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Safety

Transit telecommunicators’ role: Reassurance, right response 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, April 11, 2018 10:49:00 AM

Supervisors at work in Metro Transit's Transit Control Center.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." -- Mr. Rogers


Officially and across the country, they’re known as public safety telecommunicators. At Metro Transit, they're known as Transit Control Center supervisors. 

And while their work revolves in large part around keeping service on schedule, they also handle public safety calls that come in through 911, on-board alarms or emergency phones at transit stations.

“Because we’re the ones taking the call, we’re the lifeline between the public, who need help, and emergency responders,” TCC Supervisor Chad Ladda said. 

National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week recognizes this work, and the importance of having a reassuring voice at the other end of a potentially terrible phone call. The celebration originated nearly 40 years ago, when public safety telecommunicators were struggling to be recognized.  

In 2017, TCC supervisors received more than 20,000 public safety calls. Their call volume has steadily risen over the years as the region’s transit system has grown. Calls can come from anywhere throughout the seven-county metro region.

Many of the calls are initiated not by individuals but by police officers and operators who have been trained to be vigilant and proactive observers. In some cases, these observations have little to do with transit itself. 

TCC supervisor Heather Gravink recalled a recent situation in which a bus operator saw an eight-year-old boy walking barefoot in his pajamas. The operator called the TCC and Gravink contacted police, who safely returned the boy to a family member’s home.

“In that moment, it didn’t matter if the bus was late,” Gravink said. “It was about taking care of a child who really needed it and getting the best possible outcome.”

Getting the right outcome also means taking every call seriously. Seemingly harmless situations could turn out to be much more consequential or even life threatening. For instance, someone who appears to be asleep may actually need immediate medical attention.

“A person’s life could hang in the balance based on my response to them,” TCC Supervisor Todd Messer said.

While the work can be stressful, TCC supervisors have become adept at staying calm and patient, reassuring whoever’s on the other end of the line while ensuring emergency responders have all the information they need.

“It’s our job to make sure everyone – customers, cops, medics, whoever it is – goes home at the end of the day," Gravink said. 

Story by Chris Cantoni, who is one of three communications specialists in the Transit Control Center. TCC communications specialists create and send Rider Alerts, provide service updates on social media and coordinate responses to customers using the new Text for Safety service.

Minneapolis Transit Police

Sincerity, soft touch earns officer top cop honors 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, March 28, 2018 1:37:00 PM

Growing up, Tim Lawrence often used his stature to stand up to bullies. He went to school to become a teacher. And one of the first jobs he took was as a skycap, traveling and interacting with people from around the world.

The experiences didn’t seem to point toward a career in law enforcement. But at 28 years old, he realized they could all be of use as a police officer in a large and diverse area like the Twin Cities.

So the Hastings native decided to turn his attention toward becoming a cop and went back to school. After acing his first class, he was convinced he was onto something.

Nearly a decade later, Lawrence stood before his family and his peers and was recognized as Metro Transit’s officer of the year. The award is presented annually to an officer who exemplifies the department’s principles.

Days after that celebration, Lawrence stood in a small substation at the Chicago-Lake Transit Station and reflected on what the award meant.

“I’m not doing this to get recognized,” he said. “I do police work. That’s my job. I’m honored to get it, but it’s just another day.”

Lawrence’s humility isn’t surprising. Fellow officers describe him as a soft-spoken, matter-of-fact individual known for quiet displays of empathy and a steady, calm demeanor.

When an infant was kidnapped last summer, it was Lawrence who stayed with and consoled the distraught mother. A chance encounter on a frigid Christmas night sparked a years-long relationship with a homeless individual who often sought refuge on light rail trains. And while assigned to Lake Street, he persistently visited with business owners, using his limited Spanish to build trust in the community.

“He genuinely likes to help people, and you don’t see that very often anymore,” said Sgt. Jeremy Rausch, who nominated Lawrence. “Even with all the challenges we have, he hasn’t lost his soft touch. He cares about people who are less fortunate and that shows every day that he comes work.”

Lawrence is now in his sixth year as a patrol officer with Transit Police. He’s spent countless hours riding the Blue Line, worked overnights and helped train three new hires as a Field Training Officer.

He’s currently among a team of officers who patrol the west metro from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. His time is spent largely in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, monitoring busy boarding locations, responding to calls for service and riding buses.

While it’s a broad territory, Lawrence said he takes serving the community personally. “Even though this is a huge jurisdiction, this is my area and I take full responsibility for that,” he said.

That’s especially true in North Minneapolis, where Lawrence is perhaps better known as a coach than as a police officer.

That part of Lawrence’s story started three years ago, when he was riding the bus and ran into a former classmate he played football with at Bethel University. The teammate was now coaching at North Community High School and said it would be great to work together.

That interaction led to a call from Charlie Adams, the head football coach at Minneapolis North Community High School. Lawrence was offered and immediately accepted a job as a line coach.

He’s since been embraced by student athletes and parents, some of whom he sees while on the job.

“It’s been a great opportunity for these kids and their parents to see me out of the uniform and begin to see cops as human beings,” Lawrence said. “It also gives me a chance to see where they’re coming from and what I need to do to earn their respect.”

Lawrence hopes to build similarly warm relationships with all those he encounters. But he’s more interested in the personal satisfaction that comes from these positive interactions than the kind of acclaim he received last week.

“You get a chance to do one good thing and it rejuvenates you and makes it all worthwhile,” he said. “I’m not doing these things for recognition. I’m just doing what any human being should do.”

