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2016 Metro Transit Accomplishments

Customers board the rapid bus line, the A Line, at Snelling and University avenues on Saturday, June 11, 2016.Improvements lead to ‘System of Year’ honors

Recognizing accomplishments in several key areas, the American Public Transportation Association named Metro Transit its 2016 System of the Year. Metro Transit was selected among transit agencies from across North America that provide more than 20 million annual passenger trips.

The award came after the successful opening of the METRO Green Line, a decade of ridership growth and improvements in system safety, reliability, community relations, workforce development, sustainability and financial management, among other areas. 

Metro Transit celebrated the award with customers and employees at Target Field Station in late September. “Being named APTA’s System of the Year is a humbling and high honor, and one that can be celebrated by all who helped bring us to this point,” General Manager Brian Lamb said.  

Improved bus service builds urban ridership

The first of a dozen planned rapid bus lines, the A Line, successfully opened in June, bringing faster, more frequent service, enhanced stations and uniquely-equipped buses to one of the region’s most-traveled corridors (Snelling Avenue, Ford Parkway and 46th Street).

Ridership on the A Line and the local bus service it largely replaced quickly increased by about one-third, with an average of 5,600 passenger boardings per weekday in the corridor. The A Line’s on-time performance also exceeded comparable local bus service during its initial months of service. End-to-end travel times were reduced by about 22 percent compared to prior local bus service through the use of transit signal priority, off-board fare payments, dual-door boarding and wider spacing between stations.                                                                                                                    

The High Frequency Network was also expanded, improving service on all or part of three popular urban routes. The 14 routes in the High Frequency Network operate every ten to 15 minutes throughout the day, Monday through Saturday. Average weekday ridership on Route 11 grew 10 percent after joining the High Frequency Network in March 2016.

Events lead to record ridership

Metro Transit saw its highest single-day system ridership in recent memory when fairgoers mixed with commuters and sports fans across the region on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. Nearly 370,000 rides were taken systemwide as the Twins, Vikings, Gophers and Saints each hosted home games and service was provided to the Minnesota State Fair. Just a month later, on Monday, Oct. 3, a new single-day light rail ridership record was set when there were a combined 122,529 rides on the METRO Green and Blue lines. About a quarter of Vikings fans took light rail to U.S. Bank Stadium during the team’s inaugural season at the new venue.

Metro Transit also provided a record number of express bus and regular route rides to and from the Minnesota State Fair, serving 16 percent of the fair’s record 1.9 million visitors. Just over 632,500 rides were provided to and from the fairgrounds, surpassing 2015’s record ridership by nearly 10 percent. 

Systemwide, ridership topped 80 million annual rides for the sixth consecutive year, building on a decade of ridership growth. Ridership on the METRO Green Line increased for the second straight year, finishing with 12.7 million rides and average weekday ridership of just over 39,000 – close to the 2020 projection of 41,000 average weekday rides.

Co-creating a Better Bus Stop

Efforts to improve the waiting experience for bus customers through the Better Bus Stops program continued in 2016 with the installation of 33 new shelters, including several with heat and light. With these latest installations, Metro Transit is halfway to its goal of installing 150 new shelters since initiating the Better Bus Stops program in late-2014. The improvements are largely being made in areas of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Richfield, Minneapolis and St. Paul where there is a high concentration of poverty and the majority of residents are people of color.

In addition, Metro Transit partnered with several community-based organizations to gather customer and community input how to improve the bus stop experience. Information gathered through surveys, at bus stops and other outreach efforts will be used in part to influence the criteria used for prioritizing shelter locations. The partnerships with local organizations may also serve as a model for future project-based community outreach and engagement activities.

Around 7,400 new bus stop signs with route numbers and additional information were also installed by the end of 2016, marking the halfway point of a systemwide replacement effort. Each sign includes a stop number and instructions for accessing real-time departure information by phone; signs at the busier stops also include route maps and information about how frequently buses arrive at that destination. The number of requests for real-time information has risen as more new signs have been installed.

