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Bus In the News Retro Transit

A unique career: 50 years in transit 

| Friday, September 20, 2013 4:00:00 AM

When Metro Transit celebrated its one-billionth customer in 1984, Silas Sharp was there. He was also present in 1999 and again last year, when the agency surpassed the 2 billion and 3 billion customer marks, respectively.

This week, "Sy" Sharp was recognized for reaching a unique milestone: 50 years of employment with Metro Transit. When he celebrates his anniversary in November, Sharp will become the first person in the agency's history to have contributed a half-century of service to the organization.

Now a maintenance manager at Nicollet Garage, Sharp began working at what was then called Twin City Lines in 1963 as a cleaner at age 28. Sharp's career in transportation began shortly after buses replaced streetcars and questions about transit’s long-term viability loomed.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to sit down with Sy as he has reflected on his career and changes in Twin Cities transit. Here's a short video of some of that conversation:

> Sy Sharp: 50 Years of Service

Sharp was among 370 employees honored as the Metropolitan Council celebrated Employee Recognition Week, including dozens of bus operators, maintenance personnel, transit police officers and staff from other Metro Transit departments. Service Awards were presented to those celebrating milestone anniversaries and others were recognized for exceptional achievements during the year.

In October, Sharp also received the the 2013 Distinguished Career Award, given to individuals who have significantly improved public transit in Minnesota.

Speaking to the Star Tribune, Sharp said: “I never thought I’d be here a half-century. It’s rewarding to me because I am contributing something to society. It’s been a very good experience. I would not change it for the world.”​

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

    > Sharp recognized with industry award for Distinguished Career in Minnesota public transportation

Photo: Gov. Mark Dayton, was a special guest at this week’s Employee Recognition Event in St. Paul. He applauded the work of the Met Council and recognized Nicollet Maintenance Manager Silas Sharp, third from left, who will mark 50 years of service at Metro Transit in November. Sharp was joined by his wife Mary, son Silas Jr., Met Council Chair Susan Haigh and General Manager Brian Lamb.

In the News METRO Blue Line On the METRO

Blue Line brings happiness to Hiawatha corridor 

| Tuesday, September 17, 2013 8:00:00 AM

Are people who live near the METRO Blue Line happier than those who live in areas without such ready access to light rail transit?

In a word, yes.

New research by University of Minnesota associate professor Jason Cao shows residents living within a half-mile of the Blue Line are more satisfied with their travel than those who live in corridors without LRT. Hiawatha corridor residents were also found to have a higher quality of life in the research.

Published earlier this year, the findings are based on a 2011 survey of around 1,300 residents living between the Blue Line’s Lake Street and 50th Street stations, the most residential section of the 12-mile Blue Line. People living on Minneapolis’s Nicollet and Bloomington avenues, in Coon Rapids and in Burnsville were surveyed for comparison purposes.

Cao said accessibility to “activity destinations” like downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America is one of the primary reasons residents derive happiness from the Blue Line. The quality of the travel itself also plays a role.  

“This is about the positivity of travel – not just using the rail to get to a destination, but enjoying the travel itself,” Cao said. “Passengers can read, listen to music and relax instead of driving in traffic and congestion which contributes to their quality of life.”

Before the study, Cao said he suspected residents along the Blue Line would be more contented than those with less transit access. But aside from his recent research, there had been little data to support the claim.

Now that he’s established an association, Cao hopes to continue his research on the Blue Line and learn more about the connection between frequency of transit use and quality of life. He’d also like to extend his work to include the METRO Green Line, opening next year.

Though Cao maintains rail’s main purposes are reducing the growth of congestion and inspiring economic development, he said the happiness factor is a positive marginal benefit that shouldn’t be discounted.

“If we have good transit attributes, no matter if it's rail or bus, I think we’re going to see an increase in satisfaction with travel for those people and then indirectly a boost in quality of life,” he said.

> Atlantic Cities: Living Near Good Transit May Make You Happier

> Urban Land: Twin Cities' Residents Near Transit Found to Be Happier

> Study: Transit boosts economy

> U of M: Center for Transportation Studies

Bus Bus Rapid Transit Route of the Week St. Paul

Route 68: A 'radial' ride down Robert Street 

| Monday, September 16, 2013 1:00:00 PM

Before they began riding Route 68 last year, Peter and David didn’t know one another. Today, though, the Inver Hills Community College students make a habit of sitting together on the bus so they can debate culture, philosophy and politics while traveling to class.

“We’ve gotten into some pretty weird topics before and sometimes have some pretty heated debates,” said David, a second-year student from South St. Paul studying anthropology.  

