This Saturday, June 4th, I enjoyed watching Minnesota’s best athletes, the national women’s basketball champion team at the Target Center. The Lynx just won their seventh straight game, 80-63, remaining undefeated this season. Dallas gave them lots of tense moments, with many times being within a handful of points of taking the lead.
After the game, I joined the happy crowd heading for the Hennepin Avenue light rail station to take the Green Line back to my car that was parked at the Hamline Station. The mood of happy crowd instantly changed as several hundred people milled around. Many were asking random questions that no one could answer, all focused on one question: “What happened to the train?”
The public address system’s brief announcement was drowned out by the muttering, unhappy crowd. The message boards at first stated: “Next train to St. Paul in three minutes”, which was quickly replaced by “Please check schedules” flashing on every screen. Some people had their cell phones out but little information seemed to be popping up.
Walking the length of the station to pick up snatches of conversation, I pieced together that there would be no more trains until 3:30 a.m.; shuttle buses at certain locations would move people along the non-functioning line.
But was that really what was happening? There were no posted signs, no employees giving information. People were trying to calm their disappointed and somewhat alarmed companions. It was a nice evening, so I decided to walk along the Green Line until one of the shuttle buses appeared.
An hour later I was still walking, and the pleasure of fresh air and some needed exercise was wearing off. I spotted three shuttle buses heading west, but I had not spotted any buses heading my way east to St. Paul.
The Green Line clientele changed quickly after I left the Hennepin station where the Lynx fans and some straggling Twins fans from the rain-delayed game made up the crowd. With hardly an exception, those at the other stations I walked by and through between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night were people of color. Most seemed to be alone, as compared to the downtown sports fans who were in pairs and groups.
After a station or two, I ended up being the “train delay expert,” by default, as I shared what meager information I had with confused passengers. I always added the qualifier: “I don’t really know for sure, but someone said the train won’t be running until 3:30 a.m. There is supposed to be a shuttle bus coming along to pick you up.”
The looks on their faces led me to think they didn’t have many options for getting to their destinations. The most befuddled people were some international students peering in the windows of the “Out of Service” train on the University of Minnesota campus.
After an hour of walking my stamina was in question. I didn’t feel unsafe to be on the street. I was worried because of fatigue I might stumble on uneven pavement in the darker parts of the walk. At last, I was rescued by the welcome sight as a Number 16 bus slowly passed me and pulled up at a stop on University Avenue. (More could be said about riding the Number 16 bus late on a Saturday night; that’s another story for another time!)
The key message: Make sure the Green Line fully serves the public by providing easily-accessed information. They might try out old-fashioned posted signs, perhaps. And certainly, you need to have message boards that say more than “Please check schedules.” The best would be easily-identified employees strategically placed at key stations after sporting events. Tell people well in advance about scheduled train stoppages. Not to mention: Where were those shuttle buses that were supposed to be heading east last Saturday?
(Note: The next day, after some searching, I finally found the Rider Alerts page on my phone.)
To make a long story short, please assist the Green Line by “building the last mile” so that users have simple, accessible information about train outages. This is urgent because of a long list of June scheduled maintenance train outages. Posted signs and well-placed staff would assist all kinds of train users to make plans and would relieve a great deal of anxiety.
The sign unhelpfully says: “PLEASE CHECK SCHEDULES”