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Posts in Category: Transit Information

Retro Transit Transit Information

The bus stops here 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, March 03, 2015 3:43:00 PM

When Sheila Miller began working as a bus operator in 1977, she thought it would be a temporary stay that would hold her over as she decided on a career path. When she discovered she liked the job, the short-term plan turned into a 20-year tenure behind the wheel.                                   

But driving did eventually take her down a different path. Seeking a change of pace, Miller was among several operators who applied to become Metro Transit’s first Bus Stop Coordinator. To her pleasant surprise, she got the job.                   

“It was the only other job I looked at and the only other job I applied for so it was probably meant to be,” said Miller, who began as coordinator in March 1997.

As coordinator, Miller was tasked with organizing and maintaining a list of the region’s sprawling bus stop network. At the time, the sporadically-installed original red T-signs were being replaced and more signs were going up throughout the region.

Without a standard distance between stops, signs went up at virtually every intersection. Because of poor records and tight spacing, Miller inherited a list of nearly 22,000 bus stops. As records were updated and new stop spacing standards took effect, the list was pruned to around 14,500 stops.

But the work didn’t end there. Quarterly service changes, new routes, temporary detours and other issues continually cause bus stops to be added, re-located or eliminated.

Miller updates the bus stop inventory on a weekly basis so customers and staff have access to the latest information. Accurate, real-time bus stop information is also critical to the systems that support NexTrip and the Interactive Map.

“There is a surprising amount of work in a given day,” said Miller, who co-workers jokingly nicknamed the Bus Stop Queen, a title she embraces. “It’s this massive jigsaw puzzle.”

Kristin Thompson, Assistant Director, Scheduling, Analysis and Data Collection, said the job is unique in the industry. But Miller’s work provides the critical link between planners and customers, she said.                                                    

“It really all starts with the bus stop,” Thompson said. “When you get down to the core, you can’t give customers any information without having accurate stop information."

Although she’s spent almost two decades working with bus stops, Miller claims not to have a particular favorite. But she does use her past experiences as a driver and her current experiences as a customer make her a strong advocate for those who use them. As a former driver, Miller has also been particularly adamant about providing operators access to restrooms when possible.

“My familiarity with bus stops was a huge advantage,” Miller said. “I could rely on my innate knowledge.”

Miller is now sharing that knowledge with her successor. In mid-March, she will retire with 38 years of service.

While she will miss the job and the people she works with, Miller is looking forward to spending more time supporting her favorite causes and with her many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“It’s (working at Metro Transit) become my life,” she said. “I have a big family, but this has always been my other family.”

Bus Transit Information

1 million calls and counting 

| Friday, November 21, 2014 11:14:00 AM

Transit Information Center Representative Gary Bier coaches a new TIC rep.When Gary Bier began working in the Transit Information Center, his trip planning tools included a large wall map, a tape measure and a robust memory.

“If you were taking 20 calls a day you were really cooking,” Bier said recently. “Each of those calls could take 30 to 40 minutes.”

Bier and his fellow TIC representatives are able to help customers a lot more efficiently these days. Using online resources, representatives can plan trips in a matter of minutes and handle up to 200 calls a day. (Despite a growing amount of online information, TIC representatives still collectively take more than 1 million calls a year.)

While times have changed, Bier’s devotion to the job has not. On Nov. 26, Bier will celebrate 35 years of service, making him the longest-tenured TIC representative in Metro Transit history. He has handled an estimated 1.26 million calls since he began more than three decades ago.

Impressive as the cumulative total is, Bier is demure when asked to reflect on all the customers he’s helped along the way. “I don’t really think about it,” said Bier, who has no immediate plans to retire. “I just do what I need to do.”

The institutional knowledge goes a long way, though. In 1999, Bier stepped into a leadership position and began coaching new TIC representatives. As a coach, he listens in on calls and provides advice as representatives build the confidence they need to succeed. Beyond the practical tools he teaches, Bier stresses patience and understanding.

A level head and the simple pleasure of helping customers find their way, he said, is what keeps him going after all these years.

“I could imagine myself doing something else, I just couldn’t see myself enjoying it as much or doing it as long,” he said. “I feel really satisfied knowing that I’ve helped someone get from point A to B.”

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

    > Transit help just a phone call away

    > Much more than a store

Bus Minneapolis St. Paul Transit Information

Much more than a store 

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014 12:00:00 AM

Lalita Williams (foreground) and Tim Johnson assist customers at the Metro Transit store on Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis.For the last six years, Dan Hackman has made regular stops at Metro Transit’s retail store in downtown St. Paul to purchase Day Passes – $6 fare cards that allow him to make unlimited trips on a bus or METRO line for 24 hours.

Hackman lives near the store, in the skyway level of the U.S. Bank Building, and said he uses the passes to visit patients he works with as a Personal Care Assistant.

“I like that I don’t have to worry about having any money in my pocket,” he said during a recent visit.

While such transactions have long been the lifeblood of Metro Transit’s St. Paul and Minneapolis retail operations, the stores' employees have spent less time on fares and more time on general customer service in recent years.

To reflect the change, the stores are being rebranded as Service Centers, where customers can stop in for help planning trips, to collect Lost & Found items or ask basic questions about Metro Transit's services. 

The shift from fare sales to general service has been precipitated by the ease of online sales, Auto Refill and use of bulk fares like Metropass and U-Pass, which provide unlimited rides for a flat fee. The spread of ticket-vending machines and expansion of fare card sales to more than 100 Cub stores and other locations throughout the metro has also allowed customers to get fares at locations that are most convenient to them.

While the Minneapolis and St. Paul Service Centers still sold more than $4.7 million in stored fares last year, employees are now as likely to plan trips, answer questions about schedule changes or detours and introduce new or out-of-town customers to their transit options as they are to help customers with fares.