 > Learn more about the Metro Transit Police Department's annual awards 

Metro Transit Police Department Awards Ceremony March 2018

Bus Community Light Rail

Taking time to say thanks on Transit Driver Appreciation Day 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 16, 2018 12:45:00 PM

Metro Transit’s 1,600 bus and train operators received extra kudos this week as supporters celebrated Transit Driver Appreciation Day.

Transit Driver Appreciation Day got its start in 2009, when a group of riders in Seattle, Wash., wanted to show support for their operators. It has historically been celebrated on March 18, the date the first known bus service is believed to have been offered, in 1662 in Paris, France (in the Twin Cities, auto owners began charging for rides as early as 1915, a business that soon gave rise to the area’s first bus services).

Today, Metro Transit is among many transit agencies that pause to recognize their operators for their service.

In addition to the messages of appreciation, The Current helped recognize Transit Driver Appreciation Day this year by devoting its morning Coffee Break to transit-themed songs. The playlist included The Hollies “Bus Stop” and The Replacements “Kiss Me On The Bus” (find more "essential transit tunes" on CityLab).

General Manager Brian Lamb, Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff, and several Council members also took time to personally thank operators. 

Thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate and remember, operators can be commended for their service any time. Let us know what you love about your operator by submitting a commendation online or by calling 612-373-3333.

Don’t know their name? We can identify the operator with their driver number, found on the uniform sleeve, vehicle number, and information about where and when you rode.

Learn more about some of Metro Transit's bus and train operators through our "Know Your Operator" series. Also, we’re hiring bus operators. Just saying.

Here’s a small sampling of shout-outs from social media:

Bus In the News Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line

Super Bowl festivities boost ridership 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 09, 2018 2:30:00 PM

Super Bowl festivities provided a notable ridership boost earlier this year.  

The Green and Blue lines and the Northstar Commuter Rail Line each saw their highest-ever January ridership totals and nearly 210,000 additional rides were taken over more than a week’s worth of Super Bowl events.

Super Bowl festivities began on Friday, Jan. 26 and continued through gameday, Sunday, Feb. 4. Ridership on those dates increased about 12 percent measured against comparable dates.

Ridership was boosted in part thanks to extra service that was offered to Super Bowl festivities. More than 17,500 rides were provided to and from downtown Minneapolis from area Park & Rides where special express bus trips were offered. 

Fares collected during the 10-day period offset the cost of the extra service that was provided.

In all, nearly 6.4 million rides were provided in January, including more than 1 million Green Line rides, nearly 823,000 Blue Line rides and close to 67,000 Northstar rides.

“Going into the Super Bowl, we felt like the months of preparation had us ready to show the world how a first-class transit system contributes to the success of this international spectacle,” said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. “Looking back, we proved to hundreds of thousands of fans, visitors and everyday riders that our system and employees were more than a contribution. We were essential to the success of our region during all of Super Bowl 52’s events.”

> WCCO: Inside Metro Transit's unprecedented Super Bowl plan

Bus Shelters

Fulfilling our commitment to creating a better bus stop 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, February 27, 2018 9:23:00 AM

A bus shelter on Nicollet Mall includes heat, light and real-time signs.

From General Manager Brian Lamb 

A little over three years ago, we committed to providing customers a better experience at the bus stop. 

Since then, we’ve installed shelters at nearly 200 locations, primarily in Minneapolis and St. Paul, where they either didn’t exist or needed to be replaced. Light and on-demand heaters have been included at many of these sites.  

Some of the region’s busiest boarding locations have also been improved. A dozen shelters with heat, light and real-time signs were installed along Nicollet Mall last month and a rapid bus-style shelter was recently built at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue. 

Concrete pads that improve accessibility were also put in at more than two-dozen sites last year in a continued effort to make it easier for everyone to get around bus stops. 

And more improvements are on the way. 

As many as 80 more shelters will be installed this year, more than half of which will be at sites where there currently isn’t any protection from the elements. These plans also include replacing aged shelters that had previously been privately-owned and maintained. 

Next month, construction will begin on the region’s second rapid bus line, the C Line, which will bring two-dozen stations with shelters, real-time signs, security features and ticket vending machines to a corridor now served by Route 19. Similar plans are being made for the Route 5 corridor. 

Later this year, customers will also see newly-designed shelter schedules that provide clearer information and real-time signs at some shelter sites. 

Perhaps just a significant as these improvements, though, is the accompanying effort that’s been made, in partnership with several community partners and customers, to think about future bus stop investments.   

Assuming customers with less frequent service had longer waits, we’d used guidelines that led shelters to be placed in some suburban locations where we served relatively few customers.

After receiving community feedback and reviewing wait time data we recently revised those guidelines. Under the new guidelines, shelters will be considered at any site where there are more than 30 boardings a day, with a priority on sites that have more than 100 daily boardings. 

The guidelines also place a higher priority on locations that serve people with disabilities, older adults and those who are less likely to own a vehicle. Transfer points and boarding locations near healthcare or social service centers will also get greater consideration.

The new criteria are a clear demonstration of how equity, defined as equal access to opportunity for all, is guiding our work. 

As always, we want to hear about your bus stop experience and what you think can be done to make it even better. Please contact Customer Relations to share your thoughts.

Learn more about bus stop improvements 

Better Bus Stops

Map: Review recent and planned bus stop improvements

Guidelines for placing and removing waiting shelters

Using community wisdom to design Better Bus Stops

Do bus stop amenities like shelters and benches make waiting for the bus more tolerable?  Research from the University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies suggests that yes, they do. 

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