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Good Question Light Rail METRO Blue Line

Good Question: Why doesn't the METRO Blue Line have NexTrip? 

| Friday, August 23, 2013 2:00:00 PM

This week’s Good Question comes from William Lindeke (@BillLendeke), who asked: Why don't we have NexTrip technology on the METRO Blue Line?

Adding NexTrip to light rail on the METRO Blue Line has been a lower priority than adding it to buses. This is because light-rail trains operate most hours of the day – typically every 10 minutes – and are very rarely delayed due to weather or traffic congestion (on-time performance is 95 percent).

However, NexTrip will be added to the Blue Line next year as technology upgrades are implemented for the METRO Green Line. When installed, the system will display real-time departure times on existing digital signs at every station platform on the Blue and Green lines.

NexTrip information is also accessible by calling 612-373-3333 and at metrotransit.org. Third-party developers who use the GPS-based data from buses and Northstar trains to build their own mobile apps can incorporate real-time departure information into their software as well.

NexTrip technology was introduced to Metro Transit customers in 2008 and has been available for all Metro Transit buses and most regional buses since 2009; Northstar was added to the system in 2012. The system uses GPS technology on vehicles to track their location and predict departure times.

NexTrip displays are currently installed on Marq2, regional Park & Ride lots, select transit centers and the Union Depot in St. Paul. Future plans call for the use of NexTrip displays on Arterial Bus Rapid Transit corridors, including Snelling Avenue.

> About NexTrip

> Apps put transit in the palm of your hand

Have a “Good Question” that you want answered? Email it to goodquestion@metrotransit.org.

Bus Community From the GM Light Rail

Back to school with Metro Transit 

| Friday, August 23, 2013 11:00:00 AM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

High school students across Minneapolis are heading back to class next week – and for many of them Metro Transit will be the way they get there.

When classes resume on Monday our successful Go-To Student Pass partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) will begin its second year, providing students with safe, convenient and affordable transportation to and from classes, extracurricular activities and other destinations.

After a successful “freshman year,” 2,200 new students from South and Southwest high schools will join the program for the first time. Eligible students at Edison, North, Patrick Henry, Roosevelt, Washburn and Wellstone high schools will also again use Go-To Student Passes, which are integrated with their student ID cards and allow unlimited rides between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.

If last year’s response is any indication, the passes should be put to good use. By the end of the 2012 school year, nearly 3,800 students were using passes nearly 7,000 times each weekday, totaling 1.5 million rides on buses and trains by the time classes let out for summer.

It takes careful planning and preparation to accommodate new student riders while continuing to deliver the safe, convenient and reliable service our commuting customers rely on every day.

To accommodate these new South and Southwest students, nearly 50 daily trips will be added to existing routes. In all, there will be around 120 scheduled trips added to provide comfortable service for students and regular customers on routes near MPS high schools.

And while transporting students safely is nothing new for Metro Transit, public transportation may be new to many of these young people. As the school year begins, Metro Transit, MPS and other partners will staff busy transfer areas and help students understand the Code of Conduct they are expected to abide by.

Based on last year’s experience, we expect students using passes for the first time to quickly adapt and make the most of transit. Students who used Go-To Student Passes gave the program overwhelmingly high marks. In response to a survey, 91 percent said they “liked” or “loved” their passes.

Additionally, 79 percent engaged in learning opportunities outside of school “very often” or “sometimes,” and 60 percent said they engaged in extracurricular activities more than before thanks to the Go-To Student Pass. Students in the survey reported using their Go-To passes to frequently travel to the library, athletics, jobs, school clubs and tutoring.

In September, Metro Transit will further strengthen the connection between the school community and our “onboard community” by welcoming the entire Minneapolis School District into the Metropass program. With the addition of MPS to this employer-based program, educators and MPS staff will be able to use a Metropass to ride buses and trains right alongside students.

Acquainting students, educators and their families with the value of our service translates into a better long-term understanding and appreciation for how public transportation links people, communities and opportunities throughout the region. That’s a lesson we think everyone can get behind.

> MPS Go-To Student Pass

> Go-To Card User's Guide

> MPS Student Pass rides surpass the one million mark

> Rosenblum: Metro Transit Student Pass is a vehicle for achievement

Bus Bus Rapid Transit METRO Green Line Minneapolis Route of the Week St. Paul University of Minnesota

Route 61: From the city to the farm and back again 

| Wednesday, August 21, 2013 9:00:00 AM

Bucolic farm views aren’t what customers expect to find while riding one of Metro Transit’s urban bus routes.

But that’s what they’ll find on Route 61 as it passes the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus. Acres of corn, tomatoes and other vegetables come into view as the bus rolls down Larpenteur Avenue and past the fields adjoining campus.

The agrarian environment is just one of the scenes customers encounter while riding Route 61, however. The crosstown bus also passes through quiet, tree-lined residential streets, past large industrial warehouses and over the Mississippi River as it makes its way between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.

