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Posts in Category: Transit Information

Bus Minneapolis St. Paul Transit Information Transit Planning

Signs of Change 

| Friday, December 06, 2013 11:00:00 AM

Scott Bergevin and Laura Matson have a lot of ground to cover.

When service changes occur every three months, the pair is responsible for replacing or adding hundreds of new schedules at Metro Transit bus stops from Blaine to Lakeville, and Stillwater to Mound. In August, nearly 900 signs were added or replaced over the course of five days – the largest workload Bergevin recalls in his decade on the job.

“There’s a lot you have to get done in a week, which means you have to organize it really well,” he said.

With a fresh round of changes introduced to nearly 40 Metro Transit routes Dec. 7, Bergevin and Matson were back in the field this week visiting hundreds of bus stops, Transit Centers and Park & Rides in a rush to refresh schedule information at hundreds of locations. Scheduled and maps are changed at the last possible moment to avoid confusion among customers.

At the same time, nearly 503,000 new printed "pocket" schedules were being single-handedly distributed to libraries, grocery stores, recreation centers and other busy public facilities by Schedule Distribution Coordinator Wally Keifenheim. In 2012, more than 3 million such schedules were distributed at locations throughout Metro Transit’s service territory.

On Tuesday, with snow imminent, Bergevin and Matson found themselves racing the clock as well as the weather.

In the morning, the pair made stops at the Rosedale and Northtown transit centers before winding through the University of Minnesota's West Bank, Cedar-Riverside and along Central Avenue. Later, they traveled from the Union Depot south on Robert Street, then back north on Snelling Avenue. At the end of the day, they had surpassed 130 miles on the road.

After joining Metro Transit earlier this year, Matson said the time spent on the road has given her a new appreciation for the complexity of getting correct information out to the hundreds of locations Metro Transit serves.

“There are a lot of little details – a lot more than you’d think,” she said. “But we have a very methodical approach that makes it work.”

Matson and Bergevin travel together so one can act as the navigator, providing directions and updating information that will later be entered into a comprehensive database. Replacing large posters at transit centers like the Union Depot can also take an extra set of hands.

The largest project to come from this month's service changes involves the U of M campus, where buses are returning to Washington Avenue for the first time since 2011. The change is one of several being made in preparation for the METRO Green Line, which opens next year.

Not every schedule or route adjustment has such a significant impact on service, but even slight variations require signs to be changed.

Schedules and maps need to be replaced as service is modified to provide more reliable transfers and keep pace with ridership trends. Construction detours also play a role.

“All the route has to do is change by one minute and we’re out here,” Bergevin said.

Bergevin is spending more time in the field not just because of the changes that are made but because of the growth Metro Transit has experienced since he started ten years ago.

When Bergevin started, pocket schedules were simply displayed inside customer-waiting shelters. Today, Park & Rides, Transit Centers, Marq2 and some of the busiest stops have route maps. Stop numbers that can be used to get location-specific route and schedule information are also being introduced. (The numbers can be used with Metro Transit's mobile site or when speaking with representatives from the Transit Information Center).

Over the next few years, Metro Transit plans to continue rolling out new bus stop signs across the region while identifying other possibilities for providing additional transit information. A new survey invites customers to share thoughts about the value of having route numbers, a map of nearby landmarks or route destinations and other information at bus stops. The survey will be used as more information is tested in the field to determine impacts on ridership.

    > A new sign of the times

    > These routes will change on Dec. 7

    > 2012 Facts

Bus Light Rail Northstar Transit Information

Teaching Transit 101 

| Thursday, November 14, 2013 1:50:00 PM

A freshman at St. Catherine University, Samantha Alvarez has commuted to class every day this semester by driving her car alone. Though she doesn’t like paying for gas, she said the idea of taking the bus is daunting.

“I’ve always thought buses were scary,” the Plymouth resident said. “I’m really bad with directions and I didn’t know where the buses would go or where I’d end up.”

A recent “How to Ride” presentation by one of Metro Transit’s customer advocates helped address some of Alvarez’s reservations. Hosted on campus with support from students in the school’s Commuter Advisor group, the event provided she and several other students at the St. Paul school a tutorial about how to read a schedule, buy and use a Go-To Cardload a bike on the front of a bus and other basic transit tips.

Such in-person presentations are repeated for hundreds of audiences each year to new riders and those unfamiliar with transit - like Alvarez. Besides students, presentations are given to seniors, English language learners who are new to the country and other groups.

Beginning this year, community education classes have also been offered in communities along the Northstar Commuter Rail Line to educate people on how to ride the train. The classes include a trip on the train and the connecting METRO Blue Line.

Doug Cook, one of the customer advocates who leads How to Ride presentations, said uncertainty and fear are hurdles for those who want to use transit but have little or no experience doing so. He hopes his presentation serves as a starting point and gives customers the confidence they need to begin riding the bus and train.

