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Bus Fares Good Question

Good Question: Why offer transfers? 

| Thursday, October 17, 2013 9:15:00 AM

This week’s Good Question comes from Andrew Balfour, who emailed to ask: “Why are transfers allowed? Why not just have payment required for each trip and a lower per-trip cost instead?”

Metro Transit operates nearly 130 routes in 90 metro-area cities. Because one-seat rides can’t be efficiently delivered to all customers across this broad territory, buses run on a grid system that allows customers to easily combine routes to reach their final destination. Transit Centers where multiple routes converge serve as key transfer points in this system.

Transfers offer several distinct advantages to customers and transit providers.

For customers, using transfers to travel two or more routes is more cost-effective and simpler than paying separate fares at each boarding. For Metro Transit and other regional transit providers that use the same fare system, transfers simplify fare collection and speed boarding which adds up to more service hours.

Asking customers to pay for each trip would not only eliminate these advantages, but would lead to a more complicated route structure and less efficient service.

With a transfer, customers get unlimited rides at the same fare level, in any direction, within 2½ hours of the original fare. Roughly one-third of Metro Transit bus customers use transfers during their trips. In a 2012 customer survey, 40 percent of METRO Blue Line customers reported transferring to a bus before or after riding a train. The same survey found that 25 percent of Northstar customers transferred to light rail and that 21 percent transferred to a bus. 

Combining routes and switching between buses and trains is especially easy for those with Go-To Cards, the most popular form of paying fares, or who use a Metropass or U-Pass. These "smart" fare cards automatically store transfers and can be used to conveniently pay the difference when transferring to a service with a higher fare, such as a Northstar commuter train or rush-hour express bus.

Customers who pay their fare in cash simply ask the driver for a paper transfer; paper tickets dispensed by rail ticket machines work in the same way. In the past, paper transfer slips were manually torn by operators in a “transfer cutter." Today, a magnetic stripe automatically records the expiration time and can be used when boarding another bus or as a proof of payment on the Blue Line, Red Line or Northstar. 

Metro Transit’s use of transfers is not unique. Most U.S. transit agencies offer them. Those that don’t typically sell day passes that provide unlimited rides for up to 24 hours (Metro Transit offers passes that are good for unlimited rides in 7-day and 31-day increments).

Free transfers were offered by Twin City Lines beginning in 1890, around the advent of the electric trolley network. The transfers were only free to a point, however. Customers traveling between Minneapolis and St. Paul faced a double fare and trips to the suburbs cost a dime or more extra. The transfers were good for an hour and could only be used to continue a trip in the same direction.

Return trips could not be made with a transfer until 1998, when the transfer window was extended to 2½ hours and the magnetic stripe fare collection equipment was implemented. The changes allow those customers with longer trips more time to reach their final destination. Customers making a round-trip also have a greater ability to return on the same fare. 

Note: If a transfer expires while riding a Pay Exit bus, when fares are collected at the end of a trip, customers will be asked to pay the full fare. Transfers are not provided in Downtown Zones, where fares are 50¢ per ride. 

> Transfers: Ride all you want for 2½ hours

> Paying for your ride

> Fares & Passes

> The proof is in the payment

> Transit Centers

Have a “Good Question” that you want answered? Email it to goodquestion@metrotransit.org.

A Line BRT Bus METRO Blue Line Route of the Week St. Paul

Route 74: Easy riding from East to West 

| Friday, October 11, 2013 2:15:00 PM

After working 10-hour, overnight shifts at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the last thing Donna Cooley wants to do is get in her car and deal with traffic. So she takes the Route 74 bus instead.

“It’s just so much easier to let someone else do the driving and ride home after working all night,” Cooley said as she rode from downtown St. Paul to her home on the city’s east side.

Cooley, a nursing assistant, was one of the few homeward bound passengers on a recent early-morning Route 74 trip. But she was far from the only commuter on board.

Traveling east from the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station, Route 74 filled with office-bound customers as it traveled through Highland Park, down Randolph Avenue and up West 7th Street towards downtown St. Paul. After emptying out some 16 miles later at Sun Ray Transit Center, the pattern occurred in reverse as the bus returned from northeast St. Paul along East 7th Street, passing Metro State University, residences and small businesses.

Chris Kimber, of Minneapolis, was among those who boarded at 46th Street shortly after 7 a.m. A south Minneapolis resident, Kimber said she rides her bike seven blocks to 46th Street Station where she catches Route 74. On nice days, she skips the bus ride home and bikes.

“It’s the perfect combination because I get some extra reading time on the way in and some fresh air on the way home,” said Kimber, who also counted the environmental benefits as a key motivation for her use of the bus.

Kimber isn’t the only Route 74 customer with a multimodal commute, either.

Wendi Ward lives above her store, Practical Goods at Snelling and Randolph avenues, and has been without a car for the last decade. In addition to using Route 74, she utilizes HOURCAR’s located at 46th Street Station and nearby Macalaster College.

“I’ve saved a lot of money but there are lots of other benefits,” Ward said as she traveled to a rummage sale. “I live along a snow emergency route and I’ve never once had to shovel my car out of the snow.”

