It takes Jesse Roberts just two minutes to get from his home in Blaine to the 95th Avenue Park & Ride.
So when it came time for him to go to his first University of Minnesota class of the semester this week, he chose to simplify his commute. Instead of driving solo to Minneapolis on Interstate 35W, he parked at the Park & Ride and boarded a Route 252 bus.
Along with nearly two dozen others aboard the 7:24 a.m. inbound bus, Roberts was on campus in approximately 25 minutes. The 17-year-old, earning college credit for courses in Arabic and pre-calculus, used his time on the bus to scan his textbook and simply relax.
“This is really convenient and it’s a lot faster than I can go in a car anyways,” Roberts said as the bus rolled down Interstate 35W, using bus-only shoulders to bypass congestion.
Roberts’s first-time experience followed the pattern of several U of M students interviewed aboard the southbound bus. The students said they chose transit largely to avoid the hassles of traffic and the expenses of gas and parking.
With U-Passes, the students also get access to unlimited rides on all regular route Metro Transit buses and the METRO Blue Line for just $97 a semester and qualify for the Guaranteed Ride Home program, which reimburses customers who need to take emergency trips home.
For Kelsey Bolton, 20, the combination of Route 252 and the U-Pass allows her to continue living at home while taking classes in Kinesiology (the study of human movement).
“I wanted to stay at home and save money – this was an easy way to go to school and do that,” she said.
Without the bus, Ham Lake resident Rob Michalak said he would expect to pay up to $20 a day in parking costs. “The parking is ridiculous,” the fourth-year student in aerospace engineering said. “It’s not that it’s hard to find, it’s just pricey.”
Before Route 252’s creation, customers in the northwest metro going to the U of M rode Route 250, an express bus to downtown Minneapolis. They then had to transfer to a local bus, such as Route 16 or Route 50.
Beginning Dec. 9, Route 252 and several other routes will operate on the Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall, bringing customers to the heart of campus.
Cyndi Harper, Metro Transit's manager of route planning, said Route 252 was created in 2009 to eliminate the need for transfers and fill a gap in express service to the university. Other express routes to campus run from Maplewood (Route 272), Minnetonka (Route 652) and Edina (Route 579).
Route 252 was funded through a federal grant that also paid for a three-level parking ramp at the 95th Avenue Park & Ride, the largest Park & Ride in Metro Transit’s network with more than 1,500 spaces. Federal funding was also used to install NexTrip signage and real-time displays on I-35W that show Park & Ride availability and travel time savings for transit users.
Since its creation, Route 252 has attracted a growing number of students, faculty and staff. In 2012, nearly 25,000 passengers boarded Route 252 – a nine percent increase from the year before. (Overall, nearly 500,000 U-Passes have been sold since 2000.)
Matt Dion, 22, is an everyday Route 252 rider who is using a U-Pass for the second time this year. Besides saving money, he said the transit advantages allow him to get to class on time without having to adjust his schedule around traffic conditions.
“If I had to drive, I’d be getting up at 5 a.m. or waiting until after traffic dies down, and that’s not really an option,” he said.
Route 252 At a Glance
Service: Route 252 runs between the 95th Avenue Park & Ride in Blaine and the University of Minnesota. Buses run on Interstate 35W, where they are able to use bus-only shoulders to bypass congestion. When school is in session, there are three morning trips (departing Blaine at 7:09 a.m., 7:24 a.m. and 8:28 a.m.) and three outbound trips (3:43 p.m., 4:43 p.m. and 5:53 p.m.) every weekday.
Route length: Approximately 15 miles
Stops: 4 southbound stops and 4 northbound stops
Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses
Ridership: Route 252 saw nearly 25,000 passenger boardings in 2012, up nine percent versus 2011.
History: Route 252 was launched in 2009 with support from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The $133 million Urban Partnership Agreement also helped pay for a new three-level parking ramp at the 95th Avenue Park & Ride, NexTrip signage and real-time displays on I-35W showing auto and bus travel time comparisons and Park & Ride space availability.
Future: Route 252 is among a handful of routes serving the U of M campus that will return to Washington Avenue in December.