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Bus Express Bus From the GM State Fair

Metro Transit: The fast and friendly way to the State Fair 

| Wednesday, August 14, 2013 11:04:00 AM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

As customers might imagine, providing service to the Minnesota State Fair is no small undertaking. It’s often said that we run the two largest bus systems in the state during the 12 days of fun that end every Labor Day.

In order to provide safe, reliable and convenient trips to and from the Great Minnesota Get-Together, our preparations begin long before the gates open. This year is no exception. Mechanics, drivers, transit control center staff, street supervisors and other Metro Transit staff have been gearing up for this year’s fair for months. We’ll field more than 60 extra buses during fair weekdays and more than 70 extra buses during weekends. During the fair, staff will put in hundreds of extra hours to ensure we deliver top-notch transportation and customer service.

We put in this extra effort not only because it’s natural to integrate transit into one of the state’s largest events but because we are passionate about contributing to the excitement and tradition that make the fair such a uniquely Minnesotan event.

With nearly 1.8 million annual visitors, the State Fair is a showcase for everything that makes our state great – transit included. For some people, taking the bus to the fair is only a variation on their everyday commute. For others, it will be the first time they’ll step foot on a bus all year. By providing fast, friendly and reliable fair service, we have a great opportunity to showcase our day-to-day service, too. With Metro Transit personnel staffing booths in the Grandstand and the Eco Experience exhibit, we’re easy to find for further one-on-one conversations about how to use the transit system.

Whatever lasting impacts fair service has on commuting habits, transit has long since established itself as the mode of choice for fairgoers looking to avoid the frustrations of traffic and parking (there are just 9,000 parking spots on the fairgrounds). 

Transit became a part of the State Fair experience in the late 1800s when streetcars began ushering thousands of fairgoers to the fairgrounds. By 1907, more than 250,000 people were using streetcars to get to the fair, peaking at more than 24,000 customers an hour during the busiest evenings. A decade later, more than 382,000 people would ride streetcars to the fair.

When streetcars went out of service in the 1950s, buses became the transit mode of choice. Fair service was initially delivered through regular routes, but express buses have been operating from regional Park & Rides for the last two decades – inspired by successful integration Park & Ride lots into bus service for the 1992 Super Bowl at the Metrodome.

As our service continues to evolve, the number of fairgoers using transit keeps growing. Fairgoers took 467,000 rides on State Fair express or regular route bus service last year. The long-term growth in fair ridership reflects our ongoing commitment to improving service. A few highlights of new improvement's we're making this year:

> Customers can order passes online and print them at home or download them to a mobile device. Our staff will have handheld readers at express sites to instantly scan the passes, reducing cash handling and speeding service. Groups that order advance Bus Bargain Tickets online by Aug. 21 receive a healthy discount.

> Families and fairgoers can incorporate Northstar Commuter Rail into their trip plans. A new State Fair Express site at Northstar's Fridley Station provides an easy connection between the rail line and the fairgrounds – especially on weekends when a Northstar Family Pass is the only fare a group needs to get all the way from as far away as St. Cloud to the fairgrounds (connecting to the Big Lake Station using the Northstar Link).

> Route 960 will run every 15 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Hennepin Avenue through downtown Minneapolis instead of Nicollet Mall, providing more consistent trip times. (Return trips are scheduled to run approximately every 15 minutes from noon until midnight.)

> Maplewood Mall Transit Center and Park & Ride is now open and will provide covered parking for hundreds of fairgoers coming from the east metro.

> The METRO Red Line will serve as a new option from the south metro to connect with State Fair service at the Bloomington site adjacent to Mall of America. 

As always, we budget all State Fair services to be self-sustaining – with fares covering all aspects of the operation. 

Thank you for choosing Metro Transit and enjoy the fair!

