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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

Bus From the GM Rider Information

Service that sets the standard 

| Thursday, October 03, 2013 11:10:00 AM

Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb.

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

Customers boarded our buses, light-rail and commuter trains more than 81 million times last year. Despite the high volume of customers, we strive every day to ensure every person who uses our services has the best experience possible.               

Delivering on our promise of service excellence takes dedication and commitment from all members of the Metro Transit team – especially those who interact with customers on a regular basis.

During Customer Service Week (Oct. 7-11), we celebrate the bus and train operators, transit information experts, customer service representatives, customer advocates and Transit Store employees who serve as front-line ambassadors for our agency. But while we’re paying special attention to these employees over the coming week, we also know they play an invaluable role serving our customers year round.    

As the face of Metro Transit, operators have a particularly important role to play when it comes to putting our best foot forward. By being pleasant and helpful, they can do more than get customers where they need to go – they can make transit a bright spot in an otherwise hectic day (as one recent Route 5 customer said of their operator: “She just makes the morning right.”)                               

The response from customers shows operators are in large part delivering exemplary service. Over the last five years operators have received an average of 1,340 annual commendations – one for every 52,000 rides – and achieved an admirable 4:1 ratio of commendations to complaints. 

In a 2012 customer survey, nearly nine of ten riders rated our service as “good to excellent” and the number of customers who said they would recommend our service compared to such popular companies as Apple, Amazon and Jet Blue.   

Such praise is particularly impressive since an operator’s individual interactions are time-constrained. Operators must also balance individual needs against the demands of all customers aboard or waiting for the bus or train as well as others sharing the road.

Our operators have overcome these obstacles simply by doing their job well. One of the few factors under their control is the time they begin their routes. With more than 1,400 daily pull-outs, year-to-date on-time performance is nearly perfect. So far this year, there has been an average of three late pull-outs every day.

Outside of the bus and train, Transit Store employees, Transit Information Center representatives and Customer Relations are also playing a key supporting role.

TIC representatives have answered nearly 800,000 customer calls this year and expect to take another 400,000 more by the end of 2013. Customers who reach out to Metro Transit for personalized route and schedule information can expect friendly, reliable service in record time. With the use of new technology, calls now take less than two minutes to complete.

Such assistance can be invaluable for customers becoming acquainted with transit or trying to reach unfamiliar destinations. One customer who wrote earlier this year said they felt a TIC representative who helped them find their way to interviews in obscure locations “directly contributed” to their success. 

Our Customer Relations representatives are having an equally impressive impact. Through July, they have taken nearly 48,000 customer calls and responded to more than 5,100 email inquiries. They have also helped return nearly 300 bikes and more than 2,500 lost items.

Customer Advocates who play a key role introducing customers to Metro Transit have meanwhile presented to nearly 5,000 people this year.             

As our system grows and more new customers join the transit community, it will remain just as critical for Metro Transit to maintain its focus on customer service. Even as our volume grows I have no doubt the commitment to service excellence that we’ve seen on display will only continue to improve.  

> Mid-year progress report: On the right track

> Comment on Metro Transit service

> Outreach: We’re here to help

> Transit help just a phone call away

> Lost & Found at Metro Transit

> Metro Transit Stores

Bus Express Bus METRO Orange Line Minneapolis Route of the Week Suburban Transit

Route 535: Cutting the car out of the commute on I-35W 

| Thursday, October 03, 2013 9:00:00 AM

When Mary Thompson started her new job in downtown Minneapolis in September, she thought it would be easy to get in her car and go to work. It wasn’t as simple as she’d hoped.

“I drove the first two days and it was pretty undesirable,” Thompson said recently as she rode into Minneapolis aboard a Route 535 bus, her new preferred way of getting to work.

Thompson is one of many commuters from Bloomington, Richfield and south Minneapolis who have turned to Metro Transit as a way to avoid traffic headaches on Interstate 35W.

On a recent northbound, 7:04 a.m. Route 535 bus, customers going to work, class and appointments said they elected to use transit because it cuts their commute times, allows them to avoid hefty parking costs and is simply a more relaxing ride.

“It’s convenient, it’s quick and it’s consistent,” said Jeff Roy who, like Thompson, recently started a new job downtown and quickly landed on Route 535 as the best way to get to and from work.

