The March 7 schedule change is pretty quiet, mostly small schedule adjustments by Metro Transit. The most noticeable was faster running time on both light rail lines. The Blue and the Green Lines are now 3 minutes faster each way and more reliably on time, thanks primarily to better traffic signal timing. The Green Line’s one-way running time drops from 48 to 45 minutes, the Blue Line’s from 41 to 38. In addition, train departure countdown displays are now operating at all stations.
Metro Transit is implementing automated bus stop announcements systemwide. All the low-floor buses are getting it. The old high floor buses won’t, but they’re scheduled to cycle out of the fleet in 2017. Until now, the policy has been for drivers to announce all intersections with traffic signals or stop signs. In my experience, compliance has been pretty good, but there was always a fairly small minority of drivers who didn’t call stops. The automated system calls every stop. For the hearing impaired, the same info scrolls across the digital display in the front of the bus.
As predicted in one of my earlier posts, the experimental suburb-to-suburb express Route 565 has been eliminated. It was created when Target moved a large number of employees from downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park. It ran non-stop from the Best Buy park and ride lot in Richfield to the Target North campus in Brooklyn Park. Many were established bus riders so it was expected that they would willingly switch to a 25 mile non-stop express with shoulder bus lanes and subsidized fares. It didn’t happen. The three daily round trips attracted only a total of 17 employees. SouthWest Transit has been running a similar service from Eden Prairie that was recently reduced from three daily round trips to two.
The Blue Line park and ride lot at Lake Street and Hiawatha has closed. This was the old Brown Institute site, later owned by Minneapolis Public Schools. It had more parking than the school needed, so Metro Transit leased the 163 extra spaces. This ran counter to the policy of no park and ride lots within the city of Minneapolis. It happened because of the large number of hide and riders who filled the streets around the 50th Street, 46th Street, 38th Street and Lake Street Stations. The residents complained about cars parked in front of their houses all day, so the school lot was created as a safety valve. It simply attracted more cars and the streets around the stations remained full of hide and riders, except on those blocks where the neighbors approved permit parking.
Meanwhile, a new park and ride lot at Highway 169 and Marschall Road in Shakopee is getting its first non-stop express service to downtown Minneapolis, three daily round trips on Route 493. The route features bus-only shoulders the length of Highway 169, then takes the I-394 MnPass lane to downtown, where it uses the Marq2 bus lanes.
The big suburban news is the absorption of the Prior Lake and Shakopee opt-out transit services into the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority effective January 1. Prior Lake once was part of MVTA, but decided to go it alone some time ago. Prior Lake and Shakopee had been cooperating to run the Blue Express to downtown from a shared park and ride lot near Highway 169 and County Road 18. In my opinion, anything that simplifies the highly balkanized Twin Cities transit system is a good thing. There is currently no service connecting Shakopee and Prior Lake with the rest of the MVTA system. A study is being done and that will probably change as a result.