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Bus Light Rail Retro Transit Transit Information

Transit help just a phone call away 

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013 9:00:00 AM

 

Technology has dramatically altered the way Metro Transit’s customers plan their trips, offering real-time information that allows users to see the best way to get from Point A to Point B with just a few clicks.

That doesn’t mean Metro Transit has lost its personal touch, however.

Nearly 40 transit experts at Metro Transit’s Fred T. Heywood Office Building in Minneapolis work all but two days a year to provide customers with personalized transit directions over the phone. Callers can get directions by simply telling the experts where they are and where they want to go. Experts can also help customers learn how to walk to their nearest station or final destination and help plan a future trip. Trip planning assistance is available in 170 languages.  

While Metro Transit’s website and third-party apps now play a growing role in customers’ trip planning efforts – Metro Transit’s online trip planner drew more than 6 million users last year – there is still a healthy appetite for a more personal experience.

Transit experts receive about 5,000 calls a day and have together handled more than 1 million annual calls each of the last eight years (in 2012, there were 1.2 million calls answered; the record was set in 2009 with 1.24 million calls answered).

“It’s not as if we’re hauling lumber around. We serve people, and people really appreciate that one-to-one contact,” said John Howley, who has managed the Transit Information Center for the last seven years.

While the basic function is the same, technology has changed the way the Transit Information Center works. Before Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner launched in 2000, transit experts manually plotted trips using a giant map, where each route had been taped.

Today, that labor-intensive approach has been replaced with a computerized system that can instantantly provide experts the information they need to serve customers. Calls that once took up to 20 minutes to resolve now often take less than two minutes.

Gary Bier (who goes by another name on the phone) has seen the evolution since becoming a transit expert nearly 35 years ago, when fares were just 35 cents. Besides the changes in technology, Bier has seen the level of service grow dramatically.

While there is more to remember now, Bier has developed a vast knowledge of Metro Transit’s routes and schedules and can quickly come up with solutions when customers call. Some of that knowledge comes from memorizing routes before the call center moved to a computer-based system.

“Kind of like a GPS, I can picture it all in my head,” Bier said.

Cathy Taylor has spent 13 years helping Metro Transit customers navigate the system. She said most callers are looking for directions to appointments, school or a new job.

During a recent Friday morning, Taylor helped a man in downtown Minneapolis find his way to a medical appointment in Golden Valley, confirmed weekend departure times for a man with an outdated printed map and walked a Minneapolis resident through her early-morning commute to Edina.

The calls showed how Taylor is able to come up with more creative trips based on how much time people are willing to wait, whether they will walk longer distances to their final destination or are comfortable transferring to another bus, giving people more options than they might come up with on their own.

"This is really much more of a personal schedule," she said.

Those needs are why Howley believes transit experts will continue to play a vital role for Metro Transit customers, no matter how much technology evolves. “That need will always be there,” he said. 

    > For TIC rep, job changes but motivation stays the same

    > Trip Planner sets new record

How to reach the Transit Information Center

To reach Metro Transit’ Transit Information Center, dial 612-373-3333. (This is the same number that provides access to NexTrip, Customer Relations and a number of other resources). Transit experts are available from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The Transit Information Center is closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. 

Photos: Transit expert Jared Fette speaks to a Metro Transit customer at the Transit Information Center, June 2013 (top). A transit expert uses a guidebook to manually plot a trip in the Transit Information Center in 1999, before the system was converted to computers.

Community Northstar Rider Information

Let history be your guide on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line 

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013 11:40:00 AM

From Ford Motor Co.’s downtown Minneapolis factory to the Oliver H. Kelly Farm in Elk River, a trip on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line is rich in history. 

And now there’s more of it.

Minnesota Public Radio’s audio tour of the 40-mile commuter rail line, part of its Sound Point® series, was recently expanded to provide customers additional history about the sights along the corridor (which we learn began as a route for ox carts delivering furs from northern Minnesota and Canada...). 

The 25-minute tour is accessible by smart phone, allowing transit customers to listen and look as they travel the line. Passengers with WiFi-enabled devices can also access the tour using Northstar's new WiFi service later this year.

In Ramsey, where Northstar’s newest station opened in 2012, the tour tells the story of one of Minnesota’s first paved highways, Highway 10. The road was built in the 1920s to serve wealthy city residents who wanted to drive to their lake homes.

> Listen to the Northstar Commuter Rail Line audio tour

The tour also touches on the 1986 tornado that hit the Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley, which circled for 16 minutes and is considered one of the most-photographed tornadoes in history. Other anecdotes include the story behind the Rum River’s name, a mix of spiritual and spirit-driven inspiration, and the construction of the United States’ first rural nuclear power plant, in Elk River.

Jeff Jones, Engagement Editor for MPR's Public Insight Network, created the audio tour. Jones said he hopes the history will give customers who regularly ride Northstar a greater appreciation for the corridor, which he said “exemplifies the story of Minnesota’s development.”

“I want someone riding it (Northstar) to understand what connects Minnesotans together,” Jones said. “Whether you live in the city or live out in the exurbs of Big Lake, there’s so much that we depend on each other for. But more simply than that, I want people to know what they’re looking at every day, to be able to look at a factory and say, ‘I know what’s going on in there.’”

