The Quarterly Transit Report–August 2016

Service Improvements

As funding is available, Metro Transit is implementing the Service Improvement Plan (SIP) that was approved last year. Looking beyond the high profile improvements like LRT and Arterial BRT, the plan calls for increasing frequencies on the urban local bus routes that have always been the backbone of the system. This recognizes the reality that regular transit riders, especially those without an automobile, deserve service that is more convenient.

The August 20 service change brings greater frequency to two more routes.

Most people probably don’t know it, but for years Route 2 Franklin Crosstown has been in the top five for ridership per bus hour. It feeds the U of M, Augsburg College and Riverside Medical Center from southeast Minneapolis and Franklin Avenue, is a classic crosstown across south Minneapolis and connects with both the Blue and Green Lines. It serves a large transit dependent population. Now it’s finally getting the frequency it deserves. The frequency improves from every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends to every 10 minutes 7 days a week.

The frequency is doubling on much of Route 62 Rice Street-Smith Avenue in St. Paul, one of the Green Line’s feeders. On weekdays and Saturdays the Rice Street end of the line improves from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes. On Sundays Rice Street improves from every 30 minutes to every 20 minutes.

On Saturdays the service on Smith Avenue to West St. Paul doubles from hourly to half hourly.

Better Bus Stop Signs

By the end of 2017, Metro Transit expects to have replaced all of its 12,300 bus stop signs with new ones that provide much more information. The process started in 2015, with 2,300 being replaced. 5,000 more are underway this year, with the final 5,000 in 2017.


They are being installed route by route. Earlier this year Route 84 was completed to coincide with the June opening of the A Line. The rest of this year’s work started in August.

  • Phase 1 routes (installation began in August): 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 14, 17, 18, 21, 22, 74
  • Phase 2 routes (installation will begin in the fall): 7, 11, 12, 16, 23, 25, 61, 62, 65, 68, 71, 94, 250, 270, 535, 675, 768, 850

Bus stops vary greatly in activity. Metro Transit has divided theirs into four categories.

Low Boarding Stops: According to a 2015 inventory (see table), 4,487 of them (36 percent) have no boarding passengers. How can that be? Those are mostly the stops for outbound express buses and the outbound stops near the ends of local lines. They need signs, but not departure information.

Another 4991 stops (41 percent of the total) have only 1-10 boardings per day. That means 77 percent of the stops have 10 or fewer boardings per day. Given the limited resources available to update signs, the decision was made to give these stops route numbers, the bus stop number, the Transit Information phone number and the info to access schedule info by smart phone.

Avg. Daily Total Mpls-St. Paul Suburbs
Boardings No. of stops No. of stops No. of stops
0 4,487 530 3,957
1 1,560 397 1,163
2 889 264 625
3 605 233 372
4 471 208 263
5 368 185 183
6-10 1,098 604 494
11-15 564 365 199
16-19 295 195 100
20-29 477 329 148
30-39 294 213 81
40-49 189 143 46
50-59 130 96 34
60-69 115 96 19
70-79 92 71 21
80-89 77 60 17
90-99 64 49 15
100-124 97 76 21
125-150 85 70 15
151-199 90 74 16
200-299 88 77 11
300-499 68 55 13
500-1,000 66 55 11
>1,000 28 25 3
Total 12,297 4,470 7,827

Medium/High Boarding Stops Without Shelters: There are about 2,000 of these and this is where the new signs will have the greatest impact. In addition to the basic sign described above, these stops will have summaries of bus frequency by time of day and day of week, route maps and a listing of terminal letter destinations, as illustrated above.

Medium/High Boarding Stops With Shelters: Full schedule information, including lists of departure times has always been displayed in the approximately 1,000 bus shelters. That will continue with the addition of route maps. The stops themselves will receive new metal signs.

Transit Stations and Transit Centers: These include all the LRT and BRT stations, plus all the transit centers. These locations already have the full complement of information, including maps and lists of departure times. Many are now getting NextTrip real time departure displays, as are a number of the busy downtown stops and park-ride lots. The number of real time displays will continue to increase.

A Line Update

The A Line at the Blue Line 46th Street Station.

The A Line at the Blue Line 46th Street Station.

The A Line BRT on Snelling Avenue has settled into normal operation and the initial get-acquainted ridership is over. For the average weekday in July, the A Line (4,250 passengers) and the downsized Route 84 (775 passengers) are hauling 40 percent more passengers than the old Route 84 they replaced.

