Suburb to Suburb Express Buses: The Final Frontier

Employment centers as mapped by the Met Council

Employment clusters as mapped by the Met Council

Since Metro Transit purchased the privately-owned Twin City Lines in 1970, it has begun serving some of the many transit travel markets neglected by TCL’s downtown-oriented network of local bus routes. The first step was to extend those local routes to suburban shopping centers and residential areas. Simultaneously a very large system of rush hour expresses for downtown and University of Minnesota commuters was created. Next came a network of suburban transit centers connected by local routes that began to offer a skeletonized suburb-to-suburb service. Light rail and commuter rail soon followed.

Despite these achievements, there remains one huge market where transit seems unable to gain a foothold–the longer distance suburb to suburb trip. It’s not hard to understand why. To be economically viable, transit requires concentrated trip ends, and it really helps to have paid parking and walkability. The downtowns and the U of M have all of those things. So does the airport. The list ends there.

Within that short list, the sheer number of jobs dictates how much service can be supported. Met Council data from 2010 (it’s probably somewhat better today) show 133,000 jobs in downtown Minneapolis. That is enough to support express buses from every corner of the metro area. Downtown is fed by 17 local routes, 102 limited stops and expresses, and 3 rail lines.

Downtown St. Paul with about 65,000 employees has 13 local routes, 18 limited stops and expresses, and one rail line.

The U of M Minneapolis campus with a combined 70,000 students and employees (if I read the numbers right) has 11 local routes, 12 limited stops and expresses, and one rail line.

The airport/Fort Snelling/VA complex with 24,000 employees has 2 local routes, one limited stop and one rail line. Of course airport transit benefits considerably from the flow of airport passengers, Mall of America shoppers and VA Hospital patients who share the same services.

Suburban job clusters

The largest suburban job clusters are:
Jobs                            Location
42,524                        I-494/Hwy. 100 to France Avenue (Edina, Bloomington)
26,150                        I-35E/Hwy. 55 (Eagan)
25,884                       Bloomington South Loop
24,702                        I-494/Hwy. 55 (Plymouth)
16,018                        Golden Triangle (Eden Prairie)
15,164                         I-35W and County Road C (Roseville)
15,104                        Burnsville Center area
13,036                        Hwy. 169 and Bren Road area (Minnetonka)
13,023                        I-494 and I-35W (Richfield, Bloomington)
12,526                        Southdale area (Edina)
12,407                        Hwys. 55 and 169 (Golden Valley, Plymouth)
12,385                        Eden Prairie Center area
12,198                        I-94 and McKnight (3M area)
11,855                        I-694 and Lexington (Shoreview)
11,601                        Rosedale Center area

Would any of these clusters support more than a couple of local routes from the nearest suburban transit hub and maybe a reverse commute from the city? That’s how they are served today.

Transit service works best when trip ends are concentrated. The Met Council has calculated the number of jobs per acre for every employment cluster. Downtown Minneapolis has 77 jobs per acre. Downtown St. Paul has 69. The largest of the suburban clusters, I-494 from Hwy. 100 to France Avenue, has 30. Then it drops off quickly—the next three largest clusters average 16 jobs per acre. That number is pretty typical of the rest of the large suburban clusters. That kind of job density lowers the odds of transit being successful.

Designing a suburb to suburb express service

What would the express service look like? Since the single best candidate is the 494/France to 100 cluster, let’s see what the potential is.

Since the commuters arrive roughly evenly from all points of the compass, expresses would radiate in all directions to provide a one-seat ride. Let’s model the potential ridership by dividing the 360-degree travel sheds into corridors of reasonable width and see how many trips there are per corridor. I think an express bus serving a cone of 30 degrees in width would work, resulting in 12 corridors radiating from each employment concentration.

Given those assumptions, each 30-degree cone leading to this 43,000-job cluster would have 3583 round trip commuters. Compare that to downtown Minneapolis with 11,055 commuters in each 30-degree cone. Minneapolis sees about a 40 percent modal split, a number that is assisted mightily by expensive parking and high transit frequencies. Downtown St. Paul, with its lesser gravitational pull, only has about a 25 percent modal split.

