As classes let out at Southwest High School for the first time on Monday, buses lined up around the perimeter of the school. But they weren’t yellow. Instead, the buses came from Metro Transit and bore all the hallmarks of public transportation – including the route number.
Along with Route 6, buses brandishing the Route 46 label parked outside the brick-walled school, filling quickly with students who poured out of the building just after 3 p.m. For the first time this year, students at Southwest High School have Go-To Student Passes that offer unlimited bus and light-rail rides between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., allowing students to use regular-route service to get to and from classes and extracurricular activities.
While some students taking Route 46 home after class this week said they had used public transportation before to visit friends, get to jobs or go to the gym, others were experiencing Metro Transit for the first time.
Hasan Bteibet, a freshman at Southwest, said he used to ride his bike to school or get a ride from his mom. But with temperatures soaring on the first day of class, he appreciated the air conditioned bus and said he looked forward to the independence his new MPS Student Pass will provide.
“I can use this to get to all the places I need to go like the mall and work,” he said.
Students from Southwest High School aren’t the only ones using Route 46 to get to and from school, though. Washburn High School and Roosevelt High School are also located on the Route 46 corridor and participating in the Student Pass program. To accommodate the extra students, extra morning and afternoon runs are added to Route 46 during the school year.
Route 46 is about more than students, however. Running between Edina and St. Paul, Route 46 buses provide year-round service to several key landmarks, including 50th & France, the I-35W & 46th Street Station, the 46th Street Station on the METRO Blue Line, Minnehaha Park and Highland Village, in St. Paul.
Eric Laport, who lives near 50th and France, has used Route 46 for the last two years as a way to get to and from work in downtown Minneapolis. Boarding with his Go-To Card, Laport rides Route 46 to the I-35W & 46th Street Station where he connects with a limited stop Route 535 bus to get downtown.
Occasionally, he will also use Route 46 to get to the Blue Line’s 46th Street Station where he boards the Blue Line to get to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“I do have a car but it’s much more convenient to take the bus,” Laport said. “It really couldn’t be any easier.”
Route 46 also serves a number of churches with limited parking, including Saint Joan of Arc, located at 4537 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis.
JP Fitzgibbons, an administrative assistant at Saint Joan of Arc, said he regularly bikes and rides Route 46 to the church, as do several other parishioners. He said using transit can be more convenient than driving and is also in line with the church’s environmental values.
“It really blends in with the philosophy here,” Fitzgibbons said.
Created in 2004, Route 46 combined parts of routes 4, 9 and 22, and follows a nearly identical route that began in 1947 but was discontinued just three years later. John Dillery, a Metro Transit service planner who helped develop Route 46, said the goal was to create a more seamless crosstown connection and improve service west of Nicollet Avenue.
“There are a lot of purposes for this route and a lot of passengers who get on and off a lot and make short trips,” Dillery said. “You may never that many passengers aboard at any one time, but if you ride it end-to-end you’ll see it carries a lot of people.”
In 2012, more than 349,000 customers boarded Route 46, up nearly 3 percent from the previous year. With the addition of Southwest High School, more than 500 high school students are expected to ride Route 46 every weekday during the school year.
Route 46 could become yet more popular with the advent of the METRO Orange Line, a planned Bus Rapid Transit line that would bring high-frequency service between Burnsville and Minneapolis. The proposed route includes a stop at the I-35W & 46th Street Station, improving service for Route 46 customers who transfer at that location.
Route 46 At a Glance
Type: Urban Local
Service: Route 46 runs largely on 46th Street between Vernon and Eden avenues, in Edina, and West 7th Street, in St. Paul. Buses run approximately every 20 minutes during rush hour and every half hour off-peak between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. Extra morning and evening trips are added during the school year to accommodate high school students with Go-To Student Passes. Destinations along the route include 50th & France, I-35W & 46th Street Station, 46th Street Station on the METRO Blue Line, Minnehaha Park and Highland Village, in St. Paul.
Route length: Approximately 12 miles
Stops: 106 eastbound stops and 110 westbound stops
Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses
Ridership: Route 46 saw more than 349,000 customer boardings in 2012, up nearly 3 percent from the previous year.
History: A crosstown route that mimics Route 46 was inaugurated by Twin City Rapid Transit in 1947 but discontinued three years later. Route 46 was created in 2004, assuming parts of routes 4, 9 and 22 to create a seamless crosstown connection.
Future: The METRO Orange Line, slated to be in service in 2019, would bring more frequent bus service to the I-35W corridor. Increased bus service would benefit Route 46 customers who transfer at I-35W & 46th Street Station to get to downtown Minneapolis or points south on I-35W.