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Northstar On the METRO

Star Tribune: Northstar line yields dividends 

| Thursday, September 05, 2013 1:00:00 PM

The Northstar Commuter Rail line isn’t just attracting more commuters this year.

The 40-mile line between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis is also drawing more private development, with apartments and businesses being built near several stations on the Northstar corridor.

The Star Tribune featured the developments in a story this week, highlighting projects in Fridley, Big Lake, Elk River and Ramsey, where the 230-unit Residence at the COR recently opened. The Residence at the COR is connected to the Ramsey Station by a skyway, proving residents direct access to the train.

COR residents Dave and Donna Heinrich told The Star Tribune they expect to use Northstar to get to Fridley, where Dave has an internship, and Target Field. The couple also plans to ride the commuter train to connect to the METRO Blue Line.

“We thought we can hop the train and go downtown. My wife wants to go to Ikea and the Mall of America,” Dave Heinrich said.

In August, more than 82,500 passengers boarded Northstar -- the highest monthly total in the history of the commuter train. Year-to-date, there have been 538,000 passenger boardings on Northstar, up 16 percent compared over 2012.

> Star Tribune: Northstar line yields dividends

> Finance & Commerce: Projects near completion along Northstar Commuter Rail line

> Finding a home on the METRO Blue Line

> Star Tribune: Northstar Commuter Rail Line ridership increases 15 percent in first six months of 2013

> Metro Transit: Mid-year 2013 Metro Transit ridership: 40 million

Express Bus Route of the Week University of Minnesota

Route 252: From Blaine to books, on the bus 

| Thursday, September 05, 2013 11:00:00 AM

It takes Jesse Roberts just two minutes to get from his home in Blaine to the 95th Avenue Park & Ride.

So when it came time for him to go to his first University of Minnesota class of the semester this week, he chose to simplify his commute. Instead of driving solo to Minneapolis on Interstate 35W, he parked at the Park & Ride and boarded a Route 252 bus.

Along with nearly two dozen others aboard the 7:24 a.m. inbound bus, Roberts was on campus in approximately 25 minutes. The 17-year-old, earning college credit for courses in Arabic and pre-calculus, used his time on the bus to scan his textbook and simply relax.

“This is really convenient and it’s a lot faster than I can go in a car anyways,” Roberts said as the bus rolled down Interstate 35W, using bus-only shoulders to bypass congestion.

Roberts’s first-time experience followed the pattern of several U of M students interviewed aboard the southbound bus. The students said they chose transit largely to avoid the hassles of traffic and the expenses of gas and parking.

With U-Passes, the students also get access to unlimited rides on all regular route Metro Transit buses and the METRO Blue Line for just $97 a semester and qualify for the Guaranteed Ride Home program, which reimburses customers who need to take emergency trips home.

For Kelsey Bolton, 20, the combination of Route 252 and the U-Pass allows her to continue living at home while taking classes in Kinesiology (the study of human movement).

“I wanted to stay at home and save money – this was an easy way to go to school and do that,” she said.

Without the bus, Ham Lake resident Rob Michalak said he would expect to pay up to $20 a day in parking costs. “The parking is ridiculous,” the fourth-year student in aerospace engineering said. “It’s not that it’s hard to find, it’s just pricey.”

Before Route 252’s creation, customers in the northwest metro going to the U of M rode Route 250, an express bus to downtown Minneapolis. They then had to transfer to a local bus, such as Route 16 or Route 50.

Beginning Dec. 9, Route 252 and several other routes will operate on the Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall, bringing customers to the heart of campus. 

Cyndi Harper, Metro Transit's manager of route planning, said Route 252 was created in 2009 to eliminate the need for transfers and fill a gap in express service to the university. Other express routes to campus run from Maplewood (Route 272), Minnetonka (Route 652) and Edina (Route 579).   

Route 252 was funded through a federal grant that also paid for a three-level parking ramp at the 95th Avenue Park & Ride, the largest Park & Ride in Metro Transit’s network with more than 1,500 spaces. Federal funding was also used to install NexTrip signage and real-time displays on I-35W that show Park & Ride availability and travel time savings for transit users.

Since its creation, Route 252 has attracted a growing number of students, faculty and staff. In 2012, nearly 25,000 passengers boarded Route 252 – a nine percent increase from the year before. (Overall, nearly 500,000 U-Passes have been sold since 2000.)