Traffic has remained constant but about half of those who visit Metro Transit’s Service Centers now come to purchase fares, add value or replace a lost Go-To Card. The rest come looking for transit information or other types of help. On average, 800 people visit the Minneapolis store on Marquette Avenue each weekday; another 400 visit the St. Paul location.

“As it has become easier to pay fares, we are seeing fewer sales but the traffic hasn’t gone down because people still want and need help,” said Mary Capistrant, who supervises retail revenue operations.

Linda Seidl, who started at Metro Transit 40 years ago, has seen the evolution first hand. When she started, Seidl sold tokens and paper punch fare cards. The punch cards were replaced by magnetic cards in the 1980s, and Go-To Cards with stored value were introduced nearly a decade ago.

The change in fare technology has benefited customers in numerous ways, including the ability to replace a lost, registered Go-To Card without losing any of its stored value, Seidl said. “Before, if they lost a card, someone was smiling but it wasn’t them,” said Seidl, who has come to know many regular customers in her decades of service.

A former Metro Transit driver, Tim Johnson began at the Minneapolis location a year ago. He said fare sales remain an important part of the job but that he and other employees play a powerful role helping people who are new to transit. Many times, employees will drive to their first day of work then come to the Service Center looking for a way to get there using transit.

If a boarding location is nearby, customers may be walked or directed to their stop; other times a printed map helps get customers where they need to go.

“It’s nice to be able to give them something tangible – a piece of paper that says go here and get on this bus,” Johnson said. “To send them with a map is important because a lot of people have never ridden a bus before.”

Aisha Dancy worked with customers over the phone in the Transit Information Center before moving behind the counter at the Minneapolis location three years ago. Dancy said working directly with customers is rewarding because she gets to see them leave with newfound confidence and hear about their successful trips during a subsequent visit.

“A lot of people will come back and thank me,” she said. “It’s nice to know that it worked out and that they got where they needed to go.”

In St. Paul, the questions have recently turned to the METRO Green Line. Laquanda Jarrett, who works at the St. Paul Service Center, said customers come in every day to ask for a schedule or to find out when the light rail line is opening (June 14).

“Every single day, we get at least 20 people asking about it,” Jarrett said. “They’re just so excited and ready.”

Metro Transit Service Centers At a Glance

The Metro Transit Service Center on Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis.Minneapolis

History: Original location opened at the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis in 1979. The operation moved to its street-level storefront on Marquette Avenue in 1986.

Address: 719 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis

Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Monday – Friday; ticket vending machine available during business hours.

Fun fact: The Minneapolis ticket-vending machine is among the highest-grossing in the system, generating more than $100,000 in retail sales each month.

St. Paul

History: A small kiosk opened in the in Ecolab building in 1980. The store later relocated to Town Square. It has been located in the U.S. Bank Center since 1988.

Address: Skyway, US Bank Center, 101 E. 5th Street

Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday; ticket-vending machine available 24 hours a day.

Fun fact: The location’s Snoopy statue, among the last remaining in St. Paul, is regularly outfitted with seasonal attire. Downtown workers and tourists often stop by to snap a photo with the statue.

    > Metro Transit Service Centers

    > Metro Transit Retail Outlets

    > Metro Transit Online Store

Bus Express Bus Transit Information

NexTrip usage soars 

| Friday, January 10, 2014 12:00:00 AM

NexTrip windowIt was a record year for Metro Transit’s NexTrip system, which provides customers with real-time predicted bus and rail departures. Customers requested NexTrip information online more than 49.2 million times in 2013, up from about 30 million requests in 2012.

Customers can enter the individual stop number or choose a route, direction of travel and stop location to see the predicted departure times for upcoming trips. Regional buses and Northstar trains are equipped with GPS technology that tracks their locations and feed NexTrip information in real-time. NexTrip will also be available for the high-frequency METRO Blue and Green light-rail lines this year.

Customers can access NexTrip online at metrotransit.org and on Metro Transit’s mobile website, metrotransit.org/mobile.

Customers also accessed NexTrip by phone 2.2 million times in 2013 by calling 612-373-3333, option 1. Electronic signs at a number of Park & Rides, Transit Centers and along the Marq2 express bus corridor in downtown Minneapolis also display NexTrip information.

NexTrip’s popularity is just one example of the growing demand for transit information.

Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner also had a record year, with more than 7 million trips planned in 2013. The monthly record was set in September with 657,458 trips planned.

Representatives at the Transit Information Center meanwhile handled more than 1.2 million calls, the third-highest year total ever. The Transit Information had its two busiest days ever on Black Friday and New Year's Eve.

 > About NexTrip

 > Trip Planner sets new record

Bus In the News Transit Information

For TIC rep, job changes but motivation stays the same 

| Thursday, December 12, 2013 9:00:00 AM

When Transit Information Center representative Carol Hansen applied to work for Metro Transit in 1976, she was asked two simple questions: Could she read a map, and did she know north, south, east and west?

Things have advanced quite a bit since then.

Hansen spoke recently with the Star Tribune about how her TIC job has changed as technology has evolved and Metro Transit’s service territory has expanded. Today, instead of paper maps and a Hudson Street guide, TIC representatives use computers to quickly help customers locate bus stops and plan their routes.

While the job is different than it used to be, Hansen said her motivation remains the same.

“I have always liked helping people,” she told the Star Tribune. “You can actually tell when you’ve actually helped them by the tone of their voice. One mom was packing up little kids, taking them to day care, going to work, then going to school. I ended up saving her two hours a day of travel time. When I got done, she was almost in tears.”

    > Star Tribune: On the Job with Carol Hansen

    > Transit help just a phone call away

    > Longtime bus driver reflects on career

Photo by Tom Witta, used by permission of the Star Tribune.

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