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Know Your Operator METRO Green Line

Know Your Operator: Alex Abay 

| Wednesday, November 30, 2016 2:59:00 PM

Train Operator Alex Abay at Union Depot Station in St. Paul. Alex Abay wanted to be a part of history.

So as the METRO Green Line approached its 2014 opening, he was among the first train operators to get involved in the light-rail line’s initial test runs. And when opening day arrived in 2014, he made sure to be sitting in the operator’s chair.

While the excitement of that day has subsided, Abay still gets a thrill when he’s on the job.

“It’s just amazing to me, to pull into a platform, see 100 people standing there, and in less than ten seconds  they’re all on board and off you go,” Abay said recently from the Green Line’s Operations & Maintenance Facility, where he and other Green Line operators are based.

Abay didn’t always envision himself working in transit, however.

After growing up in Ethiopia, Abay followed a distant cousin to the Twin Cities to pursue a career in industrial chemistry or finance.

To improve his English, he regularly listened to public radio. He got a job at the Minnesota Science Museum and enrolled at Century College, traveling to and from his St. Paul home on Route 62.

After graduating and landing a job in banking, he looked to transit again, picking up part-time weekend work to help repay his student loans.

“I saw other people driving and just said, ‘Let me try this,’” Abay said. “I was so young and skinny people thought I was a kid. One woman got on, couldn’t believe it, turned around and left.”

Abay stuck with it, though, and after a few years he decided to leave banking behind to go full-time at Metro Transit. He spent the next 14 years as a bus operator.

In 2012, with the region’s light rail system poised for growth, he decided to become a train operator. Abay said he missed interacting with customers but quickly grew to enjoy the different challenges he found at light rail.  

“To be given the trust to operate a train, that’s a big responsibility,” Abay said. “The first time, I was sweating. Your brain is always working and you always have to be ready to react.”

Abay’s focus has served him well, though. Since starting at Metro Transit, he’s received 17 Safe Operator awards. 

As Abay’s career has grown, so too has his family. Today, Abay lives in Farmington with his wife and two children. Outside of work, he spends as much time with them as he can, playing soccer, going to movies and attending church activities.

Looking back at the path that’s brought him here, Abay said he knows he was right to leave banking behind. “This was 100 percent the right decision,” he said. “I have absolutely no regrets.”

Operator at a Glance

  • Name: Alex Abay
  • Hired: April 10, 1999
  • Employee Number: #9975
  • Route: Green Line
  • Hobbies: Abay enjoys spending time with his family, going to movies and attending church activities. He also enjoys exercising – outside of work, he plays soccer and during his downtime at work, he can frequently be found playing ping pong (Abay advocated for the ping pong table so he and his fellow operators could stay active in their time between trips.)

To help you better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these 'Know Your Operator' profiles of train and bus operators. To suggest an operator for a future profile, please email ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org.

Bus Community Light Rail Minneapolis St. Paul

Reflections on November in the Twin Cities 

Posted by Kathy Graul | Wednesday, November 30, 2016 10:13:00 AM

Does anyone else feel like November has flown by? A presidential election, unseasonably warm temperatures and Vikings games in the new stadium are just a few of the highlights. We at Metro Transit are thankful for the opportunity to look back and reflect on this month through the stunning photography featuring public transportation in the Twin Cities that we've admired on Instagram. 

Here we offer a look back at some of our favorite images from this month - which is your favorite? 

And by the way, are you following us on Instagram? It's a great place to connect with us and see the creative side of transit. We might also feature your photo if it catches our eye! (Just be sure to tag us!)

Purple skies over the Vikings stadium, with the Blue Line featured in the foreground

Reflections of a Route 6 bus heading over the Hennepin Avenue bridge

 

"The old cathedrals are good, but the great blue dome that hangs over everything is better." -- Thomas Carlyle

A photo posted by Joe -- St. Paul, MN (@theuptown5) on

Snow finally falling in downtown Minneapolis

Super-speedy Green Line

Moody morning light rail shot in downtown Minneapolis

 

Early mornings are a little darker these days.

