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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

In the News Know Your Operator

Taylor named Minnesota Bus Operator of the Year 

| Friday, October 18, 2013 12:35:00 PM

Two longtime Metro Transit employees were honored with awards from the Minnesota Public Transportation Association this week.

Tony Taylor, a 34-year Safe Operator based at Heywood Garage, was named the Minnesota Bus Operator of the Year, which recognizes operators for safety, customer service and leadership. Silas Sharp, who celebrates 50 years of service at Metro Transit in November, received the 2013 Distinguished Career Award, given to individuals who have significantly improved public transit in Minnesota.

Taylor and Sharp received their awards Monday at the 2013 Minnesota Public Transit Conference in St. Cloud.
 
Taylor joined Metro Transit in December 1978 and has worked at four different bus garages – Martin J. Ruter, East MetroNicollet and Heywood. As an “on call" operator, Taylor estimates he has logged more than 700,000 miles on more than 200 different routes.
 
"When you start out, you never imagine you're going to be here this long, but you just take it minute-by-minute, day-by-day" Taylor, 64, said after receiving the award.
 
Now approaching the end of his career, Taylor said receiving the award was a fulfilling moment that affirmed his years of service and the positive approach he takes when behind the wheel. "99 percent of the job is just keeping a good attitude," he said. "If you can't do that, it's out the door."
 
Sharp joined Metro Transit in 1963 and was originally based at the North Side Garage. After spending time at Snelling Garage and Overhaul Base he moved to Nicollet Garage, where he remains today.

In addition to the individual awards, Metro Transit shared a Management Innovation Award for the launch of the METRO Red Line - the state's first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line - with the Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority and Dakota County.

Past Metro Transit MPTA award winners include Jan Homan (Transit Professional of the Year, 2012), Bob Gibbons (Distinguished Career, 2011) and Sam Jacobs (Distinguished Career, 2009). 

Metro Transit extends its congratulations to Tony, Sy and all of this year's MPTA award winners. 

> Know Your Operator: Tony Taylor

> Met Council: METRO Red Line honored for excellence, innovation

> METRO Red Line

> A unique career: 50 years in transit

> Star Tribune: Metro Transit worker is first to 50 years of service

Minneapolis Route of the Week

Route 14: Robbinsdale to Richfield on Broadway, Bloomington 

| Friday, October 18, 2013 10:00:00 AM

Jeff Odegard estimates it would take a half hour for him to drive from his Golden Valley home to the Gibbs Museum in Falcon Heights, where he works as an historic site interpreter.

Instead, Odegard boards a Route 14 bus to downtown Minneapolis where he transfers to Route 61 and continues east to the museum.

Though it takes a little longer then driving, Odegard uses the extra time to study work material, read or simply relax. He also appreciates saving money on gas and car repairs. Because he rides so frequently, Odegard purchases an unlimited ride 31-Day Pass on his Go-To Card. The pass, $85 a month, covers fares on local buses and the METRO Blue Line and can be used to cover $2.25 of higher fares on rush-hour express buses and the Northstar Commuter Rail line.

“I’ve always had a car but I don’t really enjoy driving,” Odegard said recently while riding Route 14. “Whenever it makes the most sense, I take the bus.”

Odegard is one of thousands of customers who have made Route 14 a fixture of their commute, either. Last year, there were nearly 2 million customer boardings on Route 14, which serves Robbinsdale, Crystal, Golden Valley, Minneapolis and Richfield.

As the bus filled during a recent trip, work-bound customers said they looked to Route 14 largely because it was simply less complicated than driving.

“This is just so much easier,” said Heidi Renchin, who lives in Golden Valley and works downtown. “It picks me up right in front of my house and lets me off right in front of work. There’s a major convenience factor.”

Renchin, who also uses the bus to reach the METRO Blue Line when traveling from the airport, was one of many people traveling downtown. But several seats remained filled as the bus continued south along Franklin, Bloomington and Chicago avenues to Richfield’s Cedar Point Commons, a 30-acre shopping center with more than 350,000 square feet of retail space. Route 14 buses began running south to 66th Street in Richfield in 2008 to better connect residents with jobs.