One thing not up for debate among customers on a recent early morning Route 68 southbound trip: the value and convenience of the bus they were riding.

Stretching nearly 16 miles between the St. Paul-Maplewood border and Inver Grove Heights, Route 68 not only transports students like Peter and David to and from Inver Hills Community College but serves as a link for commuters and families to several key destinations and services in the east metro.

Traveling south on Jackson Street, Route 68 buses pass multi-family developments, the Empire Builder Industrial Park and Regions Hospital. After exiting downtown St. Paul, buses pass through St. Paul’s West Side and the District Del Sol Commercial Corridor and through West St. Paul’s commercial Robert Street corridor.

When the METRO Green Line opens on June 14, the route will also connect in downtown St. Paul to the Robert Street, 10th Street and Central stations. 

Craig Henry, of St. Paul, was among a large group of customers who boarded downtown to continue south. Henry said he recently landed a job at the Red Cross and will take Route 68 to work every day. “I could drive but I’d rather sit here, listen to music or just relax,” he said.  

For many customers, Route 68 is also a portal to downtown St. Paul where they can access several connecting routes. Like spokes in a wheel, bus routes oriented to hubs in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis are called "Radial Routes."

Courtney Sheffield, 26, takes Route 3 from her Minneapolis home and transfers to Route 68 in St. Paul so she can reach Climb Theatre, where she works as a stage manager.

“I like taking the bus because it allows me to relax and just go over my day in my head,” said Sheffield, who rides transit nearly every day of the week.

Service on Route 68 has been improved as more customers realize the benefits of traveling by bus. In 2013, Route 68 and a number of other east metro routes saw expanded nighttime service and improved frequency. Route 68 buses now operate every 10 to 30 minutes during rush hour and every 20 to 30 minutes midday.

The improvements were designed in part to strengthen ties to the Green Line.

Anticipating more jobs and residents, Metro Transit and Dakota County are looking to further enhance transit in the Robert Street corridor. A study of transit options, including streetcars and Bus Rapid Transit on Robert Street or Highway 52, is ongoing.

If Arterial Bus Rapid Transit is implemented on Robert Street, new stations, buses and technology would be built south of the State Capitol, speeding trips up to 21 percent.

In 2013, Route 68 saw almost 1.1 million boardings and an average of more than 3,000 customers a day. By 2030, as many as 7,000 daily customers are projected to ride BRT and regular route service in the Robert Street corridor. Route 68 would continue, though on a slightly different alignment.

BRT would build on a long transit tradition in the Route 68 corridor. Horse-drawn streetcars ran on both Jackson and Robert streets until electric streetcars began running on the corridor. A bus ran to South St. Paul via Robert Street beginning in the 1920s and streetcars were fully replaced by buses in 1938 – more than a decade before streetcars would disappear from St. Paul entirely.

Whatever comes next, customer Joseph Donovan, of St. Paul, said he’s grateful to have Route 68. Without a car, Donovan has ridden for the last three years and uses the bus at least three times a week to get to work and appointments. “It’s nice knowing the bus is always going to be there,” he said.

Route 68 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

Service: Route 68 buses travel on Larpenteur Avenue West and Jackson Street north of downtown St. Paul. South of downtown, buses operate on Robert Street to Thompson or Marie avenues, where they continue east then south on 5th Avenue South towards Inver Grove Heights. The southern terminal for Route 68G, the longest Route 68 branch, is the Inver Grove Heights Walmart at 9165 Cahill Avenue. Route 68 buses run approximately every 10 to 30 minutes during rush hour and every 20 to 30 minutes midday and evenings. Weekday trips operate between around 5:30 a.m. and 1 a.m.

Route length: Approximately 16 miles

Stops: 174 northbound stops; 174 southbound stops

Vehicles: 40-foot hybrid-electric and standard buses

Ridership: Nearly 1.1 million customers boarded Route 68 buses in 2013, with an average of more than 3,000 daily boardings.  

History: Horse-drawn streetcars ran on Jackson and Robert streets until they were replaced by electric streetcars. Bus service began on Robert Street in the 1920s and fully replaced streetcars in 1938.

Future: When the METRO Green Line opens on June 14, Route 68 customers will be able to transfer to light rail at the Robert Street, 10th Street and Central stations. Robert Street is one of a dozen corridors identified for possible Arterial Bus Rapid Transit service. If implemented, new stations, buses and technology would be built on Robert Street south of the State Capitol, speeding trips up to 21 percent. 