Preparing the workforce of the future

Anticipating retirements and planning for system growth, Metro Transit continued to develop its current and future workforce on several fronts. To attract a diverse pool of potential Mechanic-Technicians, Metro Transit and partnering organizations led a first-of-its-kind program that combines workforce readiness training, education and a paid internship. In August, 19 job seekers completed the first phase of the inaugural Metro Transit Technician program, moving on to paid internships and a two-year degree program at Hennepin Technical College. A similarly-designed program that will prepare job seekers for positions in Rail Maintenance launched in December with around 40 participants.

In addition, Metro Transit actively sought operators by hosting a series of testing and application events and encouraging operators to speak about their careers in new venues such as churches and mosques and on community radio. Through late-2016, operator applications has increased 20 percent compared to the same time last year and around 300 operators were to be hired. Current employees were supported by enhanced training and communication efforts, including a program that allowed employees to earn supervisory experience by temporarily taking positions they’d expressed interest in applying for.

Fare payment options expand

To make it easier and more convenient to pay fares, Metro Transit introduced a new app that includes a mobile ticketing option. With the app, customers can purchase tickets in advance online and activate them when they’re ready to ride, providing operators or police an active screen as proof of payment. The app also includes Metro Transit’s most popular trip planning tools. The app had been downloaded more than 5,600 times in just its first month.

The use of Go-To Cards and unlimited ride passes also increased slightly, to around 55 percent of all fare payments. Metro Transit also introduced a new All-Day Pass that allows customers unlimited rides for a 24-hour period and continued exploring the possibility of an income-qualified discounted fare program.

System becomes safer, more secure

Continued efforts to improve safety and security showed results, with fewer light-rail collisions and slight declines in bus customer accidents and serious reported crimes. The trends in system safety were driven by extensive training, including additional instruction at the beginning of an operator’s career an in the transition from part- to full-time. Police worked proactively to make the system more secure by focusing on community-oriented and data-driven policing. Transit Police also launched a new Youth Diversion Program and welcomed 13 new full-time officers, many of whom speak a second language. In early 2016, Metro Transit was recognized with a “Gold Standard” rating for its transit security program by the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA rating is based on a voluntary, comprehensive review focused on security planning, training and outreach.

Preventative maintenance boosts fleet performance

A continued focus on preventative maintenance continued to improve fleet performance in 2016. In 2016, buses had traveled an average of nearly 8,000 miles between maintenance road calls, a key measure of reliability that is at a historically-high level. Light rail mechanics completed an exterior overhaul of the 27 Bombardier vehicles that have been in service since the Blue Line opened in 2004 and continued to rebuild the vehicle’s trucks, which contain the electric motors and gearboxes that move trains down the tracks. In addition, mechanics installed new alternating flashing headlights designed to improve safety by increasing train visibility.

Expansion plans advance

Plans to expand the Twin Cities’ light rail, Bus Rapid Transit and rapid bus networks advanced in 2016. The Green Line Extension, which will operate on a route between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, cleared the FTA’s environmental review and was approved to enter the engineering phase – steps that keep the project on course to begin construction in 2017.  In addition, all local funding commitments were secured. The Blue Line Extension, which will run from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park, also cleared federal environmental review and received approval to enter engineering in January 2017. Construction is due to begin in 2018.

Plans for a Bus Rapid Transit line on I-35W south of Minneapolis – the METRO Orange Line – also advanced as Metro Transit continued to work closely with several partners to secure funding and agreements needed to include a host of transit-related improvements in the state’s larger I-35W reconstruction project, beginning in 2017. Construction on the Orange Line will begin in conjunction with the MnDOT project in late 2017 and service will begin in 2020. Engineering is also advancing for the region’s second rapid bus line, the C Line, with service between downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center. C Line construction is scheduled to begin in 2018.

    > Learn more about the Council's 2016 accomplishments

    > Download Metro Transit's 2015 Accomplishments

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