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Community Transit Information

Bus Buddies help refugees build confidence, join community through transit 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, June 20, 2018 3:36:00 PM

The International Institute of Minnesota.One of the first places refugees resettling in the Twin Cities can turn to for support is the International Institute of Minnesota, which offers classes and other resources to help them become self-sufficient.

But without a driver’s license or a strong sense of geography, getting to the institute’s St. Paul offices can be a challenge.

To help refugees find their way, the institute matches new arrivals with volunteers who visit their home and then ride with them to and from the institute on transit.

Lately, some of those guides, known as “Bus Buddies,” have had an especially strong aptitude for transit.

A partnership between the institute and Metro Transit led representatives from the Transit Information Center to begin serving as Bus Buddies earlier this year. After an initial pilot phase, representatives are now regularly working as Bus Buddies.

The first TIC representative who worked with refugees was Tariq Muwahid, whose father had to find his way in Minnesota after moving from the West Bank to the United States.

Over the course of a few months, Muwahid worked with refugees from Ukraine, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Pakistan, among other countries. Only one of the individuals spoke fluent English and none had any local transit experience.

“Hand signals, pictures, drawings, translator apps – you did whatever you could to communicate the point,” Muwahid said.

There was a lot to communicate, too.

All the refugees Muwahid worked with needed to transfer at least once during their trips to the institute, which is near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

During their trips, Muwahid described where to transfer, how to read overhead signs, maps and schedules and how to buy fares. Refugees who provided feedback to the institute said the support allowed them to in turn help family members and figure out how to get other places on their own.

Seeing refugees experience transit not only helps the newcomer but allows staff to understand how information can effectively be conveyed to first-time riders, especially those facing language barriers.

Metro Transit recently developed an illustrated how to ride guide and Customer Advocates are building on past work with the institute by developing a
curriculum for volunteer Bus Buddies.

Natalie Moorhouse, the institute’s Refugee Corps Volunteer Coordinator, said teaching refugees how to get around on their own is a critical first step toward
independence.

“It makes quite a big difference,” she said. “It builds confidence and also helps them really feel like they’re a part of their new community.”

There’s a large need for such support, too. The institute serves nearly 4,000 people a year while Minnesota is home to 13 percent of the country’s
refugees – the largest per capita population in the U.S.

A refugee is someone who has fled their home country because of “a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Muwahid didn’t ask or learn much about the circumstances that brought the refugees he worked with to Minnesota. But by the end of their trips, he said, it was evident that they were thankful and more at ease.

“These are some of the first interactions they have with anyone in the U.S., so you have a chance to make a big impression,” he said.

Learn more and get involved

Individuals who are interested in volunteering as a Bus Buddy should contact the International Institute of Minnesota. For more information visit iimn.org.

Transit Information

Rider Alert survey provides valuable feedback 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, May 02, 2017 9:52:00 AM

We asked, and you answered. After planned light-rail maintenance and construction caused buses to replace trains on two recent weekends, Metro Transit wanted to learn what you thought about our Rider Alert subscription service.

By signing up for Rider Alerts, you can get route-specific information about planned detours and service changes through text message and e-mail. To sign up, visit metrotransit.org/rider-alerts

A survey was sent to customers who subscribe to Rider Alerts for the Blue and Green lines. After a fantastic survey response, we wanted to share some of the results. The takeaway: we all appreciate a heads up. 

While the feedback was largely positive, we also received valuable insight into how we can keep you better informed in the future.

Providing more advanced notice and more consistently using Rider Alerts to share information about unplanned service impacts are among the issues we're focusing on. We're also looking at how we can make it simpler to sign up for Rider Alerts. 

If you missed out on our recent survey but would still like to provide feedback, we’re always ready to hear how we can do better. Please submit your feedback through Customer Relations metrotransit.org/contact-us

   > Sign up for Rider Alerts

   > Looking for your bus or train? Map It!

   > Texting to find the NexTrip

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

Transit Information

Looking for your bus or train? "Show my bus" now in NexTrip! 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, February 06, 2017 8:43:00 AM

Customers can track the physical location of their bus using Metro Transit's Map It!  tool.Customers can track the physical location of their anticipated bus or train in real time with a new feature called Show My Bus. 

The new feature can be accessed through Metro Transit’s website, as well as the agency's new app. A link to Show My Bus is included in the NexTrip section. 

Like NexTrip, Show My Bus information is linked to unique stop number IDs, found through the Interactive Map or automatically with the GPS-based Find Me feature. A map with markers showing the location of at least one bus, as well as the route number and direction of travel, is then displayed for that particular boarding location. Locations automatically refresh. 

Show My Bus was tested by around 50 customers who volunteered to provide input and was made available to all customers this week.

“We want to provide transit information in the way that customers want to see it, and this is one of those ways,” said Ben Rajkowski, Assistant Manager-Transit Information.

Show My Bus is part of a broader effort to improve Metro Transit’s NexTrip system, which provides predicted departure times.

In addition to the website and app, NexTrip is available through text message. NexTrip information is also displayed on digital signs at all rail and A Line stations and at select bus stops. There are ongoing efforts to improve NexTrip accuracy.​

How to use Show My Bus

If using Metro Transit's app, go to the menu and select Trip Tools, than NexTrip. Use the Find Me feature or enter the route, direction of travel and stop. If you already know your stop number, simply enter it here. When NexTrip details appear, a link to Show My Bus will appear at the bottom of the screen.

A link to NexTrip is found on the homepage of Metro Transit's mobile and desktop websites. Follow the same steps to access Show My Bus using these websites.

Bus Transit Information

More new bus stop signs installed 

| Monday, August 08, 2016 8:17:00 AM

A new bus stop sign is installed on American Boulevard. Efforts to install new bus stop signs around the region picked back up again this month.

In the latest phase of the systemwide roll-out, around 5,000 signs will be installed along nearly 30 local and express routes by the end of the year. Most of the routes provide service in Minneapolis, St. Paul and inner-ring suburbs, including routes 2, 3, 4, 18, 21 and 74.

The new signs include route and unique stop numbers, as well as instructions for accessing real-time predicted departures through NexTrip. Signs at stops with higher ridership also have a route map, frequency information (for the trunk of the route) and indicate the direction that buses serving that stop travel.

Around 2,300 of the new signs were installed in 2015. All of Metro Transit’s bus stop signs will be replaced by the end of next year.

In addition to the new bus stop signs, pylons with digital displays featuring predicted real-time departure information were recently installed at two stops on Seventh Street in downtown Minneapolis.

The stops, which will eventually be served by the C Line​, are located at Nicollet and Hennepin avenues.​

    > New bus stop signs introduced

    > Texting to find the NexTrip

    > NexTrip signs added to several locations

 

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