Bus Go Green In the News Links of Interest

KFAI: Metro Transit's super-hybrid buses cleanest in the nation 

| Monday, September 16, 2013 11:00:00 AM

Metro Transit’s super-hybrid buses – dubbed the cleanest hybrid-electric buses in the United States – were recently featured in a KFAI radio segment.

Introduced at the Minnesota State Fair in 2012, Metro Transit’s two Xcelsior buses are unique among transit providers and can operate in all-electric mode for short intervals — such as when idling at bus stops or traffic lights, within garages or potentially while operating on Nicollet Mall. Systems such as the air compressor, power steering and air conditioning systems run directly off battery power, saving additional fuel and further reducing emissions.

Jan Homan, deputy chief operating officer for buses, tells KFAI that the Xcelsior buses get around 35 percent better fuel economy than traditional diesel-fueled buses. Metro Transit’s standard hybrid buses get around 25 percent better fuel economy than diesel-only buses.

Metro Transit’s two Next Generation hybrid buses were purchased with a $1.2 million federal grant and were manufactured by New Flyer Industries in St. Cloud. Components from several Minnesota companies are also included in the buses.

KFAI rode the bus along Route 10, which runs on Nicollet and Central avenues between downtown Minneapolis and Blaine. A customer interviewed in the piece said he feels as if he’s 'riding on air' when the engine stops – a common feeling for Xcelsior passengers.  

“You notice once in a while it just shuts down and I think everybody is thinking ‘We’re going to have to get off and get on another bus,’” Homan told KFAI. “Well, no, it’s actually operating the way it should.”

Update, Sept. 16, 2013: Metro Transit's super-hybrids were featured in a Midwest Energy News story highlighting new efforts to better understand fuel efficiency in Metro Transit buses. The University of Minnesota's two-year study seeks to determine which engine components offer the greatest potential for efficiency and provide more insights on how routes, climate and customer loads impact fuel use. 

> KFAI: Metro Transit’s super-hybrid bus cleanest in the nation

> CTS Catalyst: Advanced hybrid buses have better fuel economy, fewer emissions

> Midwest Energy News: Research seeks best bang-for-buck on bus efficiency

> Metro Transit vehicles go greener

From the GM METRO Green Line Minneapolis Safety St. Paul Transit Improvements

Green Line progress on track 

| Wednesday, September 11, 2013 2:00:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

The Minnesota State Fair is over but our planning for next year’s event is already underway. One of the most changes we’re preparing for: light-rail connections from the METRO Green Line.

The Green Line’s role in next year’s State Fair service is just one example of the myriad ways transportation in the Twin Cities will change when the region’s second light rail line begins operating.

We’re getting closer to that new reality with every passing day, too. Green Line construction is 96 percent complete and testing is well underway. Light-rail vehicles have been towed the full length of the new track and trains have run on energized segments of the line through the University of Minnesota campus.

Here’s a snapshot of where the project stands today:

> Infrastructure: In August, ground was broken for an enclosed connection that will provide access between the Central Station and skyway system in downtown St. Paul. Over the next several months, more overhead wire and equipment will be installed and ticket machines, NexTrip display signs and security cameras will begin appearing at station areas. Staff will be at Sunday’s St. Paul Open Streets event to provide tours and answer additional questions about these station areas.

> Vehicles: To date, we’ve received nearly half of the 59 new type II Siemens light-rail cars that will be used on the Green and Blue lines. Twenty of these light-rail vehicles have already been put into service on the Blue Line while more are being tested and certified each week. Support vehicles will also be required to maintain and operate the line. In October, we expect to receive a new vacuum truck that will be used for clearing street-embedded track on the Green and Blue lines. Equipment that will be used for snow clearance and overhead line maintenance is also arriving.

> Outreach: A public safety campaign that urges pedestrians and motorists to be aware around stations and construction ares was rolled out earlier this year. As testing activities accelerate, we will focus the campaign more heavily on safety around trains themselves and continuing to share this message with schools and other groups located on and near the line. 

> Service: More trips on several connecting bus routes were added in late August, giving customers an early opportunity to become acquainted with the new bus schedules over the months ahead. It’s expected that more than one-third of Green Line rides will be transfers from buses. A comprehensive plan for optimizing bus service in the Central Corridor area was completed last year. 

> Personnel: About half of the 176 new jobs – from rail supervisors to technicians to track maintainers and helpers – have been filled. Nine Green Line train operators have begun training and by the end of the year the majority of the 61 new operators will have moved over from our bus operations division.   

In both obvious and subtle ways, the METRO Green Line will change the fabric of the Twin Cities. We at Metro Transit hope you’re looking forward to it as much as we are.

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