Let’s Fix What We Can on the Red Line

While I would love to berate the Red Line for bad planning/engineering with an “offline” station, making pedestrians as unwelcome as possible or the general confusion of why the metro needed the line, but let’s try to be positive and constructive instead.  Here are some easy and rather cheap improvements to the Red Line that we could start right away.


On the other hand… I felt like death was near, 3+ lanes on either side of me at freeway speeds.

Ticket Machines

Where are they? Really, where are they? The system has been open for thirteen months now, I doubt this is just a backlog of orders at this point. I know they were part of the original plan, their signs are bolted onto your stations, so where are the machines?


Tickets, just dig through the concrete.


This isn’t a directional problem, both stations lacked a machine.

Otherwise, take down this sign;


Paid Fare Zone… so I can only stand here when I get off the bus? You don’t let me pay before I get on.


While I don’t often ride the Red Line, I have been told off by a bus driver for assuming I could board through the back door, a principle of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Instead, the driver refused to open the back door and made me use my transfer as if I was on a normal city bus. I am not opposed to showing that I have paid, but the concept of any off-board fare collection is that you have checks (or barriers, but that’s expensive and hard), and have high enough penalties that if you’re caught, it would have been better just to pay for every ride you’ve ever taken, or even thought of taking.

Practice Coming to a Stop

A few drivers are very good at this skill, being able to eliminate almost any gap between the floor of the bus and the platform. Others… not so much. I get it, not banging up the front right of the bus takes a lot of effort and it’s a hard skill to learn. But the Red Line needs to improve on this. Level boarding doesn’t mean anything if you have to jump across the chasm.


This driver is really good at this. S/he took his time, but s/he got right up to the platform.

Keep up the Good Work at Cedar Grove

With a new platform being planned for the median of the freeway I can tell you that your ridership will explode! (Also the new mall opening up next door). Report should be out soon.

Joseph Totten

About Joseph Totten

Joe is a graduate of Civil Engineering-Transportation and Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota, and has a masters degree from Portland State University. Born and raised in Saint Paul, Joe has worked with nonprofits and public agencies in MSP and Portland.

18 thoughts on “Let’s Fix What We Can on the Red Line

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Good post. The off-board fare collection / dual door is such an important feature, it’s ridiculous they haven’t implemented it. I just got back from a trip to Oslo, where all the city buses, streetcars, and subway use proof of payment (with quite frequent control checks). It is possible to buy a ticket from the driver, but it costs nearly $8 for a standard ticket to do it that way. (It costs $4.75 if you buy it with your cell phone, or from a ticket machine.)

    These are good policies — although it helps to have an app to back it up. They could seriously speed up BRT, but also regular bus service throughout the metro.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

      Honestly, off-board fares are the way to go. I hope that the political will can build behind making a change like that in the U.S. soon.

      Thanks for the insight.

  2. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    The Red Line is supposed to be the BRT laboratory for future lines, and we’re learning some things from it. Lesson #1 was “no inconveniently located off-line stations.” The funds have been approved to replace the bad detour with an online station.

    Lesson #2 appears to be that level boarding is fine but precise “docking” probably isn’t worth the time and the damage to the bus. Just throw out the ramp if you need to.

    Lesson #3 is don’t waste time stopping at every station even when no one requests a stop and no one is waiting there. LRT has to do it but buses have more flexibility.

    Lesson #4 is put the stations next to the crosswalks, not a block away with a fenced median. There was true insensitivity to ped access.

    Lesson #5 is to open up pedestrian connections to all the commercial and residential developments that line Cedar Avenue. Currently they are isolated behind berms, ditches, retaining walls and landscaping.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

      I almost have to think that some of these weren’t so much lessons as someone complaining and the planners wanting to say “I told you so”.

    2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      If the Red Line is a BRT laboratory, wouldn’t we realize that we should never commit such a crime of planning again?

      Unless the goal was to rebuild and widen a suburban stroad using transit capital at the benefit of automobile users. Which is what this was.

      1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

        I guess I get the idea overall, and I think you’re a little over the line here and below Matt.

        The areas served before the Red Line had bad transit, so whenever someone wanted something done, even if it wasn’t the best idea it was used as an experiment. The riders were A – transit dependent, and B – now had more frequent bus service for longer, so they weren’t going to complain. I guess it makes more sense, but I feel like a few of the experiments just are so grating to the mind that it’s hard to see the alternative theory behind them/ how they were thought to possibly work.

  3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    The Red Line is a lost cause. The capital investment is a sunk cost. They should just shut down the line. It’s a disgrace to the concept of transit in our region.

  4. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    Don’t be so quick to dismiss the Red Line. There is a significant transit dependent population south of the Minnesota River and previously they had only hourly service that only went to MOA. The Red Line improved frequencies to half-hourly (much more convenient), and set up timed transfers at Apple Valley and Cedar Grove that open up previously unavailable suburb-to-suburb trip options south of the Minnesota River. Those are very good things to do. The question is whether riders will take advantage of the service in sufficient numbers for it to be viable. That hasn’t happened so far.

