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.