The Quarterly Transit Report–August 2017

The August service change brings more cuts, and an overdue reworking of the routes in northern St. Louis Park.

Cuts

All of the following cuts are to routes where better frequencies were implemented in an attempt to attract riders, but ridership hasn’t met expectations.

On weekdays, the Red Line BRT will run every 20 minutes instead of every 15 minutes.

On Saturdays, the two St. Paul branches of Route 3 (Minneapolis-St. Paul via Como Avenue) will run hourly instead of every 30 minutes.

On weekdays, Route 27 (26th-28th Street Crosstown) will run every 30 minutes all day long, instead of more frequently during the rush hours.

On weekday middays and Saturdays, Route 65 (Dale Street Crosstown) will run every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes.

On weekday middays and Saturdays, Route 67 (Smith Avenue-West Minnehaha Avenue-East Franklin) will run every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes.

On weekday middays and Saturdays, Route 87 (Rosedale-Raymond Avenue-Highland Park) will run every 30 minutes instead of every 20 minutes.

The cuts on Routes 65, 67 and 87 undo some of the feeder service increases implemented when the Green Line opened.

A handful of express trips will be trimmed around the system.

St. Louis Park redo

The west end of Route 9 leaves downtown Minneapolis on Glenwood Avenue. Over the years the portion of it extending into St. Louis Park split into more and more branches in an attempt to serve multiple neighborhoods and traffic generators. Working around highway and railroad barriers made this problem worse. Now there were six terminals and it was confusing to say the least (see first map).

The decision to simplify Route 9 was driven by two factors.

  1. Since 2000, Metro Transit has embraced a philosophy of simplifying routes and concentrating service on fewer streets. Route 9 stood out in its violation of that policy.
  2. In the last 20 years, St. Louis Park has developed the West End business district, greatly concentrating trips ends in this corridor.

Service levels stay about the same, but the result is the much simpler route structure shown here.

The current 9H that serves the neighborhood west of Cedar Lake with a handful of peak-only trips was tacked onto the Route 25 Kenwood bus to avoid eliminating their service altogether.

The West End area had also received peak period express and reverse commute service via Route 649, which uses I-394. Under this new plan, Route 649 is folded into Route 675, the all-day Mound-Wayzata-Ridgedale route that runs on the service roads of I-394. The new combination is called Route 645. It simplifies the route structure and adds service to the West End area in exchange for about a 3-minute running time penalty for riders west of there.

Here’s the summary map of the changes.

The limits of suburban off-peak service

About a month ago I needed to travel from Shakopee to Minneapolis during the midday without a car. Surprisingly, that trip was possible thanks to the experimental MVTA Route 495 that connects Shakopee to Burnsville and Mall of America. You may recall it was implemented, along with a South West Metro route to Eden Prairie, in an attempt to serve reverse commuters to Shakopee, including the new Amazon fulfillment center.

I was dropped off at the Marschall Road Transit Station/Park-ride, an attractive facility located next to Hwy. 169 in the sprawl landscape on the east end of town.

Once an hour, the 495 is scheduled to make timed transfers with a pair of minibus feeders that cover Shakopee and a shuttle from Mystic Lake Casino, another big employer. Hourly frequency is pretty bare bones, but if you’re transit dependent, it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

All the buses arrived and a total of less than ten passengers boarded or alighted. That’s the challenge here. Given the modest funding available, MVTA has done the best possible job of creating a transit network that will take you most places with transfers that are assured. But if not enough people use it, it can’t be sustained. That’s why the Eden Prairie-Shakopee Route 638 was discontinued last March.

I rode the 495 to Burnsville Station, the next timed transfer point. The 12-mile non-stop trip on freeway and 4-lane highway couldn’t be faster, but with only five passengers, the subsidy per passenger must be well over the limits set by the Met Council.

At Burnsville I made a timed-transfer connection to Route 465 headed for Minneapolis.

While I waited, the two legs of Route 444 to Savage and MOA via Eagan made appearances and picked up one passenger between them.

The 465 arrived and a few of us boarded. Eventually this route and Metro Transit Route 535 along I-35W will be replaced by the Orange Line BRT. The passenger potential is certainly greater here than in Shakopee, but the Orange Line will probably have only modest ridership, even though it will be a well designed service.