Matt Dion, 22, is an everyday Route 252 rider who is using a U-Pass for the second time this year. Besides saving money, he said the transit advantages allow him to get to class on time without having to adjust his schedule around traffic conditions.

“If I had to drive, I’d be getting up at 5 a.m. or waiting until after traffic dies down, and that’s not really an option,” he said.

Route 252 At a Glance

Type: Express

Service: Route 252 runs between the 95th Avenue Park & Ride in Blaine and the University of Minnesota. Buses run on Interstate 35W, where they are able to use bus-only shoulders to bypass congestion. When school is in session, there are three morning trips (departing Blaine at 7:09 a.m., 7:24 a.m. and 8:28 a.m.) and three outbound trips (3:43 p.m., 4:43 p.m. and 5:53 p.m.) every weekday.

Route length: Approximately 15 miles

Stops: 4 southbound stops and 4 northbound stops

Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses

Ridership: Route 252 saw nearly 25,000 passenger boardings in 2012, up nine percent versus 2011.

History: Route 252 was launched in 2009 with support from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The $133 million Urban Partnership Agreement also helped pay for a new three-level parking ramp at the 95th Avenue Park & Ride, NexTrip signage and real-time displays on I-35W showing auto and bus travel time comparisons and Park & Ride space availability. 

Future: Route 252 is among a handful of routes serving the U of M campus that will return to Washington Avenue in December

Bus Go Green Light Rail Minneapolis

Solar power lighting Metro Transit buildings, shelters 

| Thursday, September 05, 2013 9:00:00 AM

Metro Transit is seeing the light – and putting it to good use.

Three separate solar energy projects are in the works as part of an effort to cut in half the amount of energy purchased for Metro Transit facilities by 2020.

In October, construction is set to begin on a 40-kilowatt rooftop array at Metro Transit’s Light Rail Support Facility, located at Hiawatha Avenue and East 24th Street in Minneapolis. Expected to be complete by the end of the year, the solar panels will feed directly to the facility powering the building and augmenting energy purchased from the grid.

Next year, a 40-kilowatt solar array will be built on the new Park & Ride at Highway 610 and Noble Parkway. When complete, the 1,000-space Park & Ride will feature LED lighting, a geothermal heating and cooling system and charging stations for electric vehicles.

> Highway 610 & Noble Parkway Live Construction Cam

In addition to those larger projects, a series of solar panels are slated to be installed at 15 bus shelters in north Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park in early 2014. The solar panels will power motion-sensored lights at the shelters, located on Xerxes Avenue, Brooklyn Boulevard, Fremont Avenue, Lyndale Avenue and Olson Memorial Highway.

In 2012, Metro Transit installed similar arrays at 10 Minneapolis bus shelters, largely along Franklin Avenue. The shelter systems include a battery pack that stores the energy during the day and can supply up to 30 hours of light when fully-charged.

Though not as powerful as the larger arrays, the solar-powered shelters are a high-visibility sign of Metro Transit’s commitment to renewable energy and efficiency.

“It’s definitely noticeable,” said James Harwood, a facilities engineer with Metro Transit. “People see that it’s (the shelter) powered by solar and I think that says something about the agency.”

The Franklin Avenue installations were part of the Energy Innovation Corridor – a federally-funded effort aimed at energy improvements near the METRO Green Line. Rebates from Xcel Energy were also used.

The solar systems going in at shelters this fall, each costing about $4,500, are being funded through a federal grant focused on transit improvements in the northwest metro. Federal funding is also being used to pay for the solar arrays at the Park & Ride at Highway 610 and Noble Parkway and the Rail Support Facility.

Taken together, the installations will not only help Metro Transit reduce the amount of purchased energy but also help meet a goal of installing 500 kWh of renewable energy generation by the end of 2020.

Future solar additions could come in the form of public-private partnership at some of Metro Transit's large support facilities. The Metropolitan Council is using a similar model at the Blue Lake wastewater treatment plant in Shakopee.

“I think as we develop all of our new projects we’re going to be looking at sustainability,” said Robert Rimstad, another Metro Transit engineer who has been involved with the solar project. “We’re always looking for new ideas.”

