Quarterly Transit Report – August 2015

The August 22 quarterly schedule change is pretty modest in scope, with only two items worth reporting.

St. Paul School Service

Following Minneapolis’ successful shift of high school students from school buses to public transit, St. Paul Public Schools has been interested in trying it. There was much discussion with Metro Transit last year and it became clear that the St. Paul side of the bus system has less capacity to handle the load than the Minneapolis side. To put it in perspective, the west metro side of the bus system has four garages, while the east metro side has only one. That’s because there is less ridership to serve. St. Paul routes tend to run less frequently, which means less capacity on existing service for students. With only one garage, there are fewer extra buses that can be added for students.

For those reasons, the school district and Metro Transit are taking an incremental approach. This fall, only Johnson High School on the East Side is shifting to public transit. A total of 27 additional weekday trips are being added to Routes 61, 63, 64 and 74. I expect next year will see some schools added, but not all of them.

Tinkering with the Red Line

The Red Line BRT between Apple Valley and Mall of America has had schedule reliability problems on the southbound trips due to inadequate layover at MOA. Buses are scheduled to depart 1 minute after arrival. That tends to be unrealistic because of:

  1. Delays in the security line to enter MOA.
  2. The time it takes to unload and load.
  3. Delays crossing the LRT tracks to exit MOA.

Leaving late from MOA jeopardizes timed transfer connections to other buses at Cedar Grove Station in Eagan and at Apple Valley Station. The new schedule has 3 minutes at MOA, which is a step in the right direction. However, those additional 2 minutes were taken from the northbound travel time, which has been reduced from 27 to 25 minutes.

With such limited layover at MOA, it’s unclear to me why Minnesota Valley Transit continues to detour the northbound Red Line via the 28th Avenue Blue Line LRT station. Looping around MOA via Hwy. 77, Lindau Lane and 24th Avenue would shorten the trip by several minutes and help reliability.

Soccer Stadium at the Snelling Garage Site

The intersection of Snelling and University in 1953. Snelling Station in the foreground became Midway Shopping Center. Snelling Shops in the background was converted to a bus garage, and that property is now vacant.

The intersection of Snelling and University in 1953. Snelling Station in the foreground became Midway Shopping Center. Snelling Shops in the background was converted to a bus garage, and that property is now vacant. Photo courtesy Minnesota Streetcar Museum.

St. Paul is touting the former Snelling bus garage site at Snelling Avenue and I-94 for a soccer stadium. As everyone knows, the site has been vacant for years. What everyone doesn’t know is one of the reasons why. With only a single east metro bus garage, Metro Transit has wanted assurances that it could build an additional St. Paul garage should the transit system outgrow its existing garage capacity.

When I was still working at Metro Transit, we were telling the City of St. Paul, which covets the Snelling site, that they could only have it if they guaranteed an alternate future garage site that met our operational needs. Specifically, it needed to be on an existing bus line for driver reliefs (driver shift changes while the bus continues in service), and it needed convenient freeway access to deadhead to and from terminals at the start and end of the day. Bus garages are an industrial use, which also narrowed the choices.

Few vacant sites met those criteria, so no deal had been reached by the time I retired in 2006. After that, the Great Recession suppressed both bus ridership and development, so I imagine everything was just put on hold. That said, I doubt Metro Transit will simply hand over the site without getting something in return.

One more thought about the site: Is a soccer stadium really the best use? Between the Green Line LRT, the soon-to-appear A Line Snelling Avenue BRT, and the plain old Route 21 Selby-Lake bus, this site has some of the best transit access in the metro area. Doesn’t a classic high density Transit Oriented Development of retail, housing and offices make more sense than a stadium that features many more days of disuse than use? We can do better.

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.