Jones hopes to continue building the series, adding additional audio and information Big Lake, at the north end of the line. Anyone who would like to share information is invited to contact Jones at jjones@mpr.org.

Bus Light Rail Links of Interest Transit Information Transit Planning

Apps put transit in the palm of your hand 

| Friday, June 07, 2013 4:04:00 PM

In addition to Metro Transit’s mobile website, the agency provides third-party developers the information they need to build apps that provide route and schedule information, frequently in real time. That trove of data comes primarily from The Minnesota Geospatial Commons, which collects GIS information from the seven-county metro region, and Metro Transit's real-time departure info system, NexTrip.

Standing at the corner of East Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue and need to find a bus to Uptown? There’s an app for that. In fact, there are several.

Several developers have already put that data to use, creating apps that offer information about Metro Transit routes and schedules. The Pioneer Press has reviewed several available options; a complete list of apps with Metro Transit information can be found here.

Here’s a quick look at some of the available apps that could be of help to Metro Transit riders:

The Transit App. The Transit App automatically locates the nearest transit stop or can be used to find the nearest stop to a manually-entered address. After the stop has been identified, the app shows the next scheduled arrival and provides real-time information about the location of the bus or train. After entering a desired destination, the app can be used to get specific route information and to provide an estimated travel time. Free,  iPhone,  thetransitapp.com

HopStop. Like The Transit App, HopStop allows users to enter their location and preferred destination to find the nearest stops, routes and estimated travel times. The app also features full schedules and allows users to post live updates, adding a unique conversational element. Free. hopstop.com

Google Maps. Like its web-based bigger brother, Google’s map app automatically locates a user or allows a start address to be manually entered. Enter the final destination and select the bus icon to see what transit options are available. Free, iPhone, web. google.com

Twin Cities Tripr. The Tripr app allows users to search by route or stop and provides information about the next available local service or express bus. Information on Northstar, the Blue Line and the Red Line is also available. Free. iPhone. appannie.com

In addition to these apps, Metro Transit’s website is available in a web-friendly format. Simply enter metrotransit.org or metrotransit.org/mobile into your browser. The site allows users to view schedules, NexTrip (real-time departures), plan trips and locate service. On GPS-enabled devices, the “Find Me” feature can also be used to determine your location with just a touch.

Twin Cities Transit and mspbus.org also serve mobile web users.

Bus In the News Know Your Operator Safety

Star Tribune: Driver Jerry Olson honored for dozens of awards 

| Friday, June 07, 2013 2:12:00 PM

"Metro Transit’s most celebrated driver has never lived up to his nickname, “Crash.” And for that, he was honored Thursday. Jerry Olson was recognized by Metro Transit for having earned 25 Outstanding Operator Awards and 39 consecutive Safe Operator Awards; he’s the first to achieve the latter feat..."

> Read the Star Tribune's report on Jerry Olson and Metro Transit's Outstanding Operator awards

> Star Tribune: Metro Transit drivers get their due

> Read more about Metro Transit employees who have served for more than 30 years

Bus Good Question Light Rail Promotions

Good Question: Why are free rides offered to some events? 

| Tuesday, February 26, 2013 3:42:00 PM

With St. Patrick's Day around the corner and basketball and hockey seasons underway, customers have asked us about Metro Transit's free ride promotions.

Minnesota Wild bus light rail Metro TransitWe partner with organizations and events throughout the year to provide free trial rides in exchange for advertising and promotional opportunities. For instance, Metro Transit’s partnership with the Minnesota Timberwolves offers fans with game-day tickets free rides on buses and trains before and after games. In exchange, Metro Transit receives a valuable advertising package that promotes public transportation to fans before they get to the arena and also during games at Target Center.

Factors considered for selecting events and partnerships include the amount of value received in exchange for rides, minimum ride and attendance projections, transit service levels to the event and partnerships that are aligned with Metro Transit’s Mission Statement and Guiding Principles.

Promotions are a great way to get to know us!

Graphic promotion for TimberwolvesThe free rides are generally redeemable with a downloadable pass that is shown to bus drivers or Transit Police officers. We ask customers to answer a couple of questions before they download their pass. Last year, about 80 percent of those downloading passes said they had never tried transit or had only used it occasionally, and 75 percent said the free rides made them more likely to attend the event.

Miller Lite Free Rides promotions during St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve are different because rides are paid for directly by MillerCoors Brewing. In 2012, there were about 89,000 free rides given to customers during these annual programs.

Free trial rides offered through promotions or partnerships total about 0.3 percent of total annual ridership. 

Similar to sampling programs popular in the private sector (for example, free food samples in grocery stores), these trial rides provide easy opportunities for event goers to try transit. Our customer research shows that once people try buses and trains, they overwhelmingly have a good experience (90 percent) and are likely to refer our service to friends and family (95 percent). Sporting events are targeted because surveys show that fans who normally don’t take transit are willing to try it to games and then continue riding to other events. 

> See Metro Transit's Event Calendar for upcoming promotions and events

> Star Tribune: Try before you ride: free rides on the Red Line

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