A photo posted by Jeremy (@jeremy.delane) on

Green Line train passing through Government Plaza

 

The green line.

A photo posted by Max Webb (@webbwonder) on

Safety Transit Police

Transit Police welcome 13 new officers 

| Monday, November 14, 2016 11:22:00 AM

Thirteen new full-time officers joined the Metro Transit Police Department at a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 10.

The recruits come from a variety of backgrounds, with a combined 50-plus years of law enforcement experience with the DEA, Airport Police and several other area departments. One of the new officers worked most recently as a Metro Transit bus operator.

The group also continues to build the department’s diversity, including the first Tibetan and Egyptian officers to work for Metro Transit. There are nine different languages spoken among the new officers.

“Your recruit class is a great example of the diversity of our community,” Chief John Harrington said as he addressed the group in front of family and friends at the Union Depot.

Harrington also commended the group for enduring the department's expanded, 10-week academy, including courses on fair and impartial policing, crisis intervention and poverty. 

With the new class, the department now has more than 113 full-time officers and a pool of 71 part-time officers. The new officers will be based out of both the West and East commands. 

Metro Transit police officers sworn in last week include Chad Worden, Joe Herr, Tim Wilkerson, James Reyerson, Xiong Lor, Peter Eshenaur, Amanda St. George, Ahmad Kahin, Mike Olson, Jonathan Beecham, Tenzin Dongag, Amro Abdalla and Erin Abbott. 

Metro Transit Police Department graduation fall 2016

Bus Fares From the GM Light Rail

Fare toolbox grows with introduction of new mobile app 

| Thursday, November 03, 2016 9:52:00 AM

Metro Transit's app allows customers to buy fares in advance and display them on a mobile device. From General Manager Brian Lamb

When people leave their homes, there are a few essential items they’re likely carrying with them, including identification, credit or bank cards and a mobile phone.                                                                   

Less likely to be in their pocket: a Go-To Card or the exact change it costs to board a bus or light-rail train.

Confusion about the fare and the need to have the right amount ready to board has long been a challenge for new or infrequent riders, sometimes discouraging them from using transit altogether.

Ticket vending machines that accept cash and credit cards at rail and rapid bus stations helped us begin to address this challenge. This week, we took another major step forward as we introduced a new Metro Transit app that allows people to buy and instantly use fares using a smartphone.

With the app, customers can purchase mobile tickets in advance and use them when they’re ready to ride. These customers will prove they’ve paid their fare by showing bus operators or police officers a screen with a unique, moving image that can’t be replicated or used after time has expired.

Created in partnership with tech company moovel, the app also provides access to our website’s most popular trip planning tools. In the future, it will give customers a simple way to let us know about immediate concerns and to receive alerts about the routes they most often use.

Operators and police have been trained to recognize valid mobile tickets over the last several months and a number of employees have successfully tested it in the field over the last few weeks.

Time will tell how the successful the app and mobile ticketing will be in attracting new customers, but there are several reasons to believe it will be a powerful tool. Consider:

    > Nearly 7 in 10 U.S. adults own a smartphone, and a third have used them to make a mobile payment. Our largest customer group, Millenials, are even more likely to own a smartphone and use it to make purchases. For many low-income residents, smartphones are the only reliable access to online resources.

    > The Twin Cities has become a top tourist destination, attracting more than 30 million visitors a year. An even greater number of visitors will arrive in the coming years for the Super Bowl and other large events. While special fare products that serve travelers have been introduced, mobile tickets are more immediate and convenient.  

    > About 72 percent of our website’s visits are from mobile devices and 16 percent of fares are sold through our online store. Use of a new service that allows customers to access NexTrip information by text message has grown exponentially since being introduced last June.

There are advantages for our operations, too. Cash-paying customers take more time at the farebox when boarding and face longer lines when buying tickets after large events. Customers who use mobile tickets will board just as efficiently as those using Go-To Cards.