> State Fair Express Bus Bargain Tickets

> State Fair Express Bus Service

> Regular-Route Bus Service to the State Fair

> Minnesota State Fair

> Pioneer Press: State Fair preparing a place for streetcar arch's return trip

Top Left: General Manager Brian Lamb; Middle Right: Streetcars lined up outside the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand around 1910, courtesy Aaron Isaacs; Below Left: Metro Transit's 2012 exhibit, located in the Grandstand. Cover photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair.

Express Bus Route of the Week Suburban Transit

Route 264: On the shoulder and on the move 

| Wednesday, August 14, 2013 3:00:00 AM

Simon Koch has a 20-minute commute from Roseville to downtown Minneapolis every day. But he doesn’t waste his time sitting in traffic. Instead, riding Route 264, he reads.

“Ever since I started riding the bus the number of books I read has just skyrocketed,” Koch said before boarding at the I-35W and County Road C Park & Ride, which sits just a mile from his house.

Koch’s experience is similar to many customers who use Route 264 to get from Roseville to Minneapolis and back each day. Like Koch, customers aboard the bus on a recent 9 a.m. trip said they use their commute to browse the news on their phones, fit in extra work or simply doze off.

“The traffic doesn’t really bother me anymore because I just listen to music or read on my iPad,” said Brian Meskimen, a Shoreview resident who fits in workouts at a nearby gym before boarding at the Park & Ride.

But it’s not just comfort that’s motivating customers to get on the bus.  

For Amy Hubler, riding Route 264 is a way to avoid the parking costs her employer doesn’t cover. The White Bear Lake resident started riding in June after getting a job in downtown Minneapolis. Like many Route 264 customers, her employer contributes to the cost of a Metropass. The pass is $76 a month, pre-tax, and provides unlimited rides.

“I never had the option before but now I’m just hooked,” Hubler said.

Part of the appeal for Ketam Solamki is the advantages Route 264 is one of 75 express routes that benefits from Marq2, bus-only lanes on Marquette Avenue and Second Avenue South featuring real-time bus information signs, enhanced shelters and wider sidewalks. Route 264 is also among the Metro Transit routes that use bus-only shoulders, allowing buses to bypass congestion.

“I used to hate seeing the bus on the shoulder but now I love it,” Solamki said. 

The advantages have proven a compelling draw. In 2012, three years after the route began with the opening of the I-35W & County Road C Park & Ride, there were nearly 96,000 passenger boardings. Through the first half of 2013, there have been more than 78,000 boardings.

The growth has come in part as customers who used the Rosedale Center Park & Ride, which closed last fall, transition to County Road C or the Highway 36 & Rice Street Park & Ride. Increased service has also helped.

After beginning with rush hour-only service, late morning and midday trips added in 2010, and service was further expanded last year when the Rosedale Park & Ride closed. There are now 21 southbound and 19 northbound trips every weekday between 6 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.

"The midday trips are a great service for commuters who may need to get home outside of traditional rush hours," said Scott Thompson, a senior transit planner who helped develop Route 264.

While there are no plans to make any further service changes on Route 264, the area around the County Road C Park & Ride is evolving.

Land around the Park & Ride once used for trucking terminals is now being cleared to make way for mixed-use development in what the city is calling the Twin Lakes Redevelopment Area.

In May, construction began on the first new development in the area, a Walmart expected to open in 2014.

Route 264 At a Glance

Type: Express

Service: Route 264 provides weekday express bus service between the Rosedale Transit Center at Rosedale Shopping Center and  I-35W and County Road C Park & Rid ramp  and downtown Minneapolis. Morning rush-hour trips begin around 6 a.m. and the last northbound trip from downtown Minneapolis departs around 9 p.m. Midday trips leave roughly every hour.

Route length: 9 miles

Stops: 6 northbound stops and 6 southbound stops

Vehicles: 60-foot articulated buses

Ridership: Route 264 saw 95,825 customer boardings in 2012, a 153 percent increase from 2010, the first full year of operation.

History: Route 264 launched in late 2009 with the opening of the I-35W & County Road C Park & Ride. Late morning and midday trips were added in 2010 and service was further expanded in 2012.

