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A Line BRT Bus Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Ridership

Light rail, Bus Rapid Transit lines set annual ridership records 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, February 11, 2019 1:00:00 PM

Customers board a Metro Transit light rail vehicle at the Nicollet Mall Station in 2018.It was another record-setting year for Metro Transit’s light rail and Bus Rapid Transit lines.

The Green Line, Blue Line and A Line each saw their highest annual ridership ever in 2018, breaking records that were set just a year earlier.

Ridership on the Green Line has steadily risen since the light rail line opened in 2014. Nearly 13.8 million rides were taken on the Green Line last year. Average weekday ridership topped 42,500 rides.

More than 11.1 million rides were taken on the Blue Line, the highest annual total since it opened in 2004. The increase in Blue Line ridership partly reflects a shift to transit amid construction on Interstate 35W.

In its second full year of service, customers took more than 1.6 million rides on the A Line. Total ridership in the A Line corridor is about one-third higher than 2015, when it was served only by Route 84. 

“Continued growth in light rail and Bus Rapid Transit ridership affirms what we’ve always believed – that people value fast, frequent and reliable service,” Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra said. “We are encouraged by the response and look forward to offering more of this service in the years to come.”

Systemwide, Metro Transit provided more than 80.7 million total rides in 2018. This was the eighth consecutive year annual ridership topped 80 million rides, keeping ridership at its highest point in three decades.

Across transit types and providers, nearly 94.2 million rides were provided in the seven-county region in 2018. That total includes suburban transit providers as well as the Metropolitan Council’s Metro Mobility, Transit Link and Vanpool services.

Metro Transit’s 2018 ridership total includes 55 million local and express bus rides (including Maple Grove Transit, which is operated under contract by Metro Transit). Bus ridership declined 4 percent from 2017.

Some ridership loss was expected following an October 2017 fare increase. Lower-than-usual gas prices also played a role. 

The decline in bus ridership largely reflects losses on Metro Transit’s busiest local routes, which will be substantially replaced and improved with Bus Rapid Transit service in the coming years.

Where service improvements have been made, bus ridership has risen. Ridership to St. Louis Park’s West End and on routes 32 and 54 improved in 2018. Some Route 54 trips began offering limited stop service between downtown St. Paul and Maplewood Mall beginning in June 2018. 

Other 2018 ridership highlights include:

 > More than 1.3 million rides through the Transit Assistance Program, which allows qualified individuals to ride buses or light rail for $1.

 > A record number of Vikings fans took transit to and from home games. In all, nearly 263,000 rides were provided to and from U.S. Bank Stadium over the course of the pre- and regular season.

 > A record number of rides were provided to and from the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday, Sept. 1. More than 83,500 rides were provided on State Fair Express Buses and regular routes that serve the fairgrounds that day.

 > Nearly 210,000 additional rides were taken over more than a week’s worth of Super Bowl events in February 2018.

Metro Transit 2018 Ridership At A Glance

Mode Total Rides Average Weekday Rides Percent change from 2017
Bus 53.3 million 177,319 - 4%
Green Line 13.8 million (record) 42,572 + 5%
Blue Line 11.1 million (record) 32,921 + 4%
A Line 1.6 million (record) 4,860 + 2%
Northstar 787,327 2,814 0
Total 80.7 million 260,486 - 1%

 

Metro Transit Annual Ridership, 2004-2018

Who rides Metro Transit?

 

Shelters St. Paul

Bus stop improvements continue in downtown St. Paul 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, February 05, 2019 12:52:00 PM

A new waiting shelter was recently installed outside the old Pioneer Press Building, part of a broader and continued effort to improve waiting facilities across downtown St. Paul.

The new shelter is located on 5th Street between Cedar and Wabasha streets. The busy boarding stop had previously been without a shelter, in part because it’s located on a hill with a narrow sidewalk.

Bus stop improvements were incorporated into the redevelopment of the St. Paul newspaper’s former headquarters into nearly 150 apartments for low- and middle-income earners.

The developer, St. Paul-based Real Estate Equities, allowed Metro Transit to place the shelter on private property and incorporated its design into the redevelopment project. The sidewalk was also widened.

A $250,000 Metropolitan Council grant helped cover site preparation and other improvements to the public space around the building. The apartment building is expected to open later this year.

Other downtown St. Paul stops that will be improved this year include:

 > Minnesota Street and 6th Street East, where plans call for a new shelter

 > 6th and Wabasha streets, where plans call for a replacement shelter

Plans call for new and replacement shelters to be installed at six other locations through 2022. The future improvements are being led by Metro Transit in coordination with the City of St. Paul, MnDOT and the community.

In 2015, Metro Transit installed new shelters with real time signs, security features and other amenities at three of downtown St. Paul’s busiest boarding locations.

See a list and map of downtown St. Paul bus stops planned for shelter improvements

Learn more about the Better Bus Stops program

Bus

Good Question: How do I become a bus operator? 

Posted by John Komarek | Monday, February 04, 2019 3:55:00 PM

Contrary to what some might think, it’s not easy to become a Metro Transit bus operator.

There’s a lot of technical information and processes to learn – but don’t worry – we offer help to anyone who asks for it

From the moment you express interest in the job through the testing and application process, and even after your first day on the job, we have staff available to help.

Step 1: Bus Driver Application Preparation Meeting and Application

Before applying consider attending a Bus Driver Application Preparation meeting. There, staff and bus operators can answer any of your questions about what the job is like and about how the application process works. If you decide that it might be a good fit, then you can start the application process onsite.