Annetta Momanyi is one of the workers to benefit from the extension. Momanyi boarded at 54th and Chicago, two blocks from her home, to get to her job at Home Depot.

Momanyi said she has been riding Route 14 every day since her car broke down this summer but that she expects to continue using the bus even after it gets repaired. “This is just so easy,” she said.

Thomas Monroe, of New Hope, traveled to Minneapolis on express Route 764, then used Route 14 to reach Project for Pride in Living’s headquarters on Franklin Avenue. Even including the transfer, he said taking the bus was easier and more relaxing than fighting freeway traffic.

“Now I just look out the window, enjoying the morning and drinking my coffee,” he said.

North of Minneapolis, Route 14 buses connect customers along West Broadway Avenue before traveling west to Golden Valley and north to Robbinsdale, where it stops at North Memorial Medical Center and the Robbinsdale Transit Center, a renovated police and fire station on Hubbard Avenue.

Rick Pearson, community development coordinator for Robbinsdale, said transit like Route 14 will be critical to the future redevelopment in the growing city of more than 14,000 residents. Fully developed, the city believes future growth will come from redevelopment and greater density.

“If this city is going to be denser, transit is going to be a part of that,” he said.

Transit is hardly new to Robbinsdale or the remaining Route 14 corridor, though.

The North Side Street Railway operated a streetcar line to downtown Robbinsdale from 1891 to 1948. A streetcar ran along Broadway Avenue, connecting north and northeast Minneapolis, between 1914 and 1950. Washington, Franklin and Bloomington avenues also saw streetcar service; a 1933 extension of the Bloomington Avenue streetcar line to 54th Avenue among the last streetcar lines to be put in. 

Future transit improvements along the Route 14 corridor will be studied beginning in early 2014. Metro Transit, the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County will look at enhanced bus and streetcar options on West Broadway Avenue.

Planning is also underway for the Bottineau Transitway, which could bring light rail service from downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park, with service to Golden Valley, Crystal and Robbinsdale.

Route 14 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

Service: Route 14 buses run between downtown Robbinsdale and Richfield’s Cedar Point Commons, just west of the intersection at 66th Street and Cedar Avenue. Branches on the north end of the line run along Douglas Drive, Noble Avenue, Golden Valley Road or Oakdale Avenue to West Broadway Avenue then south to downtown Minneapolis via Washington Avenue. South of Minneapolis, buses run along Franklin, Bloomington and Chicago avenues, with another branch that runs to Roosevelt High School and the METRO Blue Line’s 38th Street Station. Buses run between 4:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., with service every 10 to 20 minutes during rush hour and every 15 to 20 minutes midday. Evening and weekend service is approximately every half hour. Destinations along the corridor include North Memorial Medical Center, the Courage Center, Nicollet Mall, Roosevelt High School, Lake Nokomis and Cedar Point Commons.

Route length: Approximately 15 miles

Stops: 196 northbound, 191 southbound

Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses

Ridership: Nearly 2 million customer boardings in 2012, with an average of almost 5,307 passengers per day.

History: Streetcars ran on several sections of the existing Route 14 corridor, including Washington, Franklin and Bloomington avenues. A 1933 extension of the Bloomington Avenue streetcar line to 54th Avenue was among the last new streetcar lines to be put in.  North of downtown Minneapolis, a streetcar along Broadway Avenue connected north and northeast Minneapolis between 1914 and 1950. The streetcar line was extended west to Upton Avenue on Golden Valley Road in 1923. The North Side Street Railway operated a streetcar line to downtown Robbinsdale beginning in 1891. Electric streetcars were manufactured for Minneapolis and St. Paul in Robbinsdale until 1892.

Future: Metro Transit, the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County are partnering on a study to begin in early 2014 that will look at enhanced bus and streetcar options on West Broadway Avenue. The proposed Bottineau Transitway would also serve Golden Valley, Crystal and Robbinsdale.

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.

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