A freshman at St. Catherine University, Samantha Alvarez has commuted to class every day this semester by driving her car alone. Though she doesn’t like paying for gas, she said the idea of taking the bus is daunting.
“I’ve always thought buses were scary,” the Plymouth resident said. “I’m really bad with directions and I didn’t know where the buses would go or where I’d end up.”
A recent “How to Ride” presentation by one of Metro Transit’s customer advocates helped address some of Alvarez’s reservations. Hosted on campus with support from students in the school’s Commuter Advisor group, the event provided she and several other students at the St. Paul school a tutorial about how to read a schedule, buy and use a Go-To Card, load a bike on the front of a bus and other basic transit tips.
Such in-person presentations are repeated for hundreds of audiences each year to new riders and those unfamiliar with transit - like Alvarez. Besides students, presentations are given to seniors, English language learners who are new to the country and other groups.
Beginning this year, community education classes have also been offered in communities along the Northstar Commuter Rail Line to educate people on how to ride the train. The classes include a trip on the train and the connecting METRO Blue Line.
Doug Cook, one of the customer advocates who leads How to Ride presentations, said uncertainty and fear are hurdles for those who want to use transit but have little or no experience doing so. He hopes his presentation serves as a starting point and gives customers the confidence they need to begin riding the bus and train.
“A lot of people come to these events with fear – I’m trying to alleviate that fear and get them to take that next step,” said Cook, a former Metro Transit bus driver.
Before making a recent presentation at St. Catherine, Cook visited the Minnesota Council of Churches
in Minneapolis where he spoke to a Somali family that had arrived in the country just five days earlier.
After running through the basics – including fares, transfers and Metro Transit’s Language Line – the group boarded a Route 18 bus and traveled to the Hennepin County Library in downtown Minneapolis to see how the system worked in practice. The family was participating in the Council’s New Arrival Resource Empowerment Workshop (NAREW), a three-week course that is designed to help refugees take a first step towards self-sufficiency.
Katia Iverson, a Refugee Program Specialist with the Council, said transit is essential to new immigrants who don’t have cars and need to connect with services. After the How to Ride presentation, NAREW participants are expected to get to remaining classes on their own.
“That (taking transit) is kind of the first measurement of self-sufficiency in Minnesota,” Iverson said.
Liz May, a Commuter Advisor who helped organize the recent event at St. Catherine’s, learned how to ride the bus while she was a teenager and working at Mall of America.
A senior at St. Catherine, May admitted some anxiety when she first began riding the bus. But she said she’s become more confident as she has gained experience and wants other students to be equally secure riding the bus. (St. Catherine’s is served by Routes 74, 84, 87 and 134.)
The school's Commuter Advisors hope to have more How to Ride classes and recorded Cook’s presentation in the hopes that it will be incorporated into future student orientations. “Students should be able to relax and take the bus with ease,” May said.