Because of free parking, much less frequent service, questionable walkability and the probability of social ostracism (you’re weird if you take the bus), I believe it would be too optimistic to assign a 10 percent modal split to these services, so let’s assume 5 percent. That means a job cluster of 43,000, which has 3583 jobs per 30-degree cone, would see 179 of those commuters on transit. That’s 5 busloads per cone per rush hour, basically a 30-minute frequency if spread across the rush hour, with a couple of 15-minute buses at the peak of the peak.

We know from experience that large park-ride lots are the best tool to consolidate suburban trip origins, so starting these expresses at park-rides is a given. Choosing park-rides that are co-located with suburban transit hubs adds the potential for local buses to feed the express bus. Given the Twin Cities’ extensive network of bus-only shoulders, most new routes should be able to bypass traffic congestion. Combined with the traditional advantages of transit (lower cost and you can relax while someone else drives), one would think that a good bus service could be competitive.

On the employment center end of the trip, the express bus has to circulate through the employment center and provide convenient walking access to the individual employers. If the express terminates at the nearest transit hub, requiring a transfer to a circulator bus to complete the trip, that’s probably a deal killer. Few park-riders will put up with a transfer and few all-bus commuters will tolerate a 3-bus ride.

Even with these conservative assumptions, however, I’m skeptical that suburb to suburb expresses would succeed. Maybe to 494/100 to France, because it’s the largest by far. The others—very doubtful. A 15,000-job cluster with a 5 percent modal split would only have 63 round trip riders per 30 degree cone and that’s not enough for a viable service.

My gloom is enhanced by a history of failed attempts to serve this market.

Past and present failures

Suburb to suburb expresses have been tried before without success. In the 1970s three routes ran from the Burnsville Transit Center to east Bloomington and the airport, to central Bloomington and to the I-494/Hwy. 100 area. In the east metro, 3M co-sponsored buses between its Maplewood campus and White Bear Lake. Each route only ran a couple of round trips, so that worked against them. In all these cases ridership was anemic and the expresses eventually were discontinued.

Metro Transit has one long-running service, Stillwater and Lake Elmo to the 3M Maplewood campus with 12,000 jobs. 3M happens to be in the middle of the Route 294 express to downtown St. Paul, so the 3M passengers are gravy and not crucial to the route’s success. The service is decent—5 round trips (every 30 minutes) with auto-competitive travel time. And the result? Three daily passengers.

More troubling is the current case of Route 565. In early 2014 Target transferred a large number of employees from downtown Minneapolis to its Brooklyn Park campus. Many were established bus riders, so Target and Metro Transit collaborated to create a new express route from the southern Richfield park-ride next to Best Buy, center of a large employee concentration, non-stop to Brooklyn Park. Three daily round trips are offered and the route benefits from bus-only shoulders that run the length of its route on Highway 169, as well as on portions of Highway 62 and I-494. Furthermore, the fare is super cheap considering the 25-mile one-way trip length.

Metro Transit Route 565, Richfield to Target North campus.

Metro Transit Route 565, Richfield to Target North campus.

The results are extremely disappointing. Despite internal marketing at Target, only 17 employees make the round trip each day. That’s not sustainable and Route 565 will probably soon be history.

South West Metro Transit is also running to the Target North campus from Chaska and Eden Prairie with three AM and two PM buses. I haven’t heard how it’s doing.

Minnesota Valley Transit has started non-stop rush hour express service from Eagan to the VA Medical Center. This bypasses the Mall of America and the transfer to the Blue Line, reducing the travel time from 35 minutes down to 19 minutes. Once again, too new to know.

Looking ahead

Suburb-to-suburb expresses are far down the regional priority list or not present at all. Not a single example appears in Metro Transit’s Service Improvement Plan. It raises the question of whether suburban landscapes can ever be retrofitted for successful transit to anywhere that is also suburban.

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28 Responses to Suburb to Suburb Express Buses: The Final Frontier

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary January 14, 2015 at 9:35 am #

    This article is interesting, but I’m not sure I agree that the super-specific, three-times-a-day 565 is a good bellwether for all forms of suburban-to-suburban transit.

