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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

Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety

Close call on METRO Blue Line provides safety reminder 

| Friday, August 16, 2013 9:24:00 AM

Rusdon Torbenson considers himself extremely lucky. 

On June 15, Torbenson was biking westbound on East 35th Street. After crossing Hiawatha Avenue, he biked around the lowered, flashing gate arms. Though he saw a METRO Blue Line train traveling south, he thought he could cross the tracks before it passed through the intersection.

Headphones in and looking to his right, Torbenson failed to notice the second 150-ton train coming from the opposite direction at about 40 miles per hour.

That is, until it hit his front tire.

“I had no awareness of the northbound train until it was striking me,” Torbenson said recently. “If it had passed another second later I would have been killed.”

Instead, Torbenson walked away from the scene 30 minutes later with little more than a bruised pointer finger, a bent-up bike and a moving violation. Customers were escorted from the train to replacement buses as police and emergency responders arrived at the scene.  

“I wanted to apologize to every one of them,” Torbenson said, recalling the incident in an interview at the Blue Line’s 38th Street Station.

Though he avoided significant injury, Torbenson’s story underscores a message Metro Transit hopes will stick with all residents who come near light rail: trains can come on any track, at any time, from either direction. (Though this wasn't true in Torbenson's case, it's also important to realize trains may be approaching on the opposite track but blocked from view by the near-side train.)

Torbenson said he knows he should have been more careful and agreed to talk about his experience so that others would not repeat it. He said he hadn't been in a particular hurry. And despite crossing the tracks countless times over the last several years, he’d never attempted to beat the train before.

With METRO Green Line light-rail service beginning between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul in mid-2014, Torbenson's experience is a timely reason for a refresher on safety around light-rail trains for pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists.

> Never try to beat a train through a crossing – it takes the length of two football fields for a train to stop.

> Safety only takes a second – light-rail trains move faster than freight trains. If gate arms are going down, stop. The train will clear the intersection in a few seconds.

> Slow down and be alert near rail stations. Watch for pedestrians, trains, buses and cars. If you're wearing headphones, put them away to avoid distractions.

Looking back at the experience, Torbenson said the close call has left him more aware, but also more introspective. In the days after the collision, he thought about how his parents and 11-year-old son would have been affected had things gone differently.

“The first few hours I was really just embarrassed,” he said. “Then over the next few days it was pretty overwhelming, realizing it was such a near-death experience.”



Bus In the News Light Rail Transit Planning

Study: Transit boosts economy 

| Thursday, August 15, 2013 2:05:00 PM

A new report provides further evidence that transit is good for the economy.

The study, highlighted this week at The Atlantic Cities website, suggests transit helps boost the economy by bringing people together – widening the labor pool, increasing accessibility and bolstering innovation.

Though authors acknowledge more work is needed to support their claims, their initial results suggest a 10 percent expansion of transit could produce a per-worker wage increase between $53 and $194 in city centers. Transit can also help add jobs and increase a city’s gross metropolitan product, the study suggests.

The study echoes the findings of the Itasca Project’s “Return on Investment Assessment,” which focused on transit in the Twin Cities metro area. The study suggested that spending $4.4 billion on transit expansion before 2030 – including the addition of new light rail and Arterial Bus Rapid Transit lines – could lead to a benefit of more than $10 billion by 2045.  

    > Atlantic Cities: Public Transit Is Worth Way More to a City Than You Might Think

    > Star Tribune: The business case for transit

    > Metropolitan Council: Moving forward on transit and highway funding

Bus Express Bus From the GM State Fair

Metro Transit: The fast and friendly way to the State Fair 

| Wednesday, August 14, 2013 11:04:00 AM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

As customers might imagine, providing service to the Minnesota State Fair is no small undertaking. It’s often said that we run the two largest bus systems in the state during the 12 days of fun that end every Labor Day.

In order to provide safe, reliable and convenient trips to and from the Great Minnesota Get-Together, our preparations begin long before the gates open. This year is no exception. Mechanics, drivers, transit control center staff, street supervisors and other Metro Transit staff have been gearing up for this year’s fair for months. We’ll field more than 60 extra buses during fair weekdays and more than 70 extra buses during weekends. During the fair, staff will put in hundreds of extra hours to ensure we deliver top-notch transportation and customer service.

We put in this extra effort not only because it’s natural to integrate transit into one of the state’s largest events but because we are passionate about contributing to the excitement and tradition that make the fair such a uniquely Minnesotan event.

With nearly 1.8 million annual visitors, the State Fair is a showcase for everything that makes our state great – transit included. For some people, taking the bus to the fair is only a variation on their everyday commute. For others, it will be the first time they’ll step foot on a bus all year. By providing fast, friendly and reliable fair service, we have a great opportunity to showcase our day-to-day service, too. With Metro Transit personnel staffing booths in the Grandstand and the Eco Experience exhibit, we’re easy to find for further one-on-one conversations about how to use the transit system.

Whatever lasting impacts fair service has on commuting habits, transit has long since established itself as the mode of choice for fairgoers looking to avoid the frustrations of traffic and parking (there are just 9,000 parking spots on the fairgrounds). 

Transit became a part of the State Fair experience in the late 1800s when streetcars began ushering thousands of fairgoers to the fairgrounds. By 1907, more than 250,000 people were using streetcars to get to the fair, peaking at more than 24,000 customers an hour during the busiest evenings. A decade later, more than 382,000 people would ride streetcars to the fair.

When streetcars went out of service in the 1950s, buses became the transit mode of choice. Fair service was initially delivered through regular routes, but express buses have been operating from regional Park & Rides for the last two decades – inspired by successful integration Park & Ride lots into bus service for the 1992 Super Bowl at the Metrodome.

