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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.

Bus Good Question

Good Question: Why go out the back? 

| Wednesday, September 11, 2013 12:00:00 PM

This week’s Good Question comes from Ken Paulman (@kenpaulman), who asked: "How much time is wasted by people exiting out the front instead of the rear door?"

Like virtually every transit agency, Metro Transit generally encourages customers to depart buses using the rear exit. This allows customers to step aboard, pay their fares and get settled on the bus quickly as others circulate through the back door. Following this practice where possible adds up into time savings which helps buses to remain reliably on schedule.


“It’s good practice because it helps the flow of passengers getting on and off and, if you’re sitting near the back, it’s much easier to use the back door than to weave through customers who might be standing in the aisle,” said Douglas Cook, a Metro Transit Customer Advocate who helps teach new customers how to use Metro Transit at How-To-Ride sessions. 

Not every customer should use the rear exit, however.

To use the ramp or lift, customers with wheelchairs or mobility devices use the front door for boarding and departing. Customers who board with strollers or large luggage that is kept in the area near the front entrance are asked to exit through the front door to reduce interference with other passengers. Those using onboard bike racks should also be prepared to exit from the front door so they can alert the bus driver that they will be retrieving their bike. In winter, conditions at bus stops may also make it safer to exit out the front door. 

Customers on most afternoon and evening express trips departing the downtowns or University of Minnesota area pay fares at their destination (typically a Park & Ride) instead of paying as they board. This "Pay Exit" approach is another way of speeding passenger boardings and providing more reliable and efficient service.

> How To Ride

Have a “Good Question” that you want answered? Email it to

METRO Blue Line Minneapolis On the METRO

Supportive housing, supportive transit 

| Monday, September 09, 2013 1:51:00 PM

RS Eden’s new Emanuel Apartments in downtown Minneapolis has 101 units and 10,000 square feet of commercial space but not a single parking space. And that suits the people who live and work there just fine.

Instead of driving to work, appointments or classes, residents and employees at the 822 South 3rd Street building simply walk a block west to the METRO Blue Line’s Downtown East/Metrodome Station, catch a bus on nearby Chicago Avenue or bike.

In place of parking, land outside the mixed-use building has been used to create a private backyard with trees, benches, grills and grass for residents’ pets to roam. In the basement, a large space has been dedicated to bike storage and a room has been set aside for bike maintenance and repairs.

Laura Craig, supportive services program director for RS Eden, said she rides the Blue Line to work at Emanuel Apartments every day and that the dozen other staff members who also work at the site commute largely by bus or train.

“This has been a wonderful incentive to use the train,” Craig said.  

Proximity to transit was one of the main reasons RS Eden landed on its new location. Emanuel Housing is a sober supportive housing development that offers permanent residence to those who commit to a life free of drugs and alcohol.  

The non-profit RS Eden was created 40 years ago to serve Vietnam veterans and has evolved to serve a range of clients, including families and single adults. RS Eden now manages nine sober supportive housing projects in Minneapolis and St. Paul, many of which are located on transit-rich corridors.

For many of RS Eden’s residents, vehicles aren’t an option and transit is a critical connection for classes, work and services. With nearly a dozen rooms at Emanuel Apartments reserved for veterans, the Blue Line’s connection to the Veterans Administration is especially important.

“It’s a perfect location for us,” said RS Eden President Dan Cain. “There’s no need for parking because our tenants have immediate access to transportation, to job opportunities, medical centers and other services.”

Emanuel Apartments opened in August following the renovation of an existing four-story structure and the construction of a connecting four-story building immediately south. The $18 million project was funded through low-income housing tax credits, as well as funding from the state, city and RS Eden.

Since the doors opened, nearly 90 residents have moved in; the building is expected to be fully occupied by the end of the year.

More than a dozen RS Eden case managers and staff with the Council on Crime and Justice work at the building. Remaining space is expected to be used for a medical and legal clinic that would be open to the general public.

For Cain, the combination of supportive housing, transit and public services creates what he considers to be RS Eden’s crowning achievement. “This is really the jewel in our crown,” he said.

A grand opening for Emanuel Apartments is set for noon on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

> RS Eden

> METRO Blue Line

> Finding a home on the METRO Blue Line

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