That’s the challenge of transit in the suburbs–lots of vehicle miles to serve a rather small ridership base. Make no mistake, transit dependent people live in the suburbs and deserve basic mobility, but it’s expensive to provide it. Off-peak suburban bus services are unlikely to attract choice riders. That’s just the way it is.

 

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9 Responses to The Quarterly Transit Report–August 2017

  1. Eric Ecklund August 19, 2017 at 7:38 pm #

    Route 465 isn’t being replaced by the Orange Line, just Route 535. Whether Route 465 will change in any way after the Orange Line opens I don’t know, but I hope it continues to serve South Bloomington as its a great way to get to the U of M.

    Route 465 will also be getting two roundtrips on the weekend for timed transfers with Route 495 to Shakopee, however it will bypass South Bloomington and downtown as its geared for people in the Cedar-Riverside area who work at Amazon.

    On your last point, I think it depends on the location. Places like Shakopee probably won’t get too many, if any, choice riders off peak. However in places like St. Louis Park and Bloomington I see a good amount of riders off peak. Probably because there is just enough density to sustain these services, but if our suburbs continue to grow in ways that are more friendly to transit (mixed development, higher density, pedestrian friendly) then I think off peak transit will have a better chance at being sustainable.

    • Aaron Isaacs
      Aaron Isaacs August 19, 2017 at 8:45 pm #

      I’ve assumed the Orange Line replaces the 465 because otherwise the two are competing with each other all day between Burnsville, 98th Street, Lake Street and downtown. There’s not enough ridership to support that, especially when subsidy money is scarce.

      • Eric Ecklund August 21, 2017 at 12:12 am #

        I think what will likely happen is Route 465 operating only in peak hour and peak direction to the U and skipping downtown. There are many riders from Burnsville and Bloomington who take the 465 to the U in the morning and from the U in the evening. If there’s enough funding for the Orange Line then there’s enough funding for a scaled down 465.

    • John Charles Wilson August 20, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

      Thanks for explaining the purpose of the new 465 weekend trips. I was really wondering about that….

  2. John Charles Wilson August 20, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

    Thanks for explaining why certain changes are being made. That really helps.

    I feel sorry for the old 9H riders that now have to take the 25. Their ride will now be twice as long. Unless there’s a lot of transit dependents in or near the Cedar Lake Condos, I predict there will be *no* bus service there in about a year as choice riders will probably make another choice.

    As to the 495, a stop should be added in downtown Savage. The cost would be almost zero and the bus might get an occasional extra passenger.

    Perhaps the Orange and/or Red Lines could be extended to the U of M.

    I don’t like the new route maps. They’re not to scale, and many of them don’t show details of the bus turnarounds. I’d like to see a return to the thinner line drawings used pre-1979 combined with true scale maps and showing all turnarounds.

  3. Andrew August 21, 2017 at 9:44 pm #

    It’s awful to see so much service in Saint Paul cut, especially Cleveland and Dale. They finally had decent service, and now they’ll be back to crap. Of course, Saint Paul isn’t crowded and offers very ample parking, so there’s not much need of buses except for transit-dependent people. Still, one wishes more people would have used the service. North-south service has always been lousy, and with the opening of the Green Line, it finally had a respectable upgrade. Not anymore, I guess. Of course, they never implemented as much as they had promised. I seem to recall that service had also been proposed on Fairview, Hamline and Victoria. Maybe if Saint Paul keeps adding people it will change.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 22, 2017 at 10:12 am #

      I am hopeful also eventually.

  4. Tim August 22, 2017 at 11:23 am #

    Having used the 444 to get to work for a while, I’ll note that it picked up a lot of people at miscellaneous stops along the way as it winds through the area, especially at peak times.

  5. Alex Porter September 1, 2017 at 9:43 am #

    The two biggest changes to express service that weren’t mentioned here:

    Major cut: 865 no longer serves Ham Lake or East Bethel at all. This is a complete elimination of transit from those suburbs.

    Notable add: Some 365 trips now serve the Newport P&R, which opened a couple of years ago. Until now, people wanting to commute from Newport to Minneapolis had to either transfer to the 94 in Downtown St. Paul or simply drive up to the overcapacity 61/Lower Afton P&R. Now Newport has direct service to Minneapolis. Hopefully this will take some pressure off the Lower Afton P&R.

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