Bear in mind that ridership should increase when school starts at Hamline, Macalester  and Highland Park High School, all located on the A Line or the 84. It will also be interesting to watch State Fair ridership.

On time performance, defined as zero minutes early to 5 minutes late, is running in the mid-90 percent range. That’s quite good, considering the A Line gets stuck in heavy traffic approaching the I-94/University Avenue area, and westbound at Hiawatha.

While there is anecdotal evidence that traffic signal priority for the buses is working, project manager Charles Carlson tells me they don’t yet have a system reporting tool that quantifies the number of priority calls. You can watch it happen. If an A Line bus is approaching an intersection and the light stays green after the count down clock gets to zero, that was bus priority being granted. For the record, buses receive signal priority at the following intersections:

Snelling at:
Co Rd B2 W Ramp
Har Mar Mall
Hoyt Ave.
Midway Pkwy.
Hewitt Ave.
Minnehaha Ave.
Thomas Ave.
Selby Ave.
St. ClairAve.
Jefferson Ave.
Randolph Ave.
Highland Pkwy.
Ford Pkwy.

Ford Pkwy. at:
Fairview St.
Kenneth St.
Finn St.

46th St. at:
46th Ave.
42nd Ave.
Minnehaha Ave.
36th Ave.

A number of major intersections get no priority, including Co. Rd. B, Roselawn Ave., Larpenteur  Ave., University Avenue, Spruce Tree Dr., St. Anthony Ave. (I-94), Concordia Ave. (I-94), Marshall Ave., Summit Ave., Grand Ave., Cleveland Ave., Cretin Ave., and Hiawatha Ave. In case you’re counting, 61 percent of the intersections have priority. Priority only works when GPS detects that the bus is late.

The buses also get to use bus-only shoulders between Hewitt and Como Avenues, and between Hoyt Street and County Road B.

The A Line at Rosedale Transit Center.

The A Line at Rosedale Transit Center.


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.

15 thoughts on “The Quarterly Transit Report–August 2016

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I’m loving the new signs, with more information, that have cropped up in Richfield! Although shelters are even better, of course, it really feels like a more substantive transit system to have the information posted.

    A couple of questions on the signs:

    1. On Hi-Frequency routes, previously there was a distinctive red symbol over the route number. With the new signs, there is no distinction between the Hi-Frequency route (such as the 515) and an express route that runs a couple times a day. Will these logos be added later, or was it decided they’re not necessary?

    2. It doesn’t make any difference in the end, but their installation pattern seems really strange to me. I’ve been watching the change on Nicollet — it seems like, in an 8-block area, 6 of 8 stops southbound might be changed out, and 3 of 8 northbound, not sequentially. Then they return later to install the detailed map signs.

  2. Jeb RachJeb Rach

    With the “zero” boarding stops, could that include a stop where people only board infrequently (less than once every two days?) If a stop can allow people to board, it makes sense to at least put the route numbers on the sign (if nothing else but for consistency’s sake.) Even if a stop is exit-only, I’d still hesitate to say a stop should not have at least a route number with a note that states “exit only.”

    The new signs that I’ve seen are nice, and they really do make the transit system seem more stable and professional. I just hope that that experience is across our entire system.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      All the signs will have route numbers. The low volume stops will get the top sign illustrated above, just not the map and frequency add-ons below it.

  3. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    Thank you once again for these great reports. Light rail sucks up so much of the oxygen, but it’s great to read about all the things that Metro Transit is doing to improve bus service. the A-Line is particularly exciting to me. Also thrilled the see the #2 get more frequency. That route ought to get the aBRT treatment in the coming years.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I came here to share my excitement over the new signs cropping up in my neighborhood.
    My main question was why some have the route detail sign and others don’t, so thanks for answering that. I also wonder, like Sean, why these do not distinguish high frequency routes on the sign.

    My other lingering question is why these don’t show either the direction of travel or the destination. There are places where this would be useful to someone even with strong geographical knowledge of the metro but limited MT experience (Rt 133 goes southbound before heading back north to Downtown, or 14E goes east on 42nd St then back north to 38th St station, for example). Seems like it would have been easy to add a small “South / Outbound” label, for example.

