options as the preferred method to get to work.”

Reissenweber moved the needle at Augsburg so quickly that she was recognized at Metro Transit’s annual Commuter Choice Awards last month with an honorable mention in the individual category. Augsburg won in the employer category.

Reissenweber attended last year’s awards to learn how to create a transit-friendly campus, and said she was delighted to come back a year later as a winner.

“I feel proud to be recognized for my small part in a huge undertaking for the college, and Augsburg’s award is a wonderful reinforcement of our passion to make a positive impact in our community,” she said.

The Commuter Choice Awards also celebrated efforts by several other building owners, employers and organizations that have supported sustainable transportation.

Among the other recipients were the Minnesota Orchestra, which offers discounts to bicyclists, and the building managers at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, which built a fitness center and bike storage area to encourage active commuting.

The awards were presented by Metro Transit in partnership with regional Transportation Management Organizations, including Commuter Services, Move Minneapolis and St. Paul Smart Trips. A panel of Twin Cities transportation experts and thought leaders evaluated the entries and selected the winners.

While Reissenweber was thrilled with the recognition, the real rewards have come from her experience using transit.

“I walk more, I feel more connected with my community, I save money, I’m less stressed, I’m helping the environment and I can multi-task while I get to work,” she said. “It’s such a win-win."

Photo: Beth Reissenweber, far right, with colleagues from Augsburg College at the 2017 Commuter Choice Awards


2017 Commuter Choice Award Honorable Mentions & Winners

 

Building Owner/Management Company

Winner: Minneapolis Grain Exchange, Inc. 

Minneapolis Grain Exchange, Inc built a new, state-of the-art fitness center with showers, changing facilities, and lockers. The new facilities complement the 700 square foot secure bike storage room; both the tenant businesses and their employers have found both amenities to be critical to the adoption of active commuting to the building.

Honorable mentions: McGough Facility Management/Butler Square and Wells Fargo

Commuter Benefits Coordinator

Winner: Brian Nelson, Best Buy

Brian Nelson led the expansion of commuter benefits at Best Buy stores across the country, providing access to pre-tax transportation accounts for all employees. Additionally, he oversaw the installation of electric vehicle charging stations at the corporate campus and established an official training for teleworkers.

Honorable mention: Samantha McKeough, HealthPartners

Employer

Winner: Augsburg College

Augsburg College lost a significant amount of parking for a construction project and employed a multi-tiered approach that engaged the campus community at all levels to change perceptions about transportation. Campus leadership implemented a broad set of proven travel demand management strategies which have led to a 76 percent increase in Metropass users along with noticeable growth in carpooling and bicycling.

Honorable mentions: Mall of America and Minnesota Literacy Council

Government Entity

Winner: Stop for Me Campaign

The Stop for Me Campaign was a yearlong collaboration among St. Paul neighborhood organizations, advocates, and police, working together to encourage safer, more courtesy driving behavior at intersections, crosswalks, and parking lots. Together the group held 60 crosswalk events during 2016 to raise awareness and improve pedestrian safety.

Individual

Winner: Marc Berg, Friends of the Downtown Minneapolis Bicycle Center

Marc Berg is founder of Friends of the Downtown Bicycle Center, sharing his vision for a public bike center in downtown Minneapolis with a many stakeholders and potential allies in the community. He has also organizing community support for bicycle facilities in St. Louis Park and is a volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.

Honorable mentions: Beth Reissenweber, Augsburg College and Nick Wright, Minnesota Life College

Organization

Winner: Minnesota Orchestra

The Minnesota Orchestra established the Bike to Orchestra Hall program, which offers a special 50% discount to future concerts to anyone who shows their gear at the Box Office. The program serves as an audience development effort that encourages people to come as they are and enjoy music comfortably.