    It seems that one problem of serving many suburban areas is that the areas immediately abutting freeways were built after the freeway (or at least earlier large highway) was established — unlike in most of Minneapolis or St. Paul proper, where the freeway was a retrofit. This tends to mean that the most efficient way to move people, the freeway, is surrounded by extremely auto-oriented, unwalkable development. (The southern half of the Southdale District adjoining 494-5 seems to be a perfect example of this — with land use that supports transit, but form that repels it.)

    Still, I do have to look at the amount of jobs and other relatively dense land uses within 494-5 and TH 100 and think that an “old beltline” route would seem to make a lot of sense. West of the Mississippi, this would cover MSP airport, Mall of America area, American Blvd/77th St area, Best Buy, southern Southdale/Centennial Lakes, Grandview, Excelsior/Park Center, West End, downtown Robbinsdale, and Brookdale. Minor diversions off the highway could allow it to serve the region’s two busiest suburban transit hubs — Mall of America and Brooklyn Center.

    Really except for MOA and Centennial Lakes are, I think all of those facilitate walking a half-mile away from the freeway without any trouble.

    Some of these areas are also particularly poorly served for transit. Once or twice, I’ve taken the bus from West End to Richfield — it takes at least an hour and a half, and a particularly unpleasant, infrequent ride on the 9 to downtown (lots of sharp turns). But it has a huge concentration of jobs, retail destinations, and some housing.

    • Aaron Isaacs
      Aaron Isaacs January 14, 2015 at 9:44 am #

      The problem with a belt line serving a string of employment clusters is that it would be extremely slow and therefore not auto competitive. The choice is whether to use the freeway, exiting at selective interchanges (this assumes no online stations), or to simply follow the nearest parallel arterial. In fact, along 494, Routes 540 and 542 follow the parallel arterials. They attract OK ridership, but only for transit dependent customers making fairly short trips. That’s why I believe only targeted non-stop express have a prayer of serving this market, and even that is a long shot.

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele January 14, 2015 at 10:10 am #

        It seems like we need to move away from “auto competitive” as a criterion (or the primary criterion) for how we value transit. It seems like in nearly all cases the bus will lose to the car. But that’s not really the point … we need to reduce total trip lengths, reduce trip demand by consolidating trip generators and prioritizing a mix of uses, etc.

        The best performing transit we have isn’t auto competitive. It’s lifestyle compatible. Even during rush hour, one could drive from DT Mpls or St. Paul to the airport faster than Blue Line or 54. Same for most O/D pairs along the Green Line.

        That says two things to me: First of all, the point isn’t to shuttle commuters long distances — these lines are strings of nodes rather than express shuttles. Second, the point is that these services are more competitive than car use for lifestyle reasons, not necessarily speed/cost reasons. People increasingly see cars as a burden more than a freedom, and transit has highest return in places where land use is compatible with those alternatives.

        • Nick Magrino
          Nick Magrino January 14, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

          “The best performing transit we have isn’t auto competitive. It’s lifestyle compatible.”

          That’s a post!

        • Cole Hiniker January 14, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

          The best performing transit routes we have, from a subsidy perspective, are usually express buses that travel to downtown Minneapolis. They are competitive with the auto when you compare all costs and all benefits. The routes you reference are competitive with the auto because they allow people to avoid parking costs, even if the time isn’t as competitive.

          Fact of the matter is, in most markets, transit is competing with the automobile. Express markets are almost always competing with the auto. We can’t put transit service on the street in hopes that it’ll win over lifestyle changes when the resources are limited. I’m glad Aaron did this analysis and I think his assumptions are similar to what I would’ve done. There is some potential in suburb-to-suburb express service, but it’s limited. The opportunities for suburb-to-suburb local service are even more limited because everything is so spread out and did not develop in corridors. A lot of suburban local services are dependent on strong use from those who don’t have access to cars.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary January 14, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

            I agree that it’s competing with the automobile, but I also agree with Matt that it needs to be lifestyle-compatible more than literally beating the car in time. Except for a couple of extremely congested metros, I think the auto probably beats transit in almost any transit-served city, if we’re to literally compare them head-to-head. As I wrote in another thread, cars are definitely faster than buses in Oslo, but the buses are also comfortable, fast, and convenient, so they have a substantially larger market share than they do here.