For two weeks every summer, it also passes near one of the state’s largest events: the Minnesota State Fair. The fairgrounds sit just south of Larpenteur Avenue, between Cleveland and Snelling Avenues and can be reached by Route 61 customers willing to walk a short distance to the entrance. (Regular service on Route 3 and Route 84 can also bring customers to the fair; see all available transit options here.)

Even without that extra attraction, though, Route 61 is seeing its fair share of customers. Nearly 780,000 customers boarded Route 61 buses last year, up around 3 percent from 2011.

Among them is Ritesh Katwal, a 25-year-old University of Minnesota student who uses the bus to travel between school and his home in St. Paul. Without a car, Katwal said the bus is so important to him that he plans his classes around the bus schedule.

“The 61 is the only bus I take and I take it all the time – to school, libraries, wherever I can go,” he said recently as he returned home from class.

Chuck Weber moved to St. Paul just two months ago but has already made a habit of riding Route 61. Weber said he boards once or twice a day, usually to get to the YMCA in downtown St. Paul. Though he has a car, he says he prefers to ride the bus for environmental reasons and to avoid paying for parking.

Now retired, Weber also benefits from a 75-cent senior fare, available to customers who are at least 65-years-old.

“I like the bus because it’s environmentally more sound but it’s also a lot cheaper,” Weber said.

Route 61 was created in 2001, when a series of service changes went into effect. A number of routes were either eliminated or consolidated, allowing Metro Transit to create a more direct crosstown route. One of Route 61's primary purposes is to link residents in east St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis. But the route also provides local service to businesses along Larpenteur Avenue and downtown St. Paul.  

Responding to strong demand, weekday spans on Route 61 were expanded in early 2013. Plans are now in place to improve station areas in downtown St. Paul, including the transit center at Fifth and Minnesota streets, where passengers board Route 61 and several other routes.

Future service improvements could be made to East Seventh and Arcade streets, once home to a streetcar line that ran between St. Paul and White Bear Lake. The streets have been identified as candidates for Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, which would improve travel time along a nearly 9-mile stretch between the METRO Green Line in downtown St. Paul and the Maplewood Mall Transit Center.

A Metro Transit study suggests more than 13,000 weekday passengers could use ABRT by 2030.

As that planning continues, longtime customer Michael Chappell said he's happy with what's already in place. Now 51-years-old, Chappell has been riding the bus since he was a child and finds himself amazed with the consistency of service he's experienced.

"It's never too late, never too early -- always on time," he said.  

Route 61 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

Service: Route 61 runs between the Ramp A/7th Street Transit Center in downtown Minneapolis and the Smith Avenue Ramp near downtown St. Paul. Buses run along East Hennepin Avenue, Larpenteur Avenue, Arlington Avenue, Arcade Street and East Seventh Street. In St. Paul, Route 61 stops at Fifth and Minnesota streets, adjacent to the METRO Green Line's Central Station. Buses run between roughly 5 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., approximately every 20 minutes during rush hour, every half-hour midday and every hour in the evening. Downtown Zone fares apply in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Route length: Approximately 15 miles

Stops: 132 eastbound stops and 134 westbound stops

Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses

Ridership: Route 61 saw nearly 780,000 customer boardings in 2012, with an average of more than 2,531 daily passengers.

History: Route 61 launched in 2001 following a series of service changes that led other routes to be consolidated or eliminated. It was created primarily to provide a direct connection between east St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis and to provide service to businesses along Larpenteur Avenue. Parts of Route 61 -- East Seventh and Arcade streets -- were once home to a streetcar line between downtown St. Paul and White Bear Lake.

Future: East Seventh and Arcade streets are under consideration for Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, which would bring faster service to the corridor along with new technology, buses and improved station areas.

METRO Blue Line Minneapolis On the METRO

Finding a home on the METRO Blue Line 

| Tuesday, August 20, 2013 11:45:00 AM

Rebecca Spartz wants to do her part for the environment and feel engaged in her community. So instead of driving to work alone, she likes to ride her bike, hop on the bus or take the METRO Blue Line to get to the office.

Those alternatives are now easier than ever. In July, the company she works for, Touchstone Mental Health, moved into a new location on the METRO Blue Line. The building is less than two blocks south of the Franklin Avenue Station along the Hiawatha LRT Trail.                                        

“I was psyched about moving here,” Spartz said during a recent visit to the office. “Compared to a year ago, when I really wasn’t doing this at all, this feels awesome.”                               

Spartz’s experience is precisely what Touchstone leaders were looking for when they chose to partner with local developers Project for Pride in Living (PPL) and Seward Redesign to locate on the METRO Blue Line. PPL owns and manages the building.

After using space in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Touchstone moved to its 2312 Snelling Ave. site in June. In the new location, many of its more than 60 employees are riding the bus, taking the train or using Northstar Commuter Rail to get to work.

The stress-free commuting options make perfect sense for an organization committed to mental health and wellness (services provided at the building include healing touch, massage therapy, acupuncture and other treatments as part of a holistic, integrative approach to wellness).

