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Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Lobsang Choephel 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, August 22, 2019 10:04:00 AM

Train Operator Lobsang Choephel.

Lobsang Choephel fell in love with driving in India, where he drove cabs and spent hours shuttling tourists to and from Delhi in a large coach bus.

So when he arrived in the United States, it wasn’t a surprise that he found himself back behind the wheel.

He worked as a school bus driver and spent nearly a decade transporting passengers and equipment for Abbot Hospital. In 2006, a friend suggested applying at Metro Transit.

After three years as a bus operator, Choephel received more advice. This time, his co-workers were encouraging him to become a train operator.

Choephel wasn’t sure about the idea but decided to give it a try. The first few years were admittedly tough but, after a decade on the Blue Line, Choephel now says he’s found his calling.

“I can’t describe how much I love it,” he said recently from the Blue Line’s Operations and Maintenance Facility. “I’m addicted.”

Choephel is grateful to have found a career he enjoys. And he’s thankful to have found it in Minnesota, too.

In the late 1950s, Choephel’s family immigrated from Tibet to India, where he was raised as a Buddhist Monk. In his early 20s, Choephel found himself searching for new opportunities.

After securing an American Visa, he traveled across the globe unsure but hopeful.

In Minnesota, he connected with fellow Tibetans who helped him find work and adjust to his new life.

Nearly 30 years after landing in the Twin Cities, Choephel and his wife are raising two children and can’t imagine a better life.

“When I won the immigration lottery it was as if I won the actual lottery,” Choephel said. “That was my Powerball.”

We're hiring!

If you like working with people and want to make a difference in your community, apply to become a Metro Transit bus operator. All Metro Transit train operators begin as bus operators. Learn more about applying at metrotransit.org/drive.

On Off The Clock

On/Off the Clock: John Cook 

Posted by John Komarek | Monday, August 19, 2019 3:08:00 PM

Lives: Wayzata

Job: Project Manager of Disability for Transit Operations

Years of Service: 26

How did you come to work at Metro Transit and what do you do? 

Metro Transit is my third career. I started as a Navy SEAL in underwater demolition and served in Vietnam. After my service, I got into the hair cutting industry, which took me to places like England and Italy. I cut hair for some high-profile clients, like rock stars Rodger Daltry and Keith Moone of The Who. When I returned to Minnesota, I dyed my hair purple and continued to cut hair. I even groomed former Minnesota Twins star Kirby Puckett. 

After 29 years, I got bored. But I'm not the kind of person who retires. I became a part-time bus operator in 1992 at Shingle Creek Parkway (now Martin J. Ruter Garage) and have been here ever since. In addition to being an operator I've worked in street operations and as an assistant transportation manager. My current role is project manager of disability. 

What are your favorite activities when you're working or "On the Clock"? 

I truly enjoy helping people, and I'm able to help employees transition back to work after an illness or tragedy. As someone who has battled cancer, had reconstructive or replacement surgery and has lots of battle scars, I can relate and help people through difficult transitions. 

Sometimes it's helping someone who's battling cancer return to work, other times it's a transgender employee and their co-workers acclimate to a new identity. Whatever the transition, I'm proud to help people overcome these obstacles. It's an emotional job – sometimes you lose people – but I wouldn't give it up for the world. Any chance to help people is worth the effort. 

My life experience and Navy SEAL training has taught me that you can overcome almost anything with the right mindset and support.​ 

What are your favorite activities when you're not working or "Off the Clock"?

I love spending time with my family. I have two daughters, seven grandkids and two great grandkids. My grandson Eddie (above right) and I are interested in tattoos. They're quite addicting, and pretty much everyone in my family has ink. 

Eddie's a talented tattoo artist and I've told him to consider me his canvas. He's touched up a few of my tattoos and is currently working on a large arm tattoo of a knight and castles – he knows that I'm big into that period. One of my favorites is a Griffin (a creature with the body, tail and legs of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle) that he designed as a symbol of the family patriarch. I've spent more than 20 hours in the chair and am ready for more whenever my grandson creates his next great design. 