            Other than big box shopping, my most frequent trips are to Uptown, to downtown, to my boyfriend’s house in the Corcoran neighborhood, and to the St. Louis Park Lifetime club at West End. I very frequently bus to Uptown/downtown from Richfield, because even on a local bus it takes only 30-40 minutes and requires 0-1 transfers. About 10% of the time, I take the bus to my boyfriend’s place, because it relies on a 30-minute frequency bus, and requires a transfer. As I mentioned earlier, busing to/from West End — except to downtown — is unbearable, with low frequency, high discomfort, and an out-of-the-way transfer.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary January 14, 2015 at 11:50 am #

        How slow would it be if online stations were available, though? And if stops were limited to every mile or two?

        I’m picturing something more like the Orange or Red lines, a substantial investment and limited stop, not simply throwing an existing bus on the freeway and crossing our fingers. I realize that the nature of the interchanges along these freeways today do not facilitate efficient bus stops.

        It might not be the worthiest transit investment in the world, but I have to believe it’d beat the Red Line. (If a very flow bar to beat…)

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary January 14, 2015 at 11:50 am #

          *a very low bar to beat, excuse me.

        • Matt Brillhart January 14, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

          It is too bad that Hwy. 100 wasn’t reconstructed with freeway BRT *in mind*. Normandale Lakes to Brooklyn Center Transit Center is a really destination rich corridor, and a lot of the destinations are in relatively close proximity to the highway. It’s not a super long corridor either. With much of Hwy. 100 having been reconstructed in the past decade(?) and arguably the most important section (central St. Louis Park) now under construction for the next few years, it seems that we missed an opportunity here. I think you’re right that it would have a hard time being worse than the Red Line. I imagine it would have cost a heck of a lot more to build though.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary January 14, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

            I wonder how much it costs for just what we need, though. The costs we usually see are tied in together with auto improvements that make up a huge portion of the cost. The new median stop in Cedar Ave for Cedar Grove Station will cost $14 million. Online stops might be even less if the bus ran in the outside lane or on the shoulder, rather than down center lanes.

            Let’s imagine a MOA to Brooklyn Center route.

            1. MOA Station — Existing >> 24th ave to WB TH 5/494
            2. Portland/12th Ave — Offline stop
            3. Knox Ave Best Buy/Southtown — new online stop*
            4. Xerxes Ave — new online stop, no bridge required (use pullouts under existing bridge)
            5. Normandale Lake (offline stop via 84th to E Bush Lake Rd)
            6. 70th St (offline stop)
            7. Grandview (offline stop)
            8. Excelsior/Park Center — online stop*
            9. West End — online stop*
            10. Duluth Street
            11. Bottineau/Broadway Ave/downtown Robbinsdale — online stop*
            12. Brooklyn Center Transit Center — existing

            If those were the stations, that would mean only four online stops required — which would probably be more in the style of today’s Lake Street stop, plus a pedestrian bridge to go between the directions. The only major detour would be around the Normandale Lake Office Park. The other “offline stops” would be more like the 535 at 66th Street today, only briefly leaving the freeway.

            I’m making complete guesses here, but if each online stop cost similar to Cedar Grove, that would be $60 million — plus perhaps a million per offline stop to create improvements there to make it a viable experience. $70 millionish, still considerably less than the Red Line.

            (Although in all fairness, this wouldn’t address the lack of bus shoulders and/or Mn/PASS lanes on these highways, so it would likely be pretty clogged up during peak periods. The Red Line did address this.)

            • Aaron Isaacs
              Aaron Isaacs January 14, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

              The Red Line replaced regular buses that had a modest proven ridership. The Northstar Corridor was preceded by express buses that carried some 40 round trip bus loads per day. Unless the belt line you describe can be preceded by a reasonably successful service on existing infrastruture, there is no chance at all that the region will invest in expensive transit stations that could easily become white elephants.