“The idea of staff wellness is hugely important,” said Jessica Ryan, Touchstone’s development director. “When we looked at locations, it [transit] was definitely taken into consideration.”

But the location doesn’t just benefit employees.

Attached to Touchstone’s new Community Health and Wellness Center is a 40-unit supportive-housing building. The Rising Cedar Apartments – already more than half full – are occupied by residents living with mental illnesses.               

Touchstone counselor Rachael Sarto said the proximity to the Blue Line will be critical for residents looking to achieve life goals and increase independence. Nearly two-thirds of those living at Rising Cedar Apartments do not own a vehicle, she said.

Sarto said the proximity to the Blue Line will provide residents with convenient and affordable access to downtown Minneapolis, where they can visit case managers or simply enjoy the city, and serve as a critical connection to jobs, school and shopping.

“If you can imagine someone living on a limited budget, this [transit access] really allows them to use those funds for other things that are important to their lives,” she said.

In the future, Touchstone’s Community Health and Wellness Center will host more community events and provide services to a growing number of clients, bringing even more people to their doors via transit.

Touchstone’s building is also part of a larger transit-oriented development plan undertaken by Minneapolis-based Seward Redesign and called Seward Commons. Plans call for a mix of housing, retail and office space across the 4-acre site with strong transit, bike and pedestrian connections.

Brian Miller, Seward Redesign’s executive director, said the next project will be a 60-unit senior housing development where residents are expected to live largely car-free. St. Paul-based CommonBond Communities is partnering with Seward Redesign on the development, expected to be under construction this fall and open within a year.

The Metropolitan Council contributed a $1.1 million grant to assist with the reconstruction of streets around the Seward Commons redevelopment and awarded a $150,000 grant to aid the new senior housing project.

Bus Express Bus Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Lee Gutman 

| Monday, August 19, 2013 1:16:00 PM

Lee Gutman’s path to Metro Transit began not in Minnesota, but California.

While working as a bus operator in Orange County, Gutman requested a meeting with former Metro Transit General Manager Art Leahy, who had left Minnesota to serve as CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority. In search of a quieter life, Gutman wanted to know what Leahy thought about Minneapolis.

Leahy told Gutman to give it a shot and offered him a letter of recommendation. A few years later, finally ready for a change of scenery, Gutman decided to make a move. But not to Minneapolis. Instead, he found himself driving buses in rural Vermont, navigating windy, narrow roadways in difficult winter conditions.

The nerve-racking Vermont drives led Gutman to rethink Minneapolis. Gutman moved to Minnesota and began at Metro Transit in March 2010. His first assignment: Route 5.

After his experiences elsewhere – including a short stint driving in Madison, Wis. – he’s glad to be here. Gutman says South Garage, where he works, feels like an extended family where his sense of humor can be shared without reservation (Gutman is often ribbed for his short stature and slicked hair).

“I’ve been in this business since 1988 and of all the places I’ve worked, this is by far the best,” Gutman said in a recent interview.

Gutman now works as a part-time driver driving Route 467, an express bus between Minneapolis and Lakeville, and Route 134, between Minneapolis and Highland Park. At 53 years old, he walks as much as two hours to and from work every day, year round, and has found tranquility in his daily routine. 

“I like my life simple and this is the kind of job where you can go on vacation and not have to come back to 10,000 e-mails,” he said.

Though he likes to kid, Gutman takes his job very seriously and is relentlessly focused on customer service, safety and performance. After 25 years as a driver, he said his best advice for new operators is to reduce their speed, increase their following distance, remain on alert and always leave an ‘out’ should another driver do something unexpected.

The diligence has paid off. Since joining Metro Transit, Gutman has received several customer commendations and three Safe Operator Awards. Gutman received Outstanding Operator Awards in 2011 and 2012.

Looking ahead, Gutman said he hopes to continue driving and to help young employees. He said he is committed to the job because he sees it as critical to Metro Transit’s success.

“I think most people can learn to drive a bus but there’s so much more to it than that,” Gutman said. “As operators on the front line, we really act as the liaison to the agency and have to be out there promoting ourselves every day.”

Operator at a Glance

Name: Lee Gutman

Hired: March 1, 2010

Routes: Gutman drives Route 134 in the morning and Route 467 in the afternoon. He has driven a number of express routes and Route 5 during his time with Metro Transit.

Favorite memories: Early in his career at Metro Transit, Gutman was driving southbound on Route 5 when a customer boarded, and identified himself as a Metro Transit employee. The employee was General Manager Brian Lamb, who later connected with Gutman to learn about his experiences driving in other parts of the country. Gutman also fondly recalls driving a bus filled with elementary school students in Vermont (he and the students figuratively and literally saw eye-to-eye, he jokes).

Awards: 2011 and 2012 Outstanding Operator Awards; three-time Safe Operator Award winner.

Hobbies: Walking, visiting the St. Croix River Valley, antiques, music and movies from the 60s and 70s.

To better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these profiles of train and bus operators. If you'd like to suggest an operator for a future profile, please email ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org.

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