While there are several clear advantages, the number of customers expected to use mobile tickets is likely to be small – we hope they will account for around 5 percent of all fare payments within the next year.

But getting customers to purchase their fares through the app on a regular basis isn’t really our goal. Instead, we want the app and mobile ticketing to move transit up on the list of options people consider when making a trip, eventually earning their trust so Go-To Cards become just as indispensable as their smartphones.

Learn More

Learn how to download the app, create an account and purchase mobile tickets at metrotransit.org/app 

Bus Light Rail

Good Question: How are buses and trains cleaned? 

| Tuesday, October 25, 2016 2:42:00 PM

With thousands of passengers boarding each day, keeping buses and trains clean isn't easy.

In fact, Metro Transit has nearly 100 employees who devote all or part of their time to sweeping, mopping, scrubbing and otherwise tidying up the fleet of nearly 1,000 buses and 86 light-rail vehicles. Here's a brief look at how they manage the task.


Bus

When buses are pulled back into the garage after being in service, they are parked and stored until their next pull-out.

Because fewer buses are on the street overnight, Cleaners spend the late night and early morning hours going through each vehicle to sweep the floors and remove litter. Helpers also re-fuel the buses and put them through a high-pressure bus wash overnight. If a bus has been vandalized or has other visible damage, it will also addressed or set aside for future repair.

Buses are scheduled for more extensive cleanings at least every 45 days. During these cleanings, the ceilings, windows, window ledges, walls and floors are wiped down with a variety of cleaning agents, such as degreaser, dish soap and hot water. Upholstered seat bottoms and backs are cleaned with a carpet extractor, and damaged seats are replaced. Magic Erasers, deodorizer and putty knifes are also among the most frequently-used tools. While most of the attention is on the inside of the bus, Cleaners also wipe down the wheels and the front and back of the bus.

In most cases, it takes around three hours to clean a bus from start to finish.

Cleaner Ralph Mason has spent more than 25 years on the job. “I love my job to tell you the truth,” Mason said from Nicollet Garage. “I take pride in putting out a good product and being a part of a system that keeps the cities going.”


Light rail

Like buses, trains are swept and cleaned nightly. Helpers also pull the train through a high-pressure wash, refill windshield wiper fluid, make sure the boxes that hold sand are full (sand is released as needed to help with traction) and get trains in position for their next pull-out. Helpers also clean or replace seat bottoms and backs as necessary.

Trains are thoroughly cleaned at 6,000-mile intervals, or at least once a month. Like their peers in Bus Maintenance, Helpers wipe-down the ceiling, windows, posts and handles. A Kaivac floor cleaner is also used to get dirt, sand and other material off of the floor, a particularly important job during the winter months.

It can take a single Cleaner up to eight hours to completely clean a train.

While most of the cleaning is done while trains are in storage, Helpers sometimes pick up trash while trains are stationed at Target Field or Union Depot between trips. 

Wearing calf-high rubber boots, Helper Jim Johnson said he enjoyed the work and the satisfaction of keeping the fleet in top condition. “The more you keep the trains clean, the cleaner they stay,” he said.  


Help keep buses and trains clean

Customers play an important role in keeping buses, trains and boarding areas clean. Remember, Metro Transit’s Code of Conduct prohibits customers from eating on board; drinks with a sealed lid are acceptable. To report a spill or excessive litter, call Customer Relations at 612-373-3333. 

 
Fares In the News

Wilken recognized with Distinguished Career Award 

| Wednesday, October 19, 2016 3:11:00 PM

Revenue Operations Supervisor Bill Wilken was recognized this week with the Minnesota Public Transportation Association’s Distinguished Career Award.Revenue Operations Supervisor Bill Wilken has seen quite a few changes since he began his career cleaning buses more than 40 years ago.

Many of them were of his own making, too.

After transferring to Sales Operations in the early 1980s, Wilken led the opening of the original Minneapolis and St. Paul service centers, the conversion to electronic fare payments, set up the Metropass program and launched Metro Transit’s original online store. 