Roy estimated it would take him more than a half-hour to get downtown if he drove. Now he simply drives a few blocks to the 525-space Knox Avenue Park & Ride near Best Buy’s Richfield headquarters and can be downtown in less than 20 minutes.

The travel-time savings come because Route 535 buses use MnPASS lanes and the Marq2 corridor, which speeds bus entries and departures out of downtown.

Savings in time and money have proven to be an alluring pull for Route 535. In 2012, there were nearly 425,000 customer boardings – a roughly 12 percent increase from 2011’s ridership – and an average of almost 1,400 passengers per day

Plans in the works now aim to make the commute even better.

The planned METRO Orange Line aims to bring frequent, all-day service to the I-35W corridor between downtown Minneapolis and Burnsville. Buses would travel north and south, serving several existing Route 535 stops, including the South Bloomington Transit Center at 98th Street, the American Boulevard area, 66th Street and Lake Street. Buses would also stop at I-35W & 46th Street Station, which opened in 2010 and is located between the freeway's northbound and southbound lanes so buses don't have to leave the roadway to pick up or drop off customers.

The system would improve service to several key destinations including the burgeoning mixed-use Penn-American District in Bloomington and the Lake Street corridor.

Orange Line station designs and locations are being completed now in the hopes of beginning construction in 2016 and opening in 2019. A series of meetings related to proposed road improvements and station layouts are being held this month in the hopes of setting a clear vision by the end of the year (find complete details about this month's meetings here).

“Orange Line BRT will better connect people across the region to job centers, housing, major transit stations, and key destinations in the corridor,” said Christina Morrison, a senior planner working on the Orange Line project. “Like the METRO Blue Line, it will greatly improve service for people who travel downtown as well as to suburban job centers while expanding transit options midday, at night, and on the weekends."

When open, the Orange Line would replace the current Route 535, improving frequency to every 10- to 15 minutes and adding new weekend service. 

The planning comes almost 90 years after bus service to the southern suburbs began on Lyndale Avenue – a major highway prior to the construction of I-35W in the 1960s.

Service was initially run by the Bloomington Bus Company but was taken over by the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) in 1975. Through early federal investments, the corridor became one of the first in the country to see express bus service, leading buses to move from their traditional two-speed transmissions to three-speed engines that could travel faster than 45 miles per hour.

The $133 million federal Urban Partnership Agreement led to further improvements in 2009 and 2010, including improved MnPASS lanes, NexTrip signage that provides real-time transit information, auto-to-transit real-time travel time comparisons signs and new buses.

Customer Joel Carey, who boarded at 66th Street, has ridden Route 535 to work downtown for the last three years, taking full advantage of the improvements and enjoying a 30-minute door-to-door commute. Now that he’s become a regular rider, he said there’s little chance he’d ever get back in the car again.

“Once you get used to doing this, there’s really no going back,” he said.

Route 535 At a Glance

Type: Limited Stop

Service: Route 535 travels between South Bloomington Transit Center, a 195-space Park & Ride at 98th Street and I-35W, and downtown Minneapolis. Major destinations along the route include Southtown Shopping Center at I-494 and Penn Avenue, Best Buy’s Richfield headquarters and I-35W & 46th Street Station. The C and D branches of Route 535 also serve Normandale Community College, one of the largest participants in Metro Transit's College Pass program. Route 535 buses operate between approximately 5 a.m. and midnight, weekdays only. Rush-hour frequency is approximately every 20 minutes.

Route length: Approximately 12 miles

Stops: 76 northbound, 78 southbound

Vehicles: 40-foot standard and 60-foot articulated

Ridership: Nearly 425,000 customer boardings in 2012, with an average of almost 1,400 passengers per day.

History: Bus service to the south metro began in the 1920s, when buses ran along Lyndale Avenue. Express bus service began following the construction of Interstate 35W in the 1960s and the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) took over service from the Bloomington Bus Company in 1975.

Future: The planned METRO Orange Line would bring all-day, frequent bus service to the I-35W corridor. Plans call for frequent, all-day bus service between MVTA's Burnsville Transit Station and downtown Minneapolis with stops at 98th Street, near American Boulevard, 66th Street, 46th Street, Lake Street and on the Marq2 corridor downtown.

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