As our service continues to evolve, the number of fairgoers using transit keeps growing. Fairgoers took 467,000 rides on State Fair express or regular route bus service last year. The long-term growth in fair ridership reflects our ongoing commitment to improving service. A few highlights of new improvement's we're making this year:

> Customers can order passes online and print them at home or download them to a mobile device. Our staff will have handheld readers at express sites to instantly scan the passes, reducing cash handling and speeding service. Groups that order advance Bus Bargain Tickets online by Aug. 21 receive a healthy discount.

> Families and fairgoers can incorporate Northstar Commuter Rail into their trip plans. A new State Fair Express site at Northstar's Fridley Station provides an easy connection between the rail line and the fairgrounds – especially on weekends when a Northstar Family Pass is the only fare a group needs to get all the way from as far away as St. Cloud to the fairgrounds (connecting to the Big Lake Station using the Northstar Link).

> Route 960 will run every 15 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Hennepin Avenue through downtown Minneapolis instead of Nicollet Mall, providing more consistent trip times. (Return trips are scheduled to run approximately every 15 minutes from noon until midnight.)

> Maplewood Mall Transit Center and Park & Ride is now open and will provide covered parking for hundreds of fairgoers coming from the east metro.

> The METRO Red Line will serve as a new option from the south metro to connect with State Fair service at the Bloomington site adjacent to Mall of America. 

As always, we budget all State Fair services to be self-sustaining – with fares covering all aspects of the operation. 

Thank you for choosing Metro Transit and enjoy the fair!

> State Fair Express Bus Bargain Tickets

> State Fair Express Bus Service

> Regular-Route Bus Service to the State Fair

> Minnesota State Fair

> Pioneer Press: State Fair preparing a place for streetcar arch's return trip

Top Left: General Manager Brian Lamb; Middle Right: Streetcars lined up outside the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand around 1910, courtesy Aaron Isaacs; Below Left: Metro Transit's 2012 exhibit, located in the Grandstand. Cover photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair.

Express Bus Route of the Week Suburban Transit

Route 264: On the shoulder and on the move 

| Wednesday, August 14, 2013 3:00:00 AM

Simon Koch has a 20-minute commute from Roseville to downtown Minneapolis every day. But he doesn’t waste his time sitting in traffic. Instead, riding Route 264, he reads.

“Ever since I started riding the bus the number of books I read has just skyrocketed,” Koch said before boarding at the I-35W and County Road C Park & Ride, which sits just a mile from his house.

Koch’s experience is similar to many customers who use Route 264 to get from Roseville to Minneapolis and back each day. Like Koch, customers aboard the bus on a recent 9 a.m. trip said they use their commute to browse the news on their phones, fit in extra work or simply doze off.

“The traffic doesn’t really bother me anymore because I just listen to music or read on my iPad,” said Brian Meskimen, a Shoreview resident who fits in workouts at a nearby gym before boarding at the Park & Ride.

But it’s not just comfort that’s motivating customers to get on the bus.  

For Amy Hubler, riding Route 264 is a way to avoid the parking costs her employer doesn’t cover. The White Bear Lake resident started riding in June after getting a job in downtown Minneapolis. Like many Route 264 customers, her employer contributes to the cost of a Metropass. The pass is $76 a month, pre-tax, and provides unlimited rides.

“I never had the option before but now I’m just hooked,” Hubler said.

Part of the appeal for Ketam Solamki is the advantages Route 264 is one of 75 express routes that benefits from Marq2, bus-only lanes on Marquette Avenue and Second Avenue South featuring real-time bus information signs, enhanced shelters and wider sidewalks. Route 264 is also among the Metro Transit routes that use bus-only shoulders, allowing buses to bypass congestion.

“I used to hate seeing the bus on the shoulder but now I love it,” Solamki said. 

The advantages have proven a compelling draw. In 2012, three years after the route began with the opening of the I-35W & County Road C Park & Ride, there were nearly 96,000 passenger boardings. Through the first half of 2013, there have been more than 78,000 boardings.

The growth has come in part as customers who used the Rosedale Center Park & Ride, which closed last fall, transition to County Road C or the Highway 36 & Rice Street Park & Ride. Increased service has also helped.

After beginning with rush hour-only service, late morning and midday trips added in 2010, and service was further expanded last year when the Rosedale Park & Ride closed. There are now 21 southbound and 19 northbound trips every weekday between 6 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.

"The midday trips are a great service for commuters who may need to get home outside of traditional rush hours," said Scott Thompson, a senior transit planner who helped develop Route 264.

While there are no plans to make any further service changes on Route 264, the area around the County Road C Park & Ride is evolving.

Land around the Park & Ride once used for trucking terminals is now being cleared to make way for mixed-use development in what the city is calling the Twin Lakes Redevelopment Area.

In May, construction began on the first new development in the area, a Walmart expected to open in 2014.

Route 264 At a Glance

Type: Express

Service: Route 264 provides weekday express bus service between the Rosedale Transit Center at Rosedale Shopping Center and  I-35W and County Road C Park & Rid ramp  and downtown Minneapolis. Morning rush-hour trips begin around 6 a.m. and the last northbound trip from downtown Minneapolis departs around 9 p.m. Midday trips leave roughly every hour.

Route length: 9 miles

Stops: 6 northbound stops and 6 southbound stops

Vehicles: 60-foot articulated buses

Ridership: Route 264 saw 95,825 customer boardings in 2012, a 153 percent increase from 2010, the first full year of operation.

History: Route 264 launched in late 2009 with the opening of the I-35W & County Road C Park & Ride. Late morning and midday trips were added in 2010 and service was further expanded in 2012.

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