              • Sean Hayford Oleary
                Sean Hayford Oleary January 14, 2015 at 4:30 pm #

                I get that that’s generally the case, but how does the region justify the SW LRT or Bottineau projects, which also creat a kind of transit route that doesn’t exist at all presently? (Or at least significantly extend established routes.)

            • Joseph Totten
              Joseph Totten January 14, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

              Shoulder lanes would keep the quotation marks around “BRT”, and the estimate for even a pedestrian bridge is pretty low.

              Otherwise, my sentiment echoes Mr. Isaacs’.

            • Cole Hiniker January 14, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

              With all due respect, I’m guessing the ridership on that would be about 2,000 or less daily and the cost would be close to $8 million annual operating. The capital cost would undoubtedly push $150 million as well (there is a lot more space near Cedar Grove than on 494 or 100).

              Instead of just looking at the destinations along the route, you have to ask yourself who is going to ride it (don’t think of yourself, think of demographics and needs). There aren’t a lot of people that would take that trip that wouldn’t think, “well I could take the bus but traffic isn’t that bad today and parking is free so I maybe I’ll bus some other time.” That route, with all the offline stops, would undoubtedly be more than hour end-to-end.

              • Sean Hayford Oleary
                Sean Hayford Oleary January 14, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

                I admittedly pulled my cost guesstimate out of thin air, but did take the time to explain it. How do you arrive at 2000 riders?

                I have no illusions of being an expert on how transit works or what attracts new riders, but there is is a lot going on on this corridor. According to this population + job density map, the 494-5 commons *appears* to be the densest highway corridor of jobs/residences in the metro, well more than the 35W corridor that the Orange Line will run on. The 100 corridor is admittedly less dense, especially through Edina, but it does hit important nodes at Excelsior and Hwy 12/West End.

                This line would hit four of the main suburban job centers listed in Aaron’s table in the article — over 90,000 jobs, not including smaller clusters. This area adjoins high-density housing in the following areas:
                1. Richfield 77th St strip*
                2. Richfield Penn/Oliver*
                3. Southdale housing (mainly senior housing, for what it’s worth)*
                4. Parklawn Ave housing*
                5. Normandale Lakes housing — Coventry
                6. Grandview
                7. Excelsior & Grand / 36th & Wooddale
                8. West End
                9. Brooklyn Center*

                The items marked with an asterisk are those where people are more likely to be transit-dependent (if not in a completely car-free household, having limited access to one).

                So the types of people I envision using such a line:

                1. People living in one of the money housing clusters working elsewhere on the line a significant distance away.
                2. People using the 540 or 542 today who are taking it longer-haul
                3. Anyone in the northwest inner-ring looking to access Mall of America or the airport.
                4. People using reverse commute options already but needing a transfer to another line.

                • Cole Hiniker January 15, 2015 at 12:48 am #

                  In 2011, for the Census Block Groups surrounding that route, there are actually about 145,000 jobs when not narrowing it down to specific station areas. Of those 145,000 jobs, the number of the people that live in the corridor that work at those jobs?…8,000. I think Aaron’s estimate that you get 5% market share for transit is realistic so that would give you 400 users a day, perhaps 800 daily trips. But let’s say it is a high percentage of transit dependent which is maybe 800 users and 1,600 daily trips. I don’t have the specifics to back that up. You might get some incidental non-work trips but not substantially. Maybe some transfer activity from outside the corridor. These are all estimates that are well above anything we ever see in transit that has been tried in the region, but I’m trying to be optimistic.

                  Realistically, you probably only have 1,000 people living and working around those stops.

                  You’d be better off doing what Aaron analyzed and running some targeted express service from park-and-rides or major centers of housing to the key job concentrations along the corridor. If you aren’t hitting downtown with a route like that, it’s going to be tough to be sustainable. These areas are just not attractive to take transit to until the landscape, real estate market, parking, and travel preferences change for the general population.