Bus Go Green

Buses going big on biodiesel 

| Thursday, August 08, 2013 3:00:00 PM

Metro Transit buses are getting around on a cleaner and less costly fuel this summer.

Taking advantage of favorable pricing, the entire Metro Transit bus fleet ran on a 20 percent blend of soy-based biodiesel for the first time in July. Biodiesel has been in use since 2009 but buses typically run on a 5 percent blend.

While the amount of biodiesel in use will fluctuate based on pricing and weather – higher blends do not work as well in cold climates – the recent shift underscores Metro Transit’s commitment to sustainability and innovation.

Biodiesel produces fewer harmful emissions such as CO2 and carbon monoxide and is sourced largely from soy crops grown locally in Minnesota.

“For us to have 20 percent of our fuel be renewable I think is just fantastic,” said Steve Kaari, a Metro Transit fleet supervisor who tracks the biodiesel market.

For an agency that uses nearly 7 million gallons of fuel a year, the shift also has a noticeable impact on costs.

Compared to 5 percent blends, the use of higher biodiesel has saved tens of thousands of dollars since July 1. At one point in July, a gallon of 20 percent blended biodiesel was roughly 32-cents less than the 5 percent blend.

“We really support going green but it’s also about being economically viable,” Kaari said. 

Metro Transit’s biodiesel use has some positive impacts beyond the agency, too. By using higher blends, the agency gets a better understanding of how components respond to the fuel and can share findings with the broader transportation community, enabling more technical improvements.

While the logistics can be more challenging, Kaari said the combined benefits of using biodiesel are good reason to continue running buses on it in the future.

“If all the criteria are met, we’re going to use it,” he said. “It’s a complex thing but it’s a positive thing.”

> Go Greener with Metro Transit


New buses hit the streets 

| Thursday, August 08, 2013 9:30:00 AM

If you notice that ‘new bus’ smell the next time you get on board, it’s not your imagination.

Metro Transit has received more than 50 new 40-foot diesel buses this year and will get another 24 this fall. Metro Transit's buses typically stay in regular service around 12 years, logging more than 400,000 miles. The new buses are replacing older vehicles that have reached the end of their regular service life (some are used for an additional year or two for special State Fair service before being publicly auctioned). 

Over the next five years, Metro Transit will receive 184 replacement buses. The five-year bus procurement plan was approved earlier this year.   

In 2012, Metro Transit received 83 new 40-foot buses, including 33 hybrid models. Metro Transit’s fleet currently includes more than 550 40-foot diesel buses, 132 40-foot hybrids, 166 60-foot articulated buses and 36 coach buses. 

Customers board Metro Transit buses about 230,000 times each weekday.

> How to ride the bus

> Our vehicles

Bus Bus Rapid Transit Minneapolis Route of the Week

Route 19: Buses and blossoms on Penn Avenue 

| Wednesday, August 07, 2013 12:37:00 PM

When Karen Bradford was young, she used to ride the bus to downtown Minneapolis with her grandmother so they could shop at the department stores lining Nicollet Mall.

Though she’s grown older, Bradford still uses the bus as her primary connection to downtown, where she shops, goes to doctor appointments or simply enjoys the city.

And she isn’t alone. On a recent afternoon, Bradford was among several customers traveling northbound on Route 19, which runs from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center. The bus travels along Olson Memorial Highway, Penn Avenue and Osseo Road en route to the Brooklyn Center Transit Center, one of Metro Transit’s busiest boarding areas.

Last year, more than 2 million people boarded Route 19 buses, a more than 8 percent increase from 2011.

Like Bradford, many Route 19 customers say they do not own vehicles and that the bus serves as their primary mode of travel to work, school or shopping.

“This is my everyday transportation,” said Nick Lofton, 21, who lives in north Minneapolis and uses the bus to visit friends, shop and get to work. This fall, he plans to use the bus to get to and from classes at the Minneapolis Community & Technical College.