Northstar On the METRO

Several Northstar stations attracting more development 

| Thursday, August 15, 2019 9:57:00 AM

Construction continues near the Northstar Commuter Rail Line’s Coon Rapids/Riverdale Station, where Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates is building a 180 market-rate apartment project called Lyra, and a 71 affordable apartment project called Nova.

Construction continues near the Northstar Commuter Rail Line’s Coon Rapids/Riverdale Station, where Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates is building a 180 market-rate apartment project called Lyra, and a 71 affordable apartment project called Nova.

There's a common sight within blocks of Northstar Commuter Rail stations in Fridley, Coon Rapids and Ramsey: apartment construction.  

The recent and ongoing activity is a sign that, a decade after opening, Minnesota's only commuter rail line is an increasingly attractive amenity for residents who want to avoid driving to and from downtown Minneapolis. 

Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates is doing its part to meet the demand. The company is building a 180 market-rate apartment project called Lyra, and a 71 affordable apartment project called Nova, on previously vacant land next to the Coon Rapids/Riverdale Station. No apartments have been built in Coon Rapids for the past 25 years.

"In apartment development, we're always looking to locate next to demand generators, and the rail stations are an incredible amenity for renters by allowing freedom of movement for work or play without reliance upon a vehicle," said Shane LaFave, Sherman & Associates' director of development. 

The recent construction will add to an already impressive tally.

​Between 2009 and 2017, more than $66 million in multi-family development occurred within a half-mile of Northstar stations. The total does not include Elk River or Big Lake, which lie outside the seven-county metro area.  

The activity is summarized in a new report from Metro Transit's Transit Oriented Development Office. The report also looks at commercial and public investment and summarizes local planning efforts in the corridor. 

"Northstar is generating development interest in communities that have not seen much in a long time," said Lucy Galbraith, Metro Transit's TOD Director. "It's encouraging to see these stations areas begin to reach their full potential." 

Metro Transit's TOD Office is a resource for developers and local partners, and pursues development opportunities on suitable Metro Transit properties.

Working with the City of Fridley and Anoka County, the office has been involved in Sherman Associates' plans to bring three apartment buildings to land just east of the Fridley Station. Combined, the developments will provide nearly 300 new apartments for a range of incomes. 

The land is owned by Fridley's Housing and Redevelopment Authority and leased to Metro Transit for use as a Park & Ride. While the development will replace some parking, commuters will still be able to park at the Fridley Station. Construction is set to begin by the end of this year. 

Just blocks from the Fridley Station, construction also recently wrapped up on an expansion of the Cielo Apartments.  

Further north in Ramsey, a new city center and public park are among the features of a 400-acre redevelopment area immediately east of its rail station. 

While Ramsey's station only opened in 2012, the surrounding area has seen more activity than any other point along the commuter rail line. Combined, there has been $87 million in residential, office and retail activity within a half mile of the Ramsey Station. 

View the Northstar Corridor TOD Report

Learn more about Metro Transit's TOD Office

Community METRO Green Line

Council, Transit Police, partners helping families in need 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, August 13, 2019 3:07:00 PM

Families who seek shelter on light rail vehicles are getting help finding affordable housing – and the support they need to transition to their new living arrangements.

The Metropolitan Council’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) has helped around 70 families find or begin searching for apartments since the beginning of the year. The families have largely been referred by Metro Transit police officers who work overnight on the METRO Green and Blue lines.

Families referred to the Council can have their rent partially covered through a federal housing program. While that aid is limited, there are hopes more resources will become available in the future.

For many families, though, rental assistance is just a part of the equation.

To smooth the transition, Council staff direct people to organizations that provide counseling, legal aid, furniture and groceries, among other services. A social worker from St. Paul-based Radias Health is working exclusively with individuals who sought shelter on transit.

Families also receive advice on paying bills, housekeeping, setting boundaries and getting around their new surroundings using transit.

