Night Owls and Early Birds

Bus Owl

*Not representative of actual Night Owl buses.

Every day in the Twin Cities there’s a gap in Metro Transit service.  Most routes typically go offline from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., but not all.  Those lines that continue to run 24 hours are classified as “Night Owl” routes by Metro Transit.  Considering, though, that there are only six of these routes out of Metro Transit’s current running total of 214 routes (3%), it seems a wonder that there’s a classification at all.  Here’s the list:

  • The Green Line
  • The Blue Line between airport terminals
  • Route 5 between Brooklyn Center and Mall of America
  • Route 10 between Downtown MPLS and Central & 51st
  • Route 18 between Downtown MPLS and American Blvd & 2nd
  • Route 19 between Brooklyn Center and Downtown MPLS

Of those six, the Green Line is the only route that doesn’t run in a limited capacity during Night Owl times. It’s also the only Night Owl route to enter Saint Paul’s city limits.  Only one of them manages to break out of the 694/494 loop and that’s only by a matter of a single block.  

Though the lack of ridership in the middle of the night makes extended transit hours a tough sell on the surface with a lower amount of ridership and fares offsetting the costs, there are significant benefits to be gained by stretching public transit hours.  

As the night of the previous day comes to a close, bars in the Twin Cities can stay open until 2 a.m., which is after a majority of transit in the city stops running. This encourages drinkers to get behind the wheel of a car to get themselves home.  More than one study has shown that as transit hours reach further into the night, DUI numbers fall significantly. The costs of drunk driving inflicted on the convicted and the community are staggering–any mitigation is helpful not only for the obvious safety reasons but also for pocket book reasons as well. Unfortunately, the other cost to a safe, accessible ride home is an increase in the consumption of alcohol, leading to a small increase in the number of alcohol related crimes, but then, I’d rather have someone barf on the sidewalk than drive up onto it.

Saint Paul Buildings

*Crash probably not caused by alcohol

As the day begins, many people throughout the Twin Cities are clocking in at times long before what most would describe as ‘the morning commute’.  A majority of these people are blue collar and service industry employees with modest incomes.  Their early bird start times combined with the sparse Night Owl transit network means that they are all but forced to bear the cost of car ownership or become disqualified from access to these jobs in the first place, further exacerbating the problem, a problem that, as a foundryman, has affected my professional life more than once.  A co-worker’s car quits on them and if they don’t have the funds to immediately fix it, they now have a broken car and no job; and with manufacturing in this region suffering a shortage of workers, we should be doing everything we can to ensure that connections between people and work are available.  Both businesses and employees benefit when getting to work is a no-brainer.

The most recently added Night Owls were the 10 and the 18, added in June this year, and I hope that as we move forward, Metro Transit will keep adding more.  Even if we’re not the ones riding those routes, we’ll all be served by safer nights and easier mornings.

3 thoughts on “Night Owls and Early Birds

  1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    It’s a money issue. Transit operating subsidies are in short supply. Metro Transit has to allocate them where they’ll attract the most riders, and poorly patronized owl service ranks pretty low in that regard.

    As an aside, the term “owl service” a transit tradition going back over a century.

  2. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    This is a challenge for my husband. He bartends and typically gets off work between 1 and 2 a.m. in downtown Minneapolis. He usually bikes, but there have been times when his bike breaks down or it snowed a lot where he wants a bus. No dice. Even with a night owl route that gets him closer to our home on the West End of St Paul, if he misses it there is an hour wait until the next one. That hour wait can be super cold and long in the winter when there are no businesses open to step into and wait.

    But, I do understand that money is scarce and there are not enough riders at that time to justify running the routes more often. It does seem, though, that a wait at 1 a.m. is longer and more dangerous (due to weather or potential crime) than waits at other times.

  3. John Charles Wilson

    The 18 at 2 and 3 AM only goes to 46th and Nicollet.

    One thing that deserves honourable mention is that in addition to the official “Night Owl” routes, there are a few “almost Night Owl” routes with departures from downtown between the 1 AM and 5 AM edges of the “normal” service day. For example:

    Blue Line: Starts running full route around 4 AM every day. Has special 2 and 3 AM departures from downtown Minneapolis Friday and Saturday nights.

    Route 3: Starts at 4 AM in both directions every day.

    Route 4: 2 AM departure southbound to 38th/Bryant Monday thru Saturday nights.

    Route 6: 2 AM departure southbound to Southdale Monday thru Saturday nights.

    Route 17: Departures from Lake/Tyler to Lake/Hennepin at almost 1 and 2 AM. If these were extended to/thru downtown, this would be a significant late night bus resource.

    Route 21: Starts around 4 AM every day and ends around 2 AM. Late night coverage seems better eastbound than westbound for some odd reason.

    Route 54: Starts every day around 3 AM westbound from Saint Paul and 4:30 AM coming into Saint Paul. This early service was specifically started for Airport workers, AIUI.

    Route 62: Arrival at 4:40 AM Monday thru Friday in Saint Paul.

    Route 63: Runs prior to 5 AM in both directions through downtown Saint Paul Monday thru Friday.

    Route 64: Westbound arrives downtown Saint Paul 4 AM every day for connection to the 54.

    Route 74: Westbound arrives downtown Saint Paul 4 AM every day for connection to the 54.

    Route 724: Best example of late night suburban service, 4 AM – 2 AM every day.

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