    However, the new Cedar Grove online station and the reopening of Lindahl Drive on the north side of MOA will speed up the service by about 6 minutes each way and reduce the bus count by one. The cost will be lower and the service will be faster and that will help. Will it be enough? Maybe not, but the Red Line is still an important experiment.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      The fact that we have transit dependent populations in the suburbs (or road dependent populations) is the real problem. Not shoehorning transit (or roads) to fix some land use that is beyond repair.

      It’s not just the land use that is incompatible with transit, the corridor is too. Cedar Avenue is a stroad among stroads. The Red Line made it worse, significantly widening Cedar Avenue.

      The Red Line may be an important experiment. But many important experiments result in failure and get shut down, and the outcome of the experiment is that the rational choice is not to make the same mistake again.

      1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

        You don’t get to just write off the suburbs because they followed a flawed development model. We’re stuck with them, so how do we make them better and provide at least some transportation options for the people who live there?

        Also, politics is an unavoidable factor. When the suburban counties are putting their sales tax dollars into the CTIB transit fund, it’s not an option to stiff them and spend it all inside Minneapolis and St. Paul. They will get some of those dollars back, so we have to find the most productive suburban uses for that money. That’s reality. You can’t wish it away.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          We salvage what we can and give up on the rest. Maybe give people the funds necessary to move to a valuable place, with all the money we’d save from not building transit (and roads) where they don’t belong.

          You’re right, CTIB is a problem. It shouldn’t really exist in the first place, because it is heavily skewing our investment priorities away from the valuable and towards the value-less.

          A better approach would be to unwind the “Minnesota Miracle” (the sprawl miracle) and allow for local cities to capture a large chunk of their own sales tax. Thus places that are valuable would receive investment, instead of subsidizing places that are value-less.

  5. Tyler SchowTyler Schow

    A few months ago, I emailed Metro Transit asking why there was no off board fare collection on the Red Line. This is the response I got:
    “To answer your question: off-board fare payments were not initially included in the Red Line project because a high percentage of riders in this service area use automatic fare card payments such as Go-To Cards or Metropass which provide efficient boardings. On arterial BRT corridors like the A Line, there is a higher percentage of customers who pay cash. Using off-board payment technology in these corridors will have a more significant impact on travel times.

    In any case, I understand off-board fare payment technology is coming to the Red Line in the near future.”

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      Thank you, Tyler. These comments can use a little less outrage and a little more fact finding, as you have done.

      1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

        Does Metro Transit run the Red Line? I thought it was the MVTA…

        I have photos from earlier in the route’s history that still have the tickets sign w/o a machine and a Paid Fare Zone sign. If off-board payment was not a part of the initial design, they should have had another meeting or memo.

        Thank you for doing the research, I just hope that they get it going soon.

        1. Tyler SchowTyler Schow

          I agree, I hope it’s actually soon. They sill haven’t gotten NexTrip installed on LRT yet.

          As far as who runs the line, Metro Transit owns the line, but contracts its operation to MVTA.

          1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten Post author

            So I don’t think I can add a picture to comments, but I found the picture from opening weekend. So for 13 months at least, TVMs have been part of the plan.

      2. Tyler SchowTyler Schow

        Thanks for saying so Aaron! Just a usually useless fact that happened to come in handy 🙂

  6. Tcmetro

    A little late to the party, but here goes:

    – The biggest boon to ridership would be new stations at Cliff Road (cheaply built on the ramps) and Palomino Dr (with a pedestrian overpass connecting the station to the park and ride on the west side and the trailer parks and apartment complexes on the east side). Both station areas have a lot of higher density, lower income populations and Cliff Road has a substantial amount of retail.

    – Extend the line to the retail nodes at 160th/Cedar, Dodd/Cedar, and the park and ride at 179th/Cedar.

    – Modify schedule to run every 20 minutes during the day, every 30 minutes at night. Basically so that the Red Line meets every other Blue Line train at MOA. At this point 15 minute service is overkill, but 30 minutes is too infrequent.

    – Restructure connecting buses and operate them more frequently. Ideally every Red Line bus should meet a connecting bus. So operate routes like the 444 and 445 every 20 minutes all day, and add new routes to connect more neighborhoods.

    – Restructure the 475 (Cedar Ave-Minneapolis express) to serve all the same stops as the Red Line, with the exception of MOA, and operate direct to downtown with stops at 46th/35W and Lake/35W. Operate every 30 minutes all day. Most people don’t want to waste time taking the Red Line to the Blue Line. Offering all day 475 service will attract a lot more riders.

    – Adding TVMs isn’t a priority. Ridership is too low for there to be significant delays from people paying cash. TVMs are already in place at the MOA and Apple Valley TS. Perhaps adding one at Cedar Grove is a good idea.

    – Torn on the issue of the Cedar Grove Freeway Station. I think that the ridership isn’t high enough to justify it yet, but the roundabout routing is a turn-off to many riders.

Comments are closed.