“A lot of people come to these events with fear – I’m trying to alleviate that fear and get them to take that next step,” said Cook, a former Metro Transit bus driver.

Before making a recent presentation at St. Catherine, Cook visited the Minnesota Council of Churches in Minneapolis where he spoke to a Somali family that had arrived in the country just five days earlier.

After running through the basics – including fares, transfers and Metro Transit’s Language Line – the group boarded a Route 18 bus and traveled to the Hennepin County Library in downtown Minneapolis to see how the system worked in practice. The family was participating in the Council’s New Arrival Resource Empowerment Workshop (NAREW), a three-week course that is designed to help refugees take a first step towards self-sufficiency.

Katia Iverson, a Refugee Program Specialist with the Council, said transit is essential to new immigrants who don’t have cars and need to connect with services. After the How to Ride presentation, NAREW participants are expected to get to remaining classes on their own.

“That (taking transit) is kind of the first measurement of self-sufficiency in Minnesota,” Iverson said.

Liz May, a Commuter Advisor who helped organize the recent event at St. Catherine’s, learned how to ride the bus while she was a teenager and working at Mall of America.

A senior at St. Catherine, May admitted some anxiety when she first began riding the bus. But she said she’s become more confident as she has gained experience and wants other students to be equally secure riding the bus. (St. Catherine’s is served by Routes 74, 84, 87 and 134.)

The school's Commuter Advisors hope to have more How to Ride classes and recorded Cook’s presentation in the hopes that it will be incorporated into future student orientations. “Students should be able to relax and take the bus with ease,” May said.         


 

Bus From the GM Transit Information Transit Planning

A new sign of the times 

| Tuesday, October 22, 2013 3:36:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

Metro Transit’s 12,268 bus stops are the most visible, widespread and permanent symbols of our organization. Yet, they have lagged behind the re-branding effort already seen on our buses, customer-waiting shelters, transit centers and Park & Rides.

That’s one reason why we’re redesigning them. Another is to give customers, residents and visitors better access to transit information.

Our goal is to provide as much information as possible at every stop. For years, our busiest boarding locations have included regularly updated route schedules and maps and, in some cases, real time NexTrip signage. Currently, about half of all boardings occur at 125 or so transit stops and 75 percent occur at 550 stops. Route identifiers, schedules and/or maps are posted and maintained at these and scores of other stops.

Part of our business cycle is to perpetually refine routes and schedules to adapt to changes throughout the region. We publish new schedules four times per year. As you would expect, maintaining and posting new schedules and maps physically at every bus stop in our seven-plus county service area presents a large and very costly challenge. That challenge will only increase as transit continues to expand in our region.

Upwards of 90 percent of Twin Cities residents possess cell phones or mobile devices. Month after month our customers increasingly access transit information electronically. This trend provides us an opportunity to cost-effectively provide access to essentially all transit information for the Twin Cities on every bus stop sign in addition to the on-site information at the busiest stops.  

If you’ve been on West 7th Street in St. Paul or on Marquette or 2nd avenues and connecting east-west streets in downtown Minneapolis, you may already have seen some of our newly-designed signs. These signs were placed in the community during a pilot period so we could get feedback from customers and bus drivers.

After receiving a positive response, we plan to begin rolling these signs out in more of our service area.

The red, yellow and blue signs prominently feature the “Circle T” that is instantly recognized in this region and beyond as a symbol for transit service. The signs also include the regional Transit Information Center phone number (612-373-3333), regional website address (metrotransit.org) and a unique Stop Number. We believe these elements will be extremely useful for customers while also eliminating on-location maintenance needed to keep them up-to-date.

Customers who encounter the signs will not merely be directed to our phone number and website. Using a mobile phone, the unique Stop Number can be used to retrieve NexTrip real-time departures for all routes that serve the stop. Customers who call our Transit Information Center can also use the number to receive faster, more effective trip planning assistance. Increasingly, our detour and disruption communications also include unique stop numbers.

Getting these new signs in place will require extensive coordination with each of the 90 cities we serve.  We expect to roll out the new signs to the region in stages and over a period of time – beginning with our busiest facilities and stops, then along the northwest and central corridors.

We look forward to adding more of them in 2014 and beyond and we hope you do, too.

> Improving info at bus stops

Bus Light Rail Retro Transit Transit Information

Transit help just a phone call away 

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013 9:00:00 AM

 

Technology has dramatically altered the way Metro Transit’s customers plan their trips, offering real-time information that allows users to see the best way to get from Point A to Point B with just a few clicks.

That doesn’t mean Metro Transit has lost its personal touch, however.

Nearly 40 transit experts at Metro Transit’s Fred T. Heywood Office Building in Minneapolis work all but two days a year to provide customers with personalized transit directions over the phone. Callers can get directions by simply telling the experts where they are and where they want to go. Experts can also help customers learn how to walk to their nearest station or final destination and help plan a future trip. Trip planning assistance is available in 170 languages.  