Step 2: Customer Service Test

After the application, your first step is the Customer Service test, which can place you in scenarios you might encounter on the road. At times, this job can be stressful, but it’s up to you to maintain a professional and courteous manner during your workday.

Step 3: Study and Earn a Commercial Learners Permit

After passing the Customer Service test, you’ll need to earn your Minnesota commercial learner permit (CLP), the first step to getting a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

If you’ve never driven anything bigger than a car, we can help you learn the required vocabulary and rules of driving large commercial vehicles. We offer an eight-hour course, with flexible hours, to help you prepare.

Step 4: Interview, Background Check, and Drug Test

Once you’ve earned your CLP, you will be interviewed, undergo a background check, and a drug test.

Step 5: Start your career at Metro Transit with five-weeks paid training

If you pass, congratulations! You’ve begun your career at Metro Transit. If not, don’t be discouraged, you can try again later. Some bus operators have failed the first time, but eventually became great operators, like Shamara Baggett.

Once you have a CLP, you'll begin the five-week paid training before working your first shift.

Step 6: Start your new career with the help of a mentor

After that, you'll be introduced to your bus operator mentor who will help guide you through your career with Metro Transit.

Learn more about starting a career as a Metro Transit bus operator!

Bus Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line

Icy conditions present unique, rare challenge 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, February 04, 2019 1:25:00 PM

Winter weather is nothing new to our region, or to Metro Transit. So when snow or ice arrives, we know how to respond.

There are times, though, when conditions present unavoidable challenges. Such was the case on Monday morning, when freezing drizzle made traveling difficult across the region.

The complications on the METRO Blue Line arose as ice began to build up on the rails and the overhead wires that power light rail vehicles.

Many light rail vehicles have equipment that is designed to cut through ice on overhead wires. Frequent service also helps keep the rail and overhead wires clear.

On Monday morning, though, the fast-forming ice was simply too much to keep up with.

Ice becomes a problem when it interrupts the power supply. When power is interrupted, trains are programmed to automatically turn off to avoid damage. Several Blue Line trains stopped operating for this reason on Monday morning.

When trains stop moving, there’s a cascading effect on service because:

  • Technicians need to respond to the disabled train;
  • Trains that are still operating may need to switch tracks to continue in service;
  • Ice builds up on overhead wire in the section of track that isn’t being used.

Disabled and slow-moving trains can also create problems with the system that runs the signals and gate arms. On Monday morning, crews were dispatched to several locations to manually control gate arms along Hiawatha Avenue.

Extra train operators, technicians and other staff were also sent out to help restore and maintain service.

Even so, the domino effect that began when trains stopped operating was difficult to overcome, Light Rail Director Mark Benedict said.

“Once ice takes over and starts winning, we just have to fight the fight until we can get through it,” he said. “Even when we were having failures, we did everything we could to get trains to these stations because we know our customers were out there."

There were also delays across the bus network on Monday morning, with nearly two-thirds of trips delayed by up to 15 minutes at one point. Despite the challenging conditions, all customers arrived safely at their destinations.  

By Monday afternoon, rail and bus service was largely back on schedule. 

Be prepared

When snow, ice or other inclement weather is in the forecast, customers should put their safety first and prepare for delays. Steps customers can take include:

  • Consider taking an earlier trip
  • Sign up for Rider Alerts to receive service updates
  • Use NexTrip to track when your bus or train is expected to arrive
  • Dress visibly and warmly

Learn more about traveling safely during winter weather at metrotransit.org/snow.

Above: A Blue Line train equipped with special ice-cutting pantographs (the equipment between the train and overhead wire) enters the 46th Street Station; Signals Foreperson Mike Miller and Signals Technician Terry Chacos monitor a crossing guard; Lead Public Facility Worker Andrew Gonzalez puts salt down at the 46th Street Station. 

Good Question Light Rail

Good question: Why do tracks sometimes crack? 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, February 01, 2019 9:05:00 AM

Light rail vehicles weigh around 100,000 pounds each. So the steel tracks they operate on have to be sturdy and well maintained.

To ensure light rail tracks are in good order, Metro Transit’s track maintainers regularly walk end-to-end looking for small cracks, broken fasteners and other defects that aren't within standards. 

Ultrasonic testing, which detects internal rail defects that can't be seen, is also performed once a year. Train operators routinely report their observations about track conditions as well.

While this type of preventative maintenance helps Metro Transit proactively address repair needs, it can be difficult to prepare for the severest cold Minnesota has to offer.

When temperatures drop to extreme lows, tracks contract and are put under an extreme amount of tension. Under such conditions, tracks can pull apart and need to be repaired.

Amid January’s historic cold, crews repaired four sections of broken rail within just two weeks. Usually, such issues come up a few times a year.

Electronic train detection equipment that helps track the location of light rail vehicles usually signals a break in the rail. The equipment relies on electrical current that can be interrupted by breaks and cracks in the track.

In most cases, cracks are small enough that they do not pose a significant safety risk. In fact, trains can often continue using track areas where cracks have been detected at lower-than-usual speeds.

To fix a broken rail, crews can heat and re-weld the track back together. In some cases, sections of track may be replaced altogether.

When it’s extremely cold out, though, welding is not an option. Instead, crews reconnect separated sections of track by bolting them together with something known as a joint bar.

To minimize service impacts, track repairs are typically made overnight or in conjunction with other maintenance activities that require light rail service to be suspended.

Above: Staff from Metro Transit's Track Department and RailWorks repair a section of track near U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The crack developed amid some of the coldest temperatures the Twin Cities had seen in decades. 

Learn more about Metro Transit's track inspection efforts

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