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Bus Know Your Operator Minneapolis

Know Your Operator: Darin Pavek 

| Tuesday, December 03, 2013 12:00:00 PM

When Darin Pavek’s father suggested he follow his lead and become a bus driver for Metro Transit, he didn’t think much of the idea.             

“I thought, ‘Why would you want to drive around with 40 back seat drivers when you don’t know where you’re going?’” he recalled. “The idea gave me butterflies.”

With the prospect of a full-time job, Pavek overcame his reservations and began working at Metro Transit on Oct. 12, 1992. More than 20 years later, he has come to look at the job a lot differently than he used to.

After getting to know many regular commuters, Pavek said he now likes to think of his job as taking his friends to work every morning.

“I may not have their phone numbers, but other than that it’s really not all that different,” he said, echoing a comment he made in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio earlier this year.

The familiarity comes in partially because Pavek has spent more than a decade driving the Route 5 bus between Brooklyn Canter and Bloomington. As a “Night Owl” operator, Pavek is on the road between 1 a.m. and 9 a.m. weekdays – an early morning shift that got him recognized in a KARE-11 news segment about people at work during the early hours.

Among the early-morning customers who have built a relationship with Pavek is Steve Murphy, managing editor at WCCO Radio News, who takes Route 5 from south Minneapolis to his job downtown. In November, Murphy was robbed on the street, arriving at the bus bloodied and bruised. Recalling the incident, Murphy said Pavek’s reaction was characteristic of his caring personality: 

"[The assault] didn’t happen anywhere near a bus or a bus stop. But I was able to make it to my “safe haven” bus after being attacked and Darin insisted I get off at HCMC – no excuses – and he was right," Murphy said. "…Darin’s great with riders – compassionate but professional – and I think it sets the right tone for a middle of the night urban route.“

Though he could choose a route with more daylight, Pavek said he has come to like working overnights because the streets are more serene. When he began as a part-time operator at Metro Transit, Pavek found himself battling freeway traffic between Minneapolis and Maple Grove.

“Initially I picked the overnight route so I could have my weekends, but after a while I actually started to like it,” Pavek said. “I like driving around with no traffic and without as many people on the bus – it’s a lot more relaxing.”

Though it may be quiet, Pavek still has plenty of memorable stories from his experience and says he’s seen enough that “nothing really surprises me.” One of his more vivid memories: driving down Fremont Avenue the morning after a tornado struck north Minneapolis in 2011.

“All of those people were so happy to see me because there weren’t any other buses coming through,” he said.

While that was a unique circumstance, the experience isn’t unlike what Pavek sees every day while out on his route. Whether they are at the beginning or end of their days, Pavek said customers are always happy to see him approach.

“That’s one of the parts I enjoy the most – picking up people and seeing the smiles on their faces when they see you coming every day,” he said.

Operator at a Glance

Name: Darin Pavek

Hired: Oct. 12, 1992

Employee Number: 6236

Routes: Pavek began his career at Metro Transit driving express routes to Maple Grove. Later, he became an “extra board driver,” picking up a variety of routes as needed. He moved to the Route 5 “Night Owl” ten years ago.

Favorite memories: Pavek said he’s enjoyed watching children grow up on the bus and getting to know many of his longtime customers. He remembers one customer in particular who rode often and brought him homemade candy every Christmas.

Awards: 20-year safe operator, 2012 and 2013 Bus Roadeo finalist

Hobbies: Outside of work, Pavek like to play the guitar, fly model airplanes and spend time with his Golden Retriever.

To better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these profiles of train and bus operators. If you'd like to suggest an operator for a future profile, please email


Bus Know Your Operator St. Paul

Know Your Operator: Shenghai Ly 

| Friday, November 29, 2013 9:00:00 AM

When Shenghai Ly was growing up on a farm in Laos, she dreamed of becoming a airline pilot.

The growth spurt she needed never came.

Although her height kept her out of the cockpit, Ly didn’t give up her goal of operating a large vehicle. After moving to Santa Ana, Calif. in 1980, Ly began using transit to visit family and run errands. Her attention soon turned to ground transportation.

After graduating high school, she obtained her Commercial Drivers License and got behind the wheel of a bus. She moved to St. Paul in 1997 and, following a few other jobs, started as a part-time operator for Metro Transit in 2001.