Such advantages are proving an attractive draw along the Route 74 corridor, much of which was once served by streetcars. Nearly 1.6 million customers boarded Route 74 buses last year, up slightly from 2011.

With ridership expected to continue growing, plans are in the works to bring improved transit service to at least two areas now served by Route 74.

The planned A Line would bring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) amenities to Ford Parkway from 46th Street Station to Snelling Avenue, where it would continue north to Rosedale Center. The proposed B Line would bring BRT to West 7th Street and an extension of the system to East 7th Street is also under consideration.

The BRT corridors would see improved frequency and time-saving technologies like pre-paid fares, traffic signal priority and dual-entrance buses.

Created through a route consolidation in 2001, Route 74 would continue to provide local service even if BRT were implemented. The limited-stop Route 54 that travels along West 7th Street to the airport would be replaced by the B Line, however.

In addition to improving service, the enhancements could support growth in Highland Park, where the Ford Plant is being demolished in anticipation of new mixed-use development, and along West 7th Street, where the old Schmidt Brewery is being revived as artist housing. On St. Paul’s east side, the St. Paul Port Authority is leading the creation of a new business campus at the 61-acre Beacon Bluff area, previously occupied by 3M.

Route 74 customer Kate Severin said she’s interested in the BRT idea but has no qualms about spending a little extra time on the bus. Retired, she has been without a car for nearly two decades simply enjoys the ride.

“I’m a single old lady – I don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time,” she said.

Route 74 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

ServiceRoute 74 buses travel between the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station and St. Paul’s east side, largely along Randolph Avenue, West 7th and East 7th streets. From the west, buses cross the Mississippi River on Ford Parkway and travel through Highland Village past St. Catherine’s University to West 7th Street and downtown St. Paul. Buses then traverse East 7th Street to St. Paul’s East Side, passing Metro State University, homes and businesses. The longest branches include the 74G, with service to the residential area around Beaver Lake. Routes 74S and 74C go approximately 16 miles end-to-end with service to Sun Ray Transit Center in Maplewood. Buses operate between 4 a.m. and 1 a.m. with service every 15 minutes during rush hour and every 20 minutes midday. Reduced fares are offered in St. Paul's Downtown Zone.

Route length: 15-16 miles

Stops: 128 eastbound, 130 westbound

Vehicles: 40-foot standard

Ridership: Nearly 1.6 million customer boardings in 2012, with an average of more than 4,270 passengers per day.

History: A streetcar line was built in phases along Randolph Avenue to the old Fort Plant between 1890 and 1924. Buses replaced streetcars in 1952. A cable car line, later replaced with an electric streetcar, also ran along East 7th Street until 1952. Route 74 was created in 2001 following a route consolidation.

Future: Bus Rapid Transit is planned for segments of the Route 74 corridor. The A Line, scheduled to open in late 2015, would bring BRT between the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station and Snelling Avenue, where it would continue north to Rosedale Center. The planned B Line, scheduled to open in late 2016, would bring BRT to West 7th Street between the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and downtown St. Paul. The B Line could be extended along East 7th Street as far east as Maplewood Mall, though limited-stop service may come as an interim improvement. Route 74 would continue to provide local service, augmenting the more frequent but limited-stop BRT systems. Route 54, the existing limited-stop service, would be eliminated in favor of BRT.

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety

Keeping a careful eye on the METRO Blue Line 

| Friday, October 11, 2013 10:00:00 AM

Shortly after 9 a.m. on a recent Monday morning, Shawn Jensen and two other rail maintainers got off a light-rail train at the METRO Blue Line’s Target Field Station and began slowly walking south.

Stepping down the line through downtown Minneapolis, the neon-vested trio looked up, down and around the track looking for anything out of the ordinary.

After nearly three hours of methodic walking and observing, the three-man crew had made their way four miles south to 38th Street Station. Another group would later complete the trek, walking from 38th Street to Mall of America Station in Bloomington. 

The goal: notice any changes or anomalies and address the issue quickly as a form of preventative maintenance.

“We’re looking for track structure issues – of course a broken rail or broken rail fasteners,” Jensen, a first shift foreman, said before setting out. “And Interlockings –where there are switches – that’s a real touchy are where that have to spend a little extra time inspecting.”

Besides checking the condition of rails and the fasteners that hold them to the ground, maintainers look for debris in the tracks, slight changes in track alignment and check lubricator boxes to ensure they’re working properly. With turnouts that allow trains to switch sides of the track, maintainers look to make sure the switch points are perfectly flush to the stock rail so light-rail vehicle wheels don’t "pick the point" -- an industry way of saying get caught.  

Maintainers also keep an eye on the Blue Line's aesthetics, picking up trash and noting places where graffiti and overgrown vegetation needs to be removed as they move up-and-down the line.

Such up-close inspections – called “track walking” by those who do it – are not unusual. In fact, maintainers like Jensen walk the entire length of the 11-mile METRO Blue Line twice a week. The same inspections will happen on the METRO Green Line after it opens next year.

Pausing only for heavy snow or rain when visual inspections are conducted from the train’s cab, the federally-mandated walking inspections occur on a year round basis. A group of 13 maintainers and foreman, many with backgrounds in the freight rail industry, perform the walking inspections. All are based at Metro Transit's Light Rail Support Facility.