Honorable mention: Minnesota Life College

Commuter Choice Awards

Bus Go Green

New solar array boosts commitment to renewable energy 

| Friday, April 28, 2017 9:17:00 AM

A 40-kilowatt solar array atop the Maplewood Mall Transit Center in Maplewood.A 40-kilowatt solar array was recently installed on the top level of the parking ramp at the Maplewood Mall Transit Center, near the Maplewood Mall.

The panels will help offset a portion of the energy used at the transit center, saving approximately $6,000 in utility costs annually. In addition to lowering energy costs, the system will help Metro Transit better understand how to use solar arrays at other existing and future facilities.

Proposals to install arrays atop six Metro Transit support buildings, including several bus garages, are now under review.

Open since 2013, the Maplewood Mall Transit Center also features a geothermal heating and cooling system and energy efficient LED lighting. It is served by multiple local and express bus routes.​

Solar panels are also in use at Metro Transit's 610 & Noble Parkway Park & Ride, Rail Support Facility and at several bus stops throughout the region. Metro Transit is also supporting solar energy by purchasing power produced from installations at two Council wastewater treatment plants

Metro Transit is one of a handful of agencies to obtain Gold Level certification through the American Public Transportation Association's Sustainability Commitment Program

Bus Community Light Rail METRO Green Line

On transit, making an impression with poetry 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 31, 2017 3:11:00 PM

Michael Kleber-Diggs and Ellen Larsen with their poem and artwork at the Green Line's Western Avenue Station.For the past 20 years, Michael Kleber-Diggs has shared his poetry with a live audience, reading the room and enjoying the conversation that follows. Capturing the reaction to one of his newest poems, The Green Line, has been a little more difficult.

That’s because the poem is part of a new public art project, IMPRESSIONS, that provided local poets and artists a chance to have their work featured inside Metro Transit’s buses and trains and at select stations and shelters over the course of several months.

“When I heard about the project, I was completely enchanted with the idea that I would be, in a way, speaking to people without really knowing that I’m doing it,” Kleber-Diggs said. “That the poem has a life of its own is really the best part.”

Kleber-Diggs’ poem is among the first six pieces to emerge from the project, which began last year with a call for entries that drew more than 350 responses. Community editors with Saint Paul Almanac, which initiated the project, ultimately selected 24 poems to be showcased over the next year.

The poems are accompanied by illustrations by local artists who were partnered with poets and asked to offer their interpretations of the work. Kleber-Diggs' poem is accompanied by artwork created by Ellen Larsen, and can be found at the Green Line's Western Avenue Station (right). 

Kimberly Nightingale, Saint Paul Almanac’s executive director, said the idea for IMPRESSIONS came from a desire to share the kind of work that has been included in the organization’s annual books over the last decade with a broader audience.

“Not everyone is going to buy a book but everyone should be able to enjoy poetry and art, especially local poetry and art, which is our focus,” she said.

The idea got off the ground when Saint Paul Almanac received a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Metro Transit and Intersection, the company that manages transit advertising, are also partners.

The City of Saint Paul is supporting the project with funding for multiple events featuring the poets and artists whose work is featured (the next event will be held in June, when a new batch of poems and artwork are released).

There’s some precedence for combining poetry and transit, too. The Poetry Society of America’s Poetry in Motion effort has brought poetry onto transit systems across the country, including Metro Transit, which participated in that effort more than a decade ago.

Unlike Poetry in Motion, IMPRESSIONS involves only local poets and artists, giving it a distinct community orientation that organizers hope will resonate among passengers. “Hopefully, for the people who are riding, this allows them to say, ‘I can create my own poetry and my own art, and it can be a part of the community, too,'” Nightingale said.

While there isn’t an obvious connection to the Green Line, other than the title, Kleber-Diggs’ poem was partly inspired by his experience riding light rail and using transit over the past 30 years.

Exploring the forest on a camping trip, he began to humanize the trees and imagine them riding the train.

However people interpret his work, though, Kleber-Diggs hopes it serves as a welcome interruption from the norm.