After more than a decade on the road, Ly has driven express buses across the metro and worked several local routes, including the 5, 14, 16, 19 and 22. For a short time in 2006, she even took a turn driving trains on the METRO Blue Line but found she missed the customer interactions.

Now based at East Metro Garage, Ly drives Route 64 between downtown St. Paul and Maplewood Mall Transit Center and Park & Ride.

Ly has had little difficulty maneuvering 40-foot, 31,000-pound buses full of customers. In fact, Ly prides herself on her ability to navigate St. Paul’s hilly landscape even when snow and ice make doing so difficult. Over her 12-year career, Ly said she remembers getting stuck in the snow just once.

“You can’t go too slow or too fast,” she said of her winter driving technique. “When that doesn’t work, I just pray to God to help me get up the road.”

While driving a bus wasn’t her first ambition, Ly has found her career at Metro Transit to be amply rewarding. In the air or on the ground, she said, it’s doing what is needed to get customers where they need to go safely.

“The biggest thing is safety,” she said. “The schedule can be very tight but you just can’t rush yourself.”

Ly’s resolve on the job reflects her own personal history. After moving to the United States, Ly entered high school needing to learn English and acclimate to her new surroundings. As a mother of 11 and grandmother of 11, she has sacrificed for her family so that they may succeed in life.

Today, Ly has developed a new ambition: to share her confidence and skills with new operators who are just beginning to drive. Her best piece of advice, she said, is to be professional even in the face of challenging situations.

“It’s all about having the right attitude,” she said.

Operator at a Glance

Name: Shenghai Ly

Hired: Oct. 8, 2001

Routes: Ly began her career as an “extra board” driver, picking up multiple routes as needed. Ly has driven express buses and several inter-city routes, including the 5, 14, 16, 19 and 22. Today, she drives Route 64.

Hobbies: On weekends, Ly hunts squirrel, deer and other animals. She also likes to travel.                               

To better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these profiles of train and bus operators. If you'd like to suggest an operator for a future profile, please email

In the News Light Rail METRO Blue Line On the METRO

METRO Blue Line welcomes visitors, boosts revenue 

| Wednesday, November 27, 2013 11:46:00 AM

Visitors who arrive at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are instantly connected to downtown Minneapolis, the Mall of America and numerous hotels thanks to the METRO Blue Line. When the METRO Green Line opens next year, travelers will also be able to reach the University of Minnesota and St. Paul via light rail.

Such convenience is good for business.

A new study by the American Public Transportation Association and U.S. Travel Association found that “rail cities” where airports are served by rail lines regularly outperform those without such a link when it comes to hotel revenue and occupancy rates.

Since 2006, researchers found that hotels in “rail cities” generated 11 percent more revenue per room compared to those without rail. Hotels within a quarter-mile of a station area did even better, showing 12 percent higher occupancy rates and 49 percent higher average daily room rates.

The study drew on data from Minneapolis and five other cities with airport-rail connections (the trip from Terminal 1-Lindbergh station to downtown Minneapolis takes about 20 minutes). The numbers were compared with popular destinations without a direct rail connection, including Las Vegas and New Orleans. 

“Clearly investment in local rail systems not only benefits residents, but drives significant economic growth in the travel and hospitality industries,” APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said in a statement.

Kristen Montag, the communications manager for Meet Minneapolis, said the Blue Line is a strong selling point for meeting and event planners because it reduces transportation costs and provides visitors flexibility.

It also fits with the Twin Cities’ reputation as an active, vibrant community where biking, walking and taking transit allows people to get around car-free.

“People can get off the plane at the airport and take the train, walk around, use the [free] bus on Nicollet Mall, rent a bike or pretty much do anything without having to rent a car,” she said.  “That certainly makes this an attractive destination.”

The METRO Blue Line's two airport terminal stations are among the busiest of the 19 on the light rail line. In 2012, there were nearly 3 million Blue Line boardings at the Blue Line’s Terminal 1-Lindbergh and Terminal 2-Humphrey stations, representing about 18 percent of total boardings.

"The local business and hospitality industries have underscored how important the Blue Line's airport connection is to major commerce areas in the metro," Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb said. "For travelers, this stress-free connection is a great introduction to what we have to offer in the Twin Cities."