  5. Sam

    I wish that Metro Transit would use these new signs as an opportunity to do some stop consolidation. It’s great to see the new signs but it’s frustrating to see them put up places that shouldn’t be bus stops to begin with. There’s no reason we should have multiple stops per block or stops where people can’t safely walk to them..

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      ding ding ding

      We could probably cull 15 to 20% of stops. There are multiple blocks near me with multiple stops on a single blockface.

      1. Al DavisonAl Davison

        I feel like we could use stop consolidation as a quid pro quo for better sidewalk infrastructure. I take the 62 for commuting to work. I admit my current bus stop is rather ineffective, so I would understand if I had to walk an extra 1-2 minutes to one that is used by more riders. It may lead into question about how stop consolidation may affect disabled rider accessibility, but I do see a lot of stops on my route that are seldom used by anyone.

        1. Al DavisonAl Davison

          If more stops were connected by a safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists, it would make it easier for everyone. Improving sidewalks to meet ADA standards (especially in the North End) and filling in gaps along Rice (especially in the suburbs) could make the 62 an even better route.

          A possible next step is figuring out to expedite paying for the bus fare even for non-aBRT routes. I wish the 62 was a candidate for aBRT, but its recently increased frequency to 15 minutes (along some portions during the day) is still appreciated. I wonder if prepay stations at busy bus stops could help increase boarding speeds.

  6. GlowBoy

    I too am thrilled by the sign improvements. After living in Seattle and Portland I’m accustomed to transit signs at least indicating which routes stop there. To me that’s pretty essential to attracting any kind of users other than those who ride the same line at the same time every day, and I’m glad to see it happening so quickly. Of course more info is even better, but I also recognized the increased cost of the really high-content signs (not only printing them up, but also having to update them anytime route info changes).

    I would agree with Sam and Matt about stop consolidation. Although I am fortunate to be able to work from home, I try to get out and work elsewhere once a week or so. I love going downtown, but if I don’t manage to catch the last #553 going by at 8:20am I’ll sometimes choose a closer destination because the #5 is just so dang slow once it gets north of Lake Street, because it usually seems to stop every. single. block.

    Yes, 1/4 mile spacing will make some people who live along the line walk up to 1/8 mile further. But given that most bus lines are spaced much further apart than that, most people already have to walk 1/4 mile or mile just to get TO the bus line, so walking an extra block is a smaller problem than this would fix.

    Of course, aBRT service will be even better, and I’m very happy about the A-line’s success so far. I know it’s not funded (or even named yet), but I’m already excited for seeing D-line buses rolling down Chicago in a few years (note: this is especially since my neighborhood won’t be able to access the Orange line buses that will roll right by us on I-35).

  7. GlowBoy

    I just have say one more time how glad I am that the A-line is working well and attracting lots of riders. I know the Red Line’s ridership has been a bit of a disappointment and may have soured some people’s taste for BRT, so I’m really glad to see this aBRT alternative so successful. And I’m excited by MT’s future plans to start applying it to other high demand routes first, which should help increase support for this type of service

    Because really, I think this is what transit needs right now. Don’t get me wrong: I love rail, and I think we need to keep developing dense corridors around LRT and conventional BRT – but we all know how expensive and politically challenging it is, the current Blue Extension and Orange line political limbos (plural!) being cases in point. aBRT gives as an awful lot of bang for our scarce transit buck.

    I think a lot more people would ride the bus if it were simply faster and more frequent. Take what was done with the A-line and apply it to, say, the top 10-15 routes in the system (e.g., those that currently have hi-frequency service) and I think you’d have a system that works for a lot more people. Of course these are primarily urban routes, but you might also have a lot more people in suburban areas demanding this kind of service once they see how well it works in the city.

    I would also point out that although the A-line doesn’t appear as much faster than the 84 on paper, it sure feels faster. And that matters: when you’re on a bus that’s constantly stopping and stopping, block after block, it’s kind of fatiguing, and it repels a lot of potential riders. On the A, you really feel like you’re getting somewhere.

  8. Henry

    Thanks for the summary. The new signs couldn’t come soon enough. Additionally, I frequently ride the 2, and the frequency improvements are long overdue. I didn’t know that it was in the Top 5 for Ridership Per Hour! What are the other four routes on that list?

  9. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    The traditional top 5 were Routes 16, 21, 5, 18 and 2. Route 16 has dropped off, replaced by the Green Line. I think Route 19 now makes the list.

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