                  By the way, downtown Minneapolis has more jobs than that corridor on a few square miles vs. hundreds of square miles. The primary difference is walkability and parking cost. Even then we only get a 40% mode split with all our regional services centered around downtown. We have the majority of potential transit riders covered by our system and only 40% of them choose transit. 5% for a suburban office concentration is optimistic, but maybe you could get to 10% with a ton of service concentrated there. Beyond that, you have to have a parking cost to make transit competitive. it’s just too easy and cheap for people to drive.

                  • Sean Hayford Oleary
                    Sean Hayford Oleary January 15, 2015 at 9:57 am #

                    Thanks, that’s a helpful explanation. And I appreciate the numbers (which I didn’t know how to get myself).

                    Perhaps the better solution for this particular area is the already-proposed aBRT on American/77th corridor (although it’s low priority on the aBRT system), as 494-5 commons seems to have a great concentration of jobs and housing than the N/S 100 corridor.

                    Still, from a purely selfish sense, there does seem to be a lack of mobility options for people not driving personal cars in the TH 100 corridor. Although there are great urban nodes in Edina and SLP, the only high-quality connection between them is TH 100. There are no good transit routes and no adjacent continuous streets, except France and Wooddale, and both of these basically dead-end at Excelsior. So for transit and bicycling alike, it becomes very difficult to access these otherwise valuable nodes.

      • John Charles Wilson February 8, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

        If I worked for Metro Transit, I would suggest this to “save” the 565:

        SB: Target Pkwy. – Oak Grove Pkwy. – W. Broadway – 71st Ave. N. – Bottineau Blvd. (Co. Rd. 81) – Highway 100 – Crosstown 62 – France Ave. S. – W. 76th St. – Knox Ave. P&R

        NB: The exact reverse, except for using 73rd Ave. N. instead of 71st for transitioning from Co. Rd. 81 to W. Broadway.

        What does this do?

        1. Add local service through a residential part of Brooklyn Park, North Hennepin Community College, and the east edge of Starlite S/C.

        2. Local stops could be added on Co. Rd. 81 at 63rd, Bass Lake Rd., Wilshire, Corvallis, and 47th.

        3. This route would serve the Southdale/Galleria area (but not the mall or TC itself), as well as W. 76th St./Best Buy HQ on the way to the Knox Ave. P&R.

        4. In theory, there are Park & Rides along Co. Rd. 81 and Highway 100 that *could* be stops, if feasible, but I’m not proposing that due to the time penalties involved.

        What new riders could be attracted?

        1. Brooklyn Park residents along Broadway (which is very underserved south of Brooklyn Blvd.)

        2. North suburban residents who work at Best Buy HQ (why is this route so Target-centric when the Knox P&R is near another major employer?)

        3. Perhaps a few Co. Rd. 81 riders?

        4. Having Southdale area stops makes this route more useful as a general North to South Suburban bypass of Minneapolis.

        How much slower could this be than the current 565? Maybe 10 minutes?

  2. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele January 14, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    Everything in this article points to a lack of transit-compatible land use as the problem facing alternative mobility options in the suburb, not a lack of transit. Change the land use, and the transit will follow. I see you sort of reach the same conclusion, and I’m sure many folks still within the MT walls do as well.

    Take the 565 for example. Of course, it doesn’t help that there are 3 frequencies during each rush hour. But the real problem is not a transit problem, it’s the land use problem of Target moving thousands of employees to an isolated suburban campus (and I know first hand Target is losing potential hires because of this location). BP gave them money, the state paid for a new freeway to their doorstep and stroads to their ramps, and then we wonder why it’s not compatible with transit.

    Lack of mobility is the symptom. Land use is the cause.

    Good article exploring this in depth!

  3. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele January 14, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    Alternate headline?
    “One more reason why we’ve made a mistake by heavily subsidizing job sprawl”

  4. Tcmetro January 14, 2015 at 10:16 am #

    SW Transit is cutting the 687 to Target North from 3 AM trips to 2 AM trips. Won’t be surprised if it goes away soon.

    SWT runs another express line, the 694. It runs from Chaska, Chanhassen, and Eden Prairie to Best Buy HQ and Normandale College. During the midday periods it runs from Eden Prairie to Normandale College. From what I’ve seen, the college ridership is pretty decent.