Rail tracks also go through an ultrasonic inspection every year using a machine that digitally detects internal defects that can't be spotted with the naked eye. Light-rail operators routinely report their observations about track conditions as well.

Even so, track maintenance staff says there’s no replacement for the kind of routine, detailed inspections that come from the weekly walks.

“This gets us very close to it (the rail),” said Charles “Chuck” Anderson, Metro Transit's manager of track maintenance. “There’s just so much you’re trying to observe -- this allows us to really focus.”

Manually performing the inspections is also less obtrusive because trains continue to operate in service while they occur. With three people assigned to the job, a designated lookout watches for trains and makes sure walkers are safely out of the way as the trains pass.

Minor issues that are identified can be remedied in less than a day while other observations lead to longer-term fixes that unfold over time.  

Such diligence has paid off, too. Since the Blue Line opened a decade ago, there have been no performance issues attributed to poor maintenance -- something Jensen says he keeps in mind on his long walks.

“I like doing this because it's good exercise but really we're here to make sure the line is in top condition for the safety of the people who are riding the system,” he said.

In the News Links of Interest

Millennials trending towards transit, technology 

| Friday, October 04, 2013 12:18:00 PM

Millenials are using transit as a way to extend their workday, connect with their community and save money.

Young Americans are turning to transit as a way to save money, connect with their communities, expand their workdays and reduce their environmental impact.

Those are among the takeaways from a pair of new reports out this week from the American Public Transportation Association and the Public Interest Research Group. Taken together, the reports add new insights on why young people -- so-called Millennials born between 1982 and 2003 -- are giving up driving in favor of transit, as well as carsharing, walking and bicycling.  

In the APTA study, nearly half of respondents said they used public transit in order to save money. Convenience and interest in the environment were cited as other strong motivations. APTA's survey also found that nearly half of respondents who used transit said doing so allowed them to feel more connected to their community and gave them more opportunities to socialize online, avoiding the dangers of texting and driving. 

The survey results are based on more than 1,000 online responses from 22- to 34-year-olds in six U.S. cities. The Twin Cities were not included in the study. 

Meanwhile, the PIRG report tied the growing interest in transit use to a spike in the use of technology. The report suggests that the proliferation of mobile apps with transit information has helped eliminate barriers to taking transit and allowed people to "adopt a 'car-free' or 'car-light' lifestyles that dramatically reduce driving."

PIRG reports that, nationally, Americans 16 to 34 years old drove 23 percent less in 2009 than they did in 2001. In Minnesota, the annual per-person vehicle miles traveled fell more than 4 percent between 2005 and 2011, according to PIRG. 

A recent Travel Behavior Inventory survey released by the Metropolitan Council found metro residents took fewer overall trips between 2000 and 2010 while the average number of vehicles and licenses per household has also decreased. Transit, carpooling, biking and walking all increased in the region over the last decade, however.

> USA Today: Young people driving less, embrace other transportation

> APTA: Millennials & Mobility: Understanding the Millennial mindest

> U.S. PIRG: A New Way To Go

> NPR: Millennials and The Changing Car Culture

> Star Tribune: Driving is down, transit use up in metro area

> MinnPost: Despite population growth, car use declining in the Twin Cities

> Wi-Fi access on select Northstar cars

> Apps put transit in the palm of your hand

Bus Express Bus Light Rail Rider Information Transit Planning

Trip Planner sets new record 

| Thursday, October 03, 2013 3:21:00 PM

Image of the Metro Transit Trip Planner Web tool.

Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner is more popular than ever.

The online tool helped customers plan a record 657,458 trips last month, beating the previous record of 656,017 planned trips set in September 2011.

Available at metrotransit.org and metrotransit.org/mobile, Trip Planner allows users to find individualized route and schedule information by entering start and end points as well as the time they want to travel. The service also displays an estimated travel time and calculates the amount of carbon emissions saved by taking transit.

Transit Information Manager John Howley said September is always a popular month as students return to class. But use of the service has grown steadily since it was launched in 2000.   

“The trend has been upward pretty much ever since it hit the ground running,” he said. “It’s been our fastest growing source of information all the way along and has been just wildly popular.”

Year-to-date there have been around 5.3 million trips planned using Trip Planner. Howley said he expects to see the Trip Planner used more than 7 million times this year, beating last year’s total of 6.5 million.

Customers can get additional transit information by using the Personal Bus Schedule feature and through NexTrip, accessed about 150,000 times daily. Representatives at the Transit Information Center and third-party apps built based on publicly-shared Metro Transit data are also available

Frequent transit users can store trip plans, access Go-To Card balances and compile other personalized information by creating an account at My Metro Transit.

Metro Transit's online growth is not constrained to route planning, either. The metrotransit.org website saw 901,839 visits in September – a new record. Year to date, there have been more than 7.5 million visits to the website. Metro Transit’s Facebook page also surpassed 20,000 fans last month.

> Trip Planner

> Trending Towards Transit

> Star Tribune: Trip Planner program helps Metro Transit's website traffic soar

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