While Metro Transit’s website and third-party apps now play a growing role in customers’ trip planning efforts – Metro Transit’s online trip planner drew more than 6 million users last year – there is still a healthy appetite for a more personal experience.

Transit experts receive about 5,000 calls a day and have together handled more than 1 million annual calls each of the last eight years (in 2012, there were 1.2 million calls answered; the record was set in 2009 with 1.24 million calls answered).

“It’s not as if we’re hauling lumber around. We serve people, and people really appreciate that one-to-one contact,” said John Howley, who has managed the Transit Information Center for the last seven years.

While the basic function is the same, technology has changed the way the Transit Information Center works. Before Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner launched in 2000, transit experts manually plotted trips using a giant map, where each route had been taped.

Today, that labor-intensive approach has been replaced with a computerized system that can instantantly provide experts the information they need to serve customers. Calls that once took up to 20 minutes to resolve now often take less than two minutes.

Gary Bier (who goes by another name on the phone) has seen the evolution since becoming a transit expert nearly 35 years ago, when fares were just 35 cents. Besides the changes in technology, Bier has seen the level of service grow dramatically.

While there is more to remember now, Bier has developed a vast knowledge of Metro Transit’s routes and schedules and can quickly come up with solutions when customers call. Some of that knowledge comes from memorizing routes before the call center moved to a computer-based system.

“Kind of like a GPS, I can picture it all in my head,” Bier said.

Cathy Taylor has spent 13 years helping Metro Transit customers navigate the system. She said most callers are looking for directions to appointments, school or a new job.

During a recent Friday morning, Taylor helped a man in downtown Minneapolis find his way to a medical appointment in Golden Valley, confirmed weekend departure times for a man with an outdated printed map and walked a Minneapolis resident through her early-morning commute to Edina.

The calls showed how Taylor is able to come up with more creative trips based on how much time people are willing to wait, whether they will walk longer distances to their final destination or are comfortable transferring to another bus, giving people more options than they might come up with on their own.

"This is really much more of a personal schedule," she said.

Those needs are why Howley believes transit experts will continue to play a vital role for Metro Transit customers, no matter how much technology evolves. “That need will always be there,” he said. 

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

    > Trip Planner sets new record

How to reach the Transit Information Center

To reach Metro Transit’ Transit Information Center, dial 612-373-3333. (This is the same number that provides access to NexTrip, Customer Relations and a number of other resources). Transit experts are available from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The Transit Information Center is closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. 

Photos: Transit expert Jared Fette speaks to a Metro Transit customer at the Transit Information Center, June 2013 (top). A transit expert uses a guidebook to manually plot a trip in the Transit Information Center in 1999, before the system was converted to computers.

Bus Light Rail Links of Interest Transit Information Transit Planning

Apps put transit in the palm of your hand 

| Friday, June 07, 2013 4:04:00 PM

In addition to Metro Transit’s mobile website, the agency provides third-party developers the information they need to build apps that provide route and schedule information, frequently in real time. That trove of data comes primarily from The Minnesota Geospatial Commons, which collects GIS information from the seven-county metro region, and Metro Transit's real-time departure info system, NexTrip.

Standing at the corner of East Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue and need to find a bus to Uptown? There’s an app for that. In fact, there are several.

Several developers have already put that data to use, creating apps that offer information about Metro Transit routes and schedules. The Pioneer Press has reviewed several available options; a complete list of apps with Metro Transit information can be found here.

Here’s a quick look at some of the available apps that could be of help to Metro Transit riders:

The Transit App. The Transit App automatically locates the nearest transit stop or can be used to find the nearest stop to a manually-entered address. After the stop has been identified, the app shows the next scheduled arrival and provides real-time information about the location of the bus or train. After entering a desired destination, the app can be used to get specific route information and to provide an estimated travel time. Free,  iPhone,  thetransitapp.com

HopStop. Like The Transit App, HopStop allows users to enter their location and preferred destination to find the nearest stops, routes and estimated travel times. The app also features full schedules and allows users to post live updates, adding a unique conversational element. Free. hopstop.com

Google Maps. Like its web-based bigger brother, Google’s map app automatically locates a user or allows a start address to be manually entered. Enter the final destination and select the bus icon to see what transit options are available. Free, iPhone, web. google.com

Twin Cities Tripr. The Tripr app allows users to search by route or stop and provides information about the next available local service or express bus. Information on Northstar, the Blue Line and the Red Line is also available. Free. iPhone. appannie.com

In addition to these apps, Metro Transit’s website is available in a web-friendly format. Simply enter metrotransit.org or metrotransit.org/mobile into your browser. The site allows users to view schedules, NexTrip (real-time departures), plan trips and locate service. On GPS-enabled devices, the “Find Me” feature can also be used to determine your location with just a touch.

Twin Cities Transit and mspbus.org also serve mobile web users.

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