“As an artist, you always want to see art out in the world,” he said. “I’m really exhilarated by the idea that someone will get on the bus and see not just my piece but the other pieces as well and have a chance to connect to them in some way.”

Discover the IMPRESSIONS art!

Take a photo of each IMPRESSIONS piece and send the collection to info@saintpaulalmanac.org with your name and phone number to enter a drawing for a for a $20 Go-To Card and other prizes! The next IMPRESSIONS release party will be held on Thursday, June 1, at Black Dog Cafe. 

    > Learn more about poets and artists whose work is being featured through IMPRESSIONS

Bus Transit Information

Longtime Transit Information rep remembered for remembering 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, March 29, 2017 2:45:00 PM

Transit Information representative James Schlafer (retired). Early in his career as a Transit Information representative, Ben Rajkowski was on the phone with a customer trying to find their way to a Route 64 bus stop so they could get from Maplewood to St. Paul.

After more than 20 minutes, the caller still hadn’t found their way and was at risk of missing what would be the last trip of the day.

That’s when fellow representative James Schlafer tapped Rajkowski on the shoulder and suggested asking the caller if they were standing next to a white picket fence. They were.

With that one simple clue, Schlafer knew he needed to walk 500 feet, cross the street and turn their back toward a blue house – directions that were so specific the caller thought he was being watched. 

“To this day, I still don’t have a clue how he figured that out,” Rajkowski said.

It wasn’t a fluke, either. Over his 31-year career as a Transit Information representative, Schlafer developed a reputation for having a rich, visual knowledge of the Twin Cities that rivaled, and often surpassed, available online tools.

That detailed memory, along with his trademark wit, were celebrated last week as Schlafer retired as the Transit Information Center’s longest consecutively-serving representative. 

Schlafer helped an estimated 1 million callers plan their trips over the course of his three-decade career. Like Rajkowski, several co-workers had stories that stood out from that impressive collection.

In one case, he guided a visually-impaired customer to a bus stop using sidewalk grass as a guide. In another, he spent two hours and 17 minutes on a marathon call with someone looking for help getting around Burnsville and Eagan, a likely-record for the TIC’s longest call.

“Usually, I try not to be on the phone long enough to have to be patient,” Schlafer said. “But in this case all I could do was humor them for a really long time.”

Schlafer’s knowledge came largely from a life of biking, walking and taking transit around the Twin Cities. Combined with an education in statistics and a knack for geography, he was rarely stumped.   

It wasn’t pure intuition, though. Schlafer constantly challenged himself to look for solutions that weren’t immediately evident, mastering the quirks of local address systems and developing personalized mental shortcuts that helped him decipher the vague outlines callers sometimes presented him.

That careful study gave him the ability to place more than 120 routes on an unmarked map by memory. He also drew intricate maps of shopping centers and other destinations so he and other representatives could better guide callers.

The skills proved useful even as the Transit Information Center transitioned from wall maps to an online trip planning system that Schlafer notoriously looked down upon.

“Even if I didn’t have a computer or all these resources I could find out pretty accurately where someone was and still help them,” said Schlafer, known to callers as “Mr. James” throughout his career.  

While abundantly patient, Schlafer was also known for having a sense of humor and taking pride in proving the breadth of his knowledge, often telling self-convinced callers they’d owe him a Dr. Pepper if he could persuade them they were mistaken. “There are lot of people out there who owe me Dr. Peppers,” he said.

While he’s taken his last call, Schlafer isn’t going to let his mind rest in retirement. In addition to biking and daily hikes, he plans to become active in Mensa, a high IQ society. He’ll also enjoy knowing that he made an indelible imprint on the organization he left behind.

“They told me I was too smart for this job and that I’d get bored,” Schlafer said. “Well, I proved them wrong.”

   > Learn more about Metro Transit retirees with more than 30 years of service

    > MinnPost: How Metro Transit uses technology to ensure a smooth ride

    > 1 million calls and counting

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