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Posts in Category: Transit Information

Transit Information

Meet the mapmaker behind the ambitious new METRO map 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, May 01, 2019 10:13:00 AM

Senior Graphic Designer Leah Janz with the latest version of Metro Transit's METRO map.Senior Graphic Designer Leah Janz has made a lot of maps. But none have been quite as ambitious as her latest creation, which depicts each of the current and future Light Rail Transit and Bus Rapid Transit lines that make up the METRO network.

LRT and BRT lines in the METRO network have fast, frequent, all-day service. Today’s METRO network includes the Green, Blue, A and Red lines. The network will expand in June with the opening of the C Line, which will provide BRT service between downtown Minneapolis and the Brooklyn Center Transit Center. 

This week, Janz talked about how she created the latest version of the METRO map and how she hopes it will help build enthusiasm for future expansion.

How do you begin to create a map like this?

I created the first version of this map in 2012 when we were preparing for the Green Line opening. I started with a geographic map of all the METRO routes and simplified it using straight lines. Since that original version, the layout has changed to accommodate additional lines and stations. Some design elements have also changed, like using a 10-point grid, restricting the lines to 45- and 90-degree angles and new station icons. Making changes can take several hours as stations and lines are reorganized to fit new information. There’s a lot of trial and error, too. This latest version went through more than five rounds of revisions before it was finalized. Even as the map has grown, simplicity remains the most important goal.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when making this map? 

Adding the future arterial BRT network within the existing network was a big challenge. Because they are identified by letters instead of colors, we used a neutral gray and letter to identify each line. Then we had to figure out how to communicate what exactly those gray lines are in the legend. To make the new lines and stations fit, a lot of the existing lines had to change. We almost didn’t include the station names because they’re long and weren’t going to fit without some major modifications. I had to make the map larger to accommodate the names, which required a lot of finessing of the lines and stations. As our system grows, I expect to do a lot more creative problem solving.

What examples did you look to when creating this map?

This map was modeled after the topological (also called diagrammatic or schematic) style created by Henry Beck for the London Underground in 1931. He believed that simplifying maps through straight lines and geography distortion made the map easier to understand. Ridership increased because customers could make faster decisions. A traditional geographic map, while physically accurate, is harder to understand. Many people don’t want to invest that time and decide not to try transit. Beck’s style was and is so successful that many other transit agencies, including us, have adopted the concept. When making this map, I also referenced maps in the book Transit Maps of the World to see how things like station iconography and transfer points have been handled elsewhere. The most recent printing of the book (2015) has my original METRO map in it, but it’s evolved a lot since then. I’ve also sought out other resources that have informed some of my decisions, including a transit map blog written by a graphic designer.

Do you have a favorite line on the map?

As a former St. Paul resident and University of Minnesota alum, I prefer the Green Line. I just wish it had opened ten years earlier so I could have used it while I was in school! The Orange Line will become a close second when it opens in a few years. I’m looking forward to riding that when I move to the south metro.

What do you hope people think when they see this map?

I hope the map communicates that the METRO network is easy to use and that it encourages more people to use transit. I also hope it helps lead to more public investment in transit so that open areas of the map are filled in and we’re able to serve more people.

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 approaching buses or trains in real time using a feature called Show My Bus. The feature can be accessed through Metro Transit's app or website. Links are found on route schedule pages and through NexTrip. In the app, select Trip Tools, then Routes & Schedules, select your route, choose any additional filters you wish to apply, then choose Show My Bus.

Show My Bus shows the location of at least one approaching bus or train, as well as the route number and direction of travel. Locations automatically refresh as vehicles move. 

Show My Bus was introduced in 2017 as part of an ongoing effort to improve Metro Transit’s NexTrip system, which provides predicted departure times.

“We wanted 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.

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