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Bus Safety

Using 'Keys' to put safety first 

| Monday, September 23, 2013 1:00:00 PM

A bus driver watches as a firetruck passes by during a Metro Transit safety training course.

When Randy Finch began working at Metro Transit, fares were 30 cents, bus drivers didn’t wear seatbelts and buses could move with relative freedom on local streets and highways. The world has changed a bit since then.

But there is one thing that has stuck with Finch over the course of his 35-year career: the Safety Keys promoted by the Smith System.

The training program was developed for professional drivers more than 60 years ago in response to dangerous driving conditions and is widely used by transit agencies, trucking companies and other organizations that employ professional drivers. Metro Transit bus operators go through the course when they are hired and are regularly re-certified throughout their career.

A trainer at South Garage for the last decade, Finch said he follows the Smith System “religiously” on and off the job and tells new bus operators to do the same. Speaking to a recent class, he urged trainees to focus on its three essential components: space, visibility and time.

“If you have all three of those things, the majority of the time you won’t get into trouble,” Finch said.

Other tenants of the Smith System encourage drivers to keep their eyes in constant motion, seek eye contact from other drivers and to get the “big picture.”

Relying on the Smith System’s lessons has served Finch well. After three decades of service, Finch has won 33 consecutive Safety Awards. Finch has also been named Garage Champion at South Garage at four of the last six Roadeo competitions and was named Roadeo Champion in 2010. Roadeo is a voluntary annual safety and skills competition for bus drivers.

Finch says the lessons taught in the Smith System apply to all drivers but are particularly important for bus drivers facing unique challenges as they usher customers around the Twin Cities.

Metro Transit buses weigh 20 to 33 tons and their 8.5-foot wide frame makes them among the widest vehicles on the road. Add weather, customers and schedules to the mix and the conditions become even more difficult.

“It’s the hardest thing in the world to come to this job and drive a bus,” Finch said. “It’s not just getting behind the wheel – there are a lot of things you have to remember.”

Kerwin Hall drove semis before joining Metro Transit in May and said his brief experience driving route 4, 14 and 589 has already shown him just how demanding the job can be.

“This is operating a bus, not driving a bus,” he said after finishing Finch’s class. “There’s just so much that comes into play. It really involves putting a lot of things together to make things happen.”

Whatever the difficulties, Finch said there is a simple way to put operating a bus in perspective: treat the customers onboard as if they were members of your own family.

“You wouldn’t want your family to get hurt and you don’t want your passengers to get hurt either,” he said. “They just want to get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ safely, that’s all.”

    > WCCO: Testing Bus Driving Skills with Metro Transit 

    > Metro Transit safety and security efforts earn industry accolades

    > Metro Transit Roadeo

    > Bus Safety

Bus In the News Safety

WCCO: Testing Bus Driving Skills with Metro Transit 

| Monday, September 23, 2013 12:23:00 PM

WCCO’s Jamie Yuccas recently got behind the wheel of a Metro Transit bus to illustrate the challenges of driving the 40-foot long, 50,000-pound vehicle.

The segment aired in conjunction with the annual Roadeo competition, which is being held this week at the Como Transit Center near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul. More than 120 Metro Transit operators are participating in the event, which test operator’s skills through a series of written and behind-the-wheel tests.

Yuccas, a Metro Transit customer, earned 218 of a possible 450 points in her Roadeo performance.

Held every year since 1975, Metro Transit’s Roadeo champions can advance to state, regional or even international contests.

> WCCO: Testing Bus Driving Skills with Metro Transit

> Metro Transit Roadeo

> Using ‘Keys’ to put safety first

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. 

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