When a family with young children moved into a new apartment, Metro HRA senior outreach coordinator Ryane Leifheit put up a bulletin board with reminders about routine tasks.

“Many of these transit riders haven’t had a home in years,” she said. “Staying in housing is a whole other battle.”

The assistance is part of a larger and ongoing effort to help individuals who seek shelter on transit find alternatives.

Officers with the Metro Transit Police Department’s Homeless Action Team are often the first point of contact. The team includes six police officers who spend their nights on light rail vehicles building trust, bringing people to temporary shelters and providing other aid.

Two Community Service Officers have been added to the team and a van used to transport individuals in need was recently retrofitted so officers can use it to provide medical attention and other assistance.

Police are also hoping to have more temporary shelter spaces reserved for individuals who seek shelter on transit. 

While homelessness is a common issue in the transit industry, the coordination between police, the HRA, local and state agencies and service providers is rare, according to one national expert.

“I think you’re on the cutting edge of this, working to get the homeless some help so they don’t keep coming back,” said Dan Boyle a San Diego, Calif.-based transit consultant who has studied the response to homelessness by agencies across the country.

Lt. Mario Ruberto, a key figure in the police department’s efforts, said the stage was set by Metro HRA Director Terri Smith.

“She said, ‘Here’s what we’re up against.’ You find out other people have finished this component. It’s breaking down barriers so we’re all coming together,” he said.    

While there are challenges, Leifheit, the outreach coordinator, is optimistic the work she and others are doing will make an impact. “There’s a place for everybody,” she said. “There’s no one who can’t be helped.”

-- Story and photo by Laura Baenen

Network Next will create a compelling vision for organization, region 

Posted by John Komarek | Monday, August 12, 2019 10:13:00 AM

From General Manager Wes Kooistra 

Over the past several years, we've implemented two arterial Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines, providing faster, more reliable service and a more comfortable ride to some of the region’s busiest corridors. We’ve also added evening and weekend service to several bus routes, and upgraded others to high-frequency service so customers can expect a bus to arrive, in some cases, as often as every 10 minutes.

These improvements have helped us better serve people who work non-traditional hours, reduced wait times and made it easier to take transit to k​​ey destinations like St. Louis Park's West End. 

They've also led more people to ride, helping combat a broader decline in bus ridership. 

To build on this work, we're embarking on an ambitious planning effort called Network Next that will identify and prioritize improvements to our local, express and arterial BRT networks over the next 20 years. 

Network Next will also address how our facilities and fleet will need to evolve to support these improvements and give direction for providing more reliable service, expanded access to real-time information and customer facilities and integrating shared-mobility options.

Network Next will provide a path for expanding access in our region and for ensuring our customers have an exceptional experience every time they ride – both essential to growing ridership. 

To develop a unified and supported vision, we'll be inviting input from customers, local officials and staff. We'll be especially interested in feedback on our goals and the trade-offs we encounter in our work. For example, we could provide more routes with fewer transfers and less frequent service or have fewer routes with more transfers and more frequent service.

Based on what we hear, we’ll develop a draft plan that we expect to share in about a year and to be adopted by the Metropolitan Council by the first quarter of 2021.

While we're excited to hear from our community, we're not setting out with a completely clean slate. 

The plan will be informed by the Metropolitan Council's high-level, regional transportation goals, previous research on potential BRT corridors, existing customer feedback and the Service Improvement Plan (SIP) that was adopted in 2015.

Combining all this information into a coherent plan will create a critical roadmap for our organization. But just as importantly it will become a vision our entire region can rally behind.

How can I get involved?

We are looking for organizations, community groups, individual community leaders and artists from around the region to host and facilitate a community conversation around transit network tradeoffs and priorities. These conversations will be designed by the host to best meet the needs of the community they are focused on and will help us better understand the transit priorities of the communities we serve. Funding is available to support this work.

Stay up-to-date on the project by signing up for the Network Next newsletter or contacting us at NetworkNext@metrotransit.org.

 

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