    Honestly, I don’t think that the market exists for crosstown express routes here, it hardly does in regions like NY or Chicago. Toronto and Seattle have managed to develop suburban express networks, but they have more traffic congestion and larger, more concentrated suburban work sites.

  5. dude January 15, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

    “The service [to 3M] is decent—5 round trips (every 30 minutes) with auto-competitive travel time. And the result? Three daily passengers.”

    As an urban 3M worker, I’m just going to point out that this isn’t accurate. There are 3 trips in the morning from St Paul to 3M and the last one is at 7:22, after which you have to transfer at Sun Ray to get there, blah.

    • 294 Rider dude January 15, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

      As another 3M worker who sometimes take the 294 bus. The times are not really convenient for the morning commute from downtown St. Paul. The last one leaves at 7:30AM. My children get on the school bus for school at 7:35 so when I take the bus I am taking the 63, 70, or 74 and walking the 1.5 miles from Sun Ray to my building.

      3M is a huge campus so depending on what building you work at you may still end up walking a long distance. If you are get to work around 7:45 am you have no problem finding parking close to the building you work at.

    • Aaron Isaacs
      Aaron Isaacs January 15, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

      I was talking about the service to 3M from Stillwater, not from downtown.

  6. Alex January 16, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

    Houston is building a BRT line in a Southdale-like district there called Uptown that would accommodate express buses from park and rides across the metro. Houston’s Uptown has about twice the jobs as the Southdale area but a less favorable transit geography. This, along with your napkin analysis, indicates that suburb to suburb expresses may be more successful than your conclusion implies. Even if their utility is limited to the largest job clusters, their lack of utility in small suburban job clusters is not an argument against implementing them where they’ll be successful.

    • Aaron Isaacs
      Aaron Isaacs January 17, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

      I wish them success and am pleased to see anyone experimenting in this area. It would be great if they can make it work.

  7. John Levin January 19, 2015 at 8:52 pm #

    Late to this party…

    I don’t think that centrally planned, big (or even small) bus fixed route service is the answer for providing transportation options to suburban job centers. That goes for both traditional city-to-suburb reverse commute patterns and for the even more challenging suburb-to-suburb commutes that Aaron describes.

    I’d prefer to see a variety of employer specific shuttles that provide a network of last mile connections from a network of connection points around the region.

    The connection points would be a mix of existing park and rides, transit centers and other locations where fixed route services can travel efficiently. The connection points would provide the opportunity to transfer from reverse commute express buses, local buses, light rail, etc. to a shuttle van direct to one’s job location. Ideally, many different shuttle vans would serve any given connection point.

    The shuttle vans could be run on several different models. They could be run directly by a business, such as Mystic Lake casino already does; they could be shared by a group of businesses; they could be merely shared-use vehicles that live at the connection point.

    The key point of the vans is that they are NOT centrally planned services. They are organized directly by the commuters themselves or directly by their employer. That way when shifts changes or people change jobs or the business is closed for the week or the business is running extra shifts on the weekend, the shuttle service can be quickly adjusted and the changes efficiently communicated. The only requirement is to keep the shuttle schedules coordinated with the fixed route services at the connection points.

    No doubt this service must be subsidized, by the businesses, government or both. But if you think about it, government already pays a significant subsidy for regular downtown commute trips. The challenge is coming up with a funding model that allows part of this existing subsidy to apply to the shuttle services that I have described.

    No doubt the land use context of suburban job centers, both at a regional scale and in terms of site design, are a real hindrance to any non-SOV travel to suburban jobs. That may change over time, but it won’t happen soon. A good short term solution is to make other viable options available. (And yes that means they must be reasonably time competitive with the auto.) That will, over time, put pressure on the design of suburban job sites to make them more amenable to shared ride services.

  8. Dennis January 23, 2015 at 6:45 am #

    Metro Transit can start by putting some deadhead buses into services for reverse commuters.The #53 saves 20mins vs 21 between Uptown/StPaul By running them express Uptown to Dt st paul the cost is zero.

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