> Go Greener with Metro Transit


Bus In the News Light Rail METRO Green Line On the METRO St. Paul Transit Improvements

St. Paul connections go every direction, including up 

| Thursday, August 29, 2013 1:12:00 PM

Construction on a new vertical connection between the METRO Green Line’s Central Station and the St. Paul Skyway is now underway.

The connection was celebrated Wednesday morning in St. Paul as disability advocates and downtown business leaders joined officials from St. Paul, Ramsey County and the Metropolitan Council for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the corner of Fifth and Cedar streets, where the connection will be located.

Expected to be completed in time for the opening of the METRO Green Line, the verical connection will serve as a link for commuters while improving accessibility at the Central Station.

The vertical connection is just one part of a suite of transit improvements planned for downtown St. Paul.

Planning is also underway to improve bus boarding areas at Cedar Street and Fifth Street, Fifth Street and Minnesota Street, Sixth Street and Cedar Street and Minnesota and Sixth Street in mid-2014.                                                                                 

New shelters, public art, security upgrades, real time arrival signs, lighting, bicycle amenities and landscaping are planned for each of the stops, which together see more than 6,000 daily boardings.

Stations at Fifth Street and Minnesota Street and at Sixth Street and Cedar Street will also be built to accommodate ticket vending machines and other components of Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, planned for West Seventh Street and East Seventh Street.

A $3.2 million federal grant is paying for the station improvements and a share of the vertical connection.

This week, service was expanded on a dozen Metro Transit bus routes serve downtown St. Paul, including routes 21, 54, 62, 64, 68 and 74.

> METRO Green Line

> Downtown St. Paul Transit Improvements

> Metro Transit expands bus service in St. Paul, East Metro

> Pioneer Press: St. Paul Skyway elevator, downtown bus stop improvements planned

Bus Bus Maintenance Safety

More maintenance, more miles 

| Thursday, August 29, 2013 1:03:00 PM

Judging strictly by appearances, the 1984 Ford tow truck kept at the Martin J. Ruter Garage in Brooklyn Center may not seem particularly noteworthy.

But the truck has a distinct honor: it is the oldest vehicle in Metro Transit’s fleet. After nearly three decades in service, it has logged just 35,000 miles retrieving broken down buses or vehicles caught in winter storms.

The truck’s longevity is more than a piece of trivia, however. The extended life is a testament to how well Metro Transit’s buses perform on a daily basis.  

In 2012, Metro Transit buses collectively traveled an average of nearly 7,500 miles between calls for roadside service, peaking in October with an agency record of 8,293 miles between road calls. The “miles between maintenance” measurement is calculated by dividing the total number of miles traveled among all buses by the number of maintenance-related roadcalls.

Last year's performance marks an 89 percent improvement from a decade earlier. Such improvements don't just happen, though. A group of nearly 300 specially-trained mechanics work around the clock at Metro Transit’s five garages and the St. Paul Overhaul Base to keep buses in top condition.

Buses are regularly inspected to ensure all systems are functioning correctly and that any concerns that are identified are quickly addressed before a bus goes back on the road.

In addition to being vigilant, maintenance staff use operator feedback to better understand how vehicles are performing on the road and have built relationships with industry suppliers so that Metro Transit gets the best buses it can.

Better transmissions and other components have not only made buses more dependable and improved engine life, but improved fuel efficiency and overall comfort for customers. Metro Transit’s persistence on quality and reliability has also led to product improvements that have been incorporated into the bus builder’s product line – providing a better, more reliable product not just for Metro Transit customers but all transit users.

“There’s a continual drive to improve each year,” said Rob Milleson, Metro Transit’s director of bus maintenance. “We’re constantly monitoring and constantly learning.”

The combination of high-quality maintenance and procurement helps keep Metro Transit buses in service at least 12 years before they are put into service for the Minnesota State Fair or put up for public auction.

Most buses in Metro Transit’s fleet log an average of 410,000 miles before being replaced. By comparison, the average car lasts 11 years and 165,000 miles
Milleson said that performance record is particularly impressive considering all of the challenges – most notably Minnesota’s harsh winters – that buses face as they transport customers throughout the year.

The credit, he says, goes to those who spend their days making sure buses perform at their peak.

“While a combination of factors impact reliability and bus longevity it’s our front line employees that really make it all come together,” Milleson said. 

> New buses hit the streets

> Fact Book tells Metro Transit's story by the numbers

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