Keith and Jayme Talley use Route 19 every day, multiple times a day to fetch groceries, get to appointments and visit parks, including Theodore Wirth Park. “If we have a lot of stuff to do, we’ll be on the bus the majority of the day,” Jayme Talley said.

Because of the high, all-day demand Route 19 is part of Metro Transit’s Hi Frequency Network, with buses running every 15 minutes between downtown Minneapolis and the intersection of Penn and Lowry avenues. Midday and evening service was recently improved and morning and afternoon trips have been added to better serve customers, including Patrick Henry High School students now traveling to school with Go-To Student Passes.

Future improvements could come in the form of Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, which would move buses more quickly through the corridor by making fewer stops and using new technology like pre-paid fare payment, traffic signal priority and low-floor buses with front and rear entrances. Station areas would also be more fully developed.

Penn Avenue has been identified as the third potential Arterial Bus Rapid Transit corridor, after Snelling Avenue and West Seventh Street in St. Paul. 

Katie Roth, a project manager in Metro Transit's BRT/Small Starts Project Office, said BRT planning is just beginning but that plans could be put in motion as early as 2017. Route 19 and its branches would continue to provide local service even with the addition of BRT.

Roth said the corridor stands out for improved service because it has strong all-day ridership and is an important connection to suburban routes in the northwest metro. Estimates suggest BRT service on Penn Avenue could draw up to 9,300 weekday riders by 2030.

BRT would come as just the latest evolution for transit on the Route 19 corridor.

Streetcars ran on Sixth Avenue North until 1940, when the road was rebuilt as Olson Memorial Highway. Portions of Penn Avenue also had streetcars until 1953. Until 2007, two routes served Penn Avenue — Route 19, which ran between Olson Memorial Highway and Golden Valley Road, and Route 5, which ran north of North 26th Avenue. Continuous service on Penn Avenue was implemented as part of a service restructuring in the northwest metro.

As Metro Transit prepares for the next evolution, it is participating in Hennepin County's Penn Avenue Community Works project, designed to enhance the corridor through a series of community-building projects. The Community Works project is focused on the area between Interstate 394 and the intersection of Osseo Road and 49th Avenue North.

One community-focused investment already in place is 'Blossoms of Hope,' a bus shelter that also serves as a striking piece of public art. Designed by landscape artist Marjorie Pitz and located at Broadway and Penn avenues, large metal flowers sprout from the top of the bus shelter adding color and life to the busy intersection (the shelter itself is meant to mimic a vase, Pitz said).

The flowers were installed shortly before the 2011 tornado struck Minneapolis, damaging several surrounding properties. After surviving relatively unscathed, the flowers became a "beacon of hope" and have persisted as a welcoming and encouraging landmark ever since, Pitz said.

"I wanted to make it (the shelter) into an attraction that would actually lift peoples' spirits when they came to wait for the bus," she said. "It's very joyful, colorful and happy."

Route 19 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local 

Service: Route 19 runs between downtown Minneapolis and Bass Lake Road in Brooklyn Center, largely along Olson Memorial Highway, Penn Avenue and Osseo Road. As part of Metro Transit’s Hi Frequency network, buses run every 15 minutes between downtown Minneapolis and the Lowry Avenue-Penn Avenue intersection between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays.

Route length: 8 miles

Stops:  79 northbound stops and 82 southbound stops

Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses

Ridership: Customers rode Route 19 more than 2 million times in 2012 — making it the tenth most-popular bus route. Average weekday ridership exceeds 6,400.

History: Buses began running on Penn Avenue after streetcars were taken out of service in 1953. Until Express Route 758 was introduced a decade ago, Route 19 buses ran west to Golden Valley. Penn Avenue was covered by two separate routes until 2007, when Route 19 was continued north to the Brooklyn Center Transit Center.

Future: Metro Transit has identified Penn Avenue as strong corridor for Arterial Bus Rapid Transit service. Preliminary planning is ongoing and implementation could come as early as 2017. BRT would improve travel times through the use of pre-paid fares and low-floor, front- and rear-entrance buses. Enhanced stations would also be built. 

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