He has also helped simplify fare products, expand Metro Transit’s retail outlets, introduce Go-To Cards and shepherd multiple fare increases (regular adult fares were just 30 cents when Wilken’s career began; today, adult fares start at $1.75).

For his efforts, Wilken was recognized this week with the Minnesota Public Transportation Association’s Distinguished Career Award. The award was presented at MPTA’s annual conference in Rochester.

“As much as I appreciate this award and as grateful I am for it, the greatest reward I have is the thank you I get from customers that we serve,” Wilken said in accepting his award.

Nick Eull, senior manager of Revenue Collections, nominated Wilken for the award. It’s not only Wilken’s effectiveness as a change agent that makes his career stand out, he said.

“Through all of this change and advancement of technology, Bill’s mission has always been the same – make it easy to pay the bus, and later train, fare, and treat those funds with respect,” Eull said. “From that goal he’s never wavered.”

Wilken said he’s been fortunate to work alongside many talented individuals. Beyond having a strong team, he said he’s found success by committing to process improvement, understanding what customers want and having clear goals.

“When I started, most fares were paid in coin,” Wilken said. “Today, we offer a whole host of prepaid transit fare programs. This evolution was achieved through the process of continual improvement with help from dozens of people.”  

More recently, Wilken has played a leading role in planning for and coordinating fare sales and crowd management at Target Field, U.S. Bank Stadium and TCF Bank Stadium.

Wilken lives in Chanhassen with his wife Marcia. Outside of his work, his hobbies include disc golf and flying. Wilken also ran a marathon at age 60 and has earned a red belt in Taekwondo.

The last Metro Transit employee to receive MPTA’s Distinguished Career Award was Maintenance Manager Silas Sharp, who retired earlier this year. Sharp was honored in 2013.

    > Awards and Recognition

Bus C Line Community

C Line plans being shaped by outreach 

| Friday, October 14, 2016 3:16:00 PM

Plans for the region’s second rapid bus line, the C Line, are being shaped by coordinated outreach and engagement efforts that invite residents to think about transit improvements as one of several community-building tools.

For the last several years, Hennepin County planners have worked closely with Metro Transit, the City of Minneapolis and local partners on the Penn Avenue Community Works project. 

The partnership was forged in part because Hennepin County plans to reconstruct Penn Avenue between Broadway and Lowry avenues and to repave portions of Penn, Lowry and Dowling avenues at the same time the C Line is under construction along Penn Avenue.

With full funding, C Line construction will begin in 2018. The C Line will be the region’s second rapid bus line, with service between downtown Minneapolis and the Brooklyn Center Transit Center.

Planned light rail extensions will also bring new transit investments to the Penn Avenue corridor.

Beyond these investments, Penn Avenue Community Works is looking at street lighting, green space, transit-oriented development and other improvements that could help make the Penn Avenue corridor more attractive and stimulate economic development.

Engagement efforts occurring this month bring attention to the C Line, which will provide faster and more frequent bus service to customers currently served by Route 19. The customer experience will also be improved through enhanced stations, off-board fare payment and specially-designed buses.

The Council approved station locations in April and will take up a recommendation to align C Line construction and operations with the planned Blue Line Extension later this year.

Scheduled to open in 2021, the Blue Line Extension will bring light rail from Target Field to Brooklyn Center, including two stations on Olson Memorial Highway (Penn Avenue and Van White Memorial Boulevard).

The C Line is scheduled to open on the same stretch of Olson Memorial Highway in early 2019.

Metro Transit is recommending that three temporary C Line stops on Olson Memorial Highway be built and later replaced by permanent shelters on a nearby section of Glenwood Avenue, now served by Route 9, after the Blue Line Extension opens.

Moving the stops to Glenwood Avenue would have no impact on travel time. But the switch would spread the transit investment and could help attract more riders in the future.

The recommendation will be presented for feedback at an open house at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Harrison Education Center. Staff is also sharing information with neighborhood groups and directly with customers through bus stop and on-board outreach.

    > Learn more about the C Line

    > Penn Avenue Community Works

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