    > APTA: Cities with Rail-to-Airport Connection Boost Hotel Revenue

    > Airport Transit Service

Bus Express Bus Good Question Suburban Transit

Good Question: Why don't operators always use bus-only shoulders? 

| Tuesday, November 26, 2013 5:00:00 PM

This week’s Good Question comes in response to customers who frequently ask why bus operators sometimes choose not to use bus-only shoulders to avoid traffic.

Customers who rely on Metro Transit enjoy several advantages – avoiding gas and parking costs, reducing their environmental impact and the ability to sit back and relax while a professional does the driving.

Another benefit to those taking a bus on busy highways and interstates: avoiding traffic (Twin Cities commuters spend more than 21 percent of their time in congestion, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation's latest Congestion Report).

Metro Transit’s buses use MnPASS Express Lanes on I-35W and I-394 to avoid congestion coming into and out of downtown Minneapolis, a benefit that will soon extend to I-35E north of downtown St. Paul. More than half of Metro Transit’s routes also have access to 300-plus miles of bus-only shoulders that can be used during periods of heavy congestion. These bus-only shoulders don’t look visually different from other shoulders but are specially built to accommodate the extra weight and width of a bus.

With more than three times the number of miles than all other metro areas combined, the Twin Cities is a leader in the use of bus-only shoulders. The model is being replicated in other parts of the country, such as North Carolina. While a cost-effective way for buses to avoid traffic, there are certain conditions under which operators may chose not to use the shoulder. Operators consider the following factors when deciding whether to use a bus-only shoulder:

  • > Road conditions. Sinking drain covers, potholes or other road defects can interrupt the use of bus-only shoulders.
  • > Weather. Heavy snow, slush and ice must be adequately cleared to allow for safe use of a bus-only shoulder.
  • > Obstructions. Road debris, stalled motorists and construction vehicles are unavoidable obstacles that prevent the use of bus-only shoulders.
  • > Traffic. Bus-only shoulders may only be used when traffic has slowed to less than 35 miles per hour (the max speed is 15 miles per hour greater than traffic, with a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour).
  • > Other vehicles. Extra-wide vehicles in mixed-traffic can prevent the use of bus-only shoulders because of clearance issues. Emergency vehicles also take priority on shoulders.

Bus operators are specially-certified before driving to routes with bus-only shoulders. And while many operators elect to use the shoulders, the decision to use them is entirely up to the driver based on conditions and their professional judgment.

Ultimately, safety comes before speed. Metro Transit operators have a proven record of knowing when and how to use bus-only shoulders. Since the use of bus-only shoulders began in 1991 there have been no major responsible accidents.

    > Transit Advantages

    > Good Question

Have a “Good Question” that you want answered? Email it to

Go Green Light Rail

Sunshine harnessed for electricity at LRT facility 

| Tuesday, November 26, 2013 3:30:00 PM

Metro Transit is getting a little greener (again).

This month, a new 40-kilowatt solar array will come online at the Light Rail Support Facility, located east of the METRO Blue Line on Franklin Avenue. The facility serves as a base for all Metro Transit staff responsible for maintenance within the light rail right of way.

The new rooftop array includes 150 solar panels tilted to the south to capture sunlight. The panels are expected to replace up to 12 percent of the energy used at the facility, reducing energy costs by as much as $4,000 a year.

The $130,000 project was supported in part by Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, which provided $58,000 through its Solar Rewards program. The arrays were installed by Hudson, Wis.-based Energy Concepts.

This is the first time Metro Transit has installed a rooftop array atop one of its buildings but similar projects could be coming in the future at other facilities. Metro Transit’s engineering staff is beginning to explore options at seven other sites, including bus garages, where rooftop solar arrays could be installed.

Solar panels are also part of a new 1,000-space Park & Ride at Highway 610 and Noble Parkway now under construction. When completed next spring, the Park & Ride will feature LED lighting, a geothermal heating and cooling system and charging stations for electric vehicles. Smaller solar panels have also been used to power lighting at nearly a dozen bus shelters in south Minneapolis, an effort that will extend next year to north Minneapolis.

Metro Transit is aiming to cut in half the amount of energy it purchases by 2020 and has a goal of installing 500 kWh of renewable energy generation by the end of 2020.

> Solar power lighting Metro Transit buildings, shelters

> Go Greener with Metro Transit

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