Normally this report would have coincided with the August schedule change, but there wasn’t much to tell at the time, only that Route 71 from Little Canada to Inver Grove Heights was simplified by eliminating a couple of low use terminals. Things have perked up since then, so here we go!
New bus garage coming
Metro Transit currently has five bus garages and they’re overcrowded:
Fred T. Heywood Garage, 7th & Olson Hwy., Minneapolis
Nicollet Garage, 32nd & Nicollet, Minneapolis
East Metro Garage, Mississippi & Cayuga, St. Paul
South Garage, I-494 and Hwy. 77, on MSP Airport property
Martin J. Ruter Garage, Shingle Creek Parkway, Brooklyn Center
To eliminate the overcrowding, a new Minneapolis Garage is proposed to be located at North 7th Street and Oak Lake Avenue in Minneapolis, across the street from the existing Heywood Garage. It will be part of the Metro Transit campus that includes the administrative office building, Transit Control center, training center and a new Transit Police headquarters, currently under construction. The land has already been acquired.
Why have two garages next to each other? The reason is to minimize deadhead bus mileage. Deadheading is the ‘not in service’ miles between the garage and the bus route. It takes three forms:
- Pullouts from the garage at the beginning of the day and pullins to the garage at the end of the day.
- Driver reliefs when the bus stays out all day and the drivers must be replaced.
- Not-in-service trips to and from the Overhaul Base for heavy repairs.
For reasons that are rather arcane and difficult to describe, a garage near downtown Minneapolis incurs significantly fewer deadhead miles and deadhead bus driver hours than a suburban location. The current Heywood Garage houses about 250 buses. In fact, there are about 400 buses that ideally should be based at that location to minimize deadhead, hence the new garage.
Metro Transit is looking for state funding. If obtained, construction could start in 2019.
Homelessness and Transit
Homelessness continues be a problem that is devilishly hard to solve. Witness the current debate over the Hiawatha & Franklin tent city. Also getting press recently has been homeless people living overnight on transit vehicles, mostly the Green Line because it runs 24 hours a day.
According to a recent report to the Metropolitan Council by Transit Police Chief John Harrington, last winter saw 250-300 people living on the trains overnight, after the regular shelters close their doors. Many ride during the day as well. In 2017 there were 2442 calls about homeless riders received by the transit police. The homeless presence works against the goal of increasing ridership.
Metro Transit has been trying to find a solution that is humane, but doesn’t tolerate crime, obnoxious behavior and unsanitary conditions. Chief Harrington has said that you can’t arrest your way out of this problem.
MTPD have been studying best practices in other large cities. One proposal is to recruit case workers to create a registry of the homeless using the train, so the police aren’t starting over with every interaction. This will allow case workers to intervene with specific individuals and work with social service agencies to find alternate housing. Metro Transit is also revising its Rider Code of Conduct to be more specific about which homeless behaviors will or won’t be tolerated. The current Code wasn’t designed to deal with homelessness.
Speaking of the Transit Police
Chief Harrington also presented a report to the Met Council on trends in transit policing.
There are currently 185 sworn officers, 115 full time and 60 part time, with the part-timers drawn from other departments. This is up from 130 in 2011. The increase is largely due to the need for on-board fare checking on light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit. This number will continue to rise in 2019 when the C Line rapid bus opens on Penn Avenue N.
The byproduct of fare checking has been a much stronger police presence on those services. For example, in June 2018, 7.2% of Green Line passengers had their fares checked. The number was 9.3% on the Blue Line and 4.8% on the A Line. It is generally recognized that about 5% checks are needed to discourage fare evasion.
Harrington says the Transit Police are the most diverse force in the metro area. Since 2011, the number of female officers increased from 7 to 38, African-Americans from 5 to 32, Latinos from 6 to 11, Asian-Americans from 2 to 21 and Native Americans from 0 to 2.
The Transit Police focus their resources on the routes and locations where crime rates are the highest. This has led to a constant on-the-ground presence at several downtown Minneapolis stops, the St. Paul Central LRT Station, the Blue Line Midtown Station and the Brooklyn Center Transit Center. Crime is down dramatically at those places.
Transit Police ride the buses as well, an average of 2700 rides per month. These are concentrated on the handful of routes that are most problematic.
Passengers can now directly text the police if they feel they are in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. More cops and more convenient tools for the public to reach them have increased the number of police calls. In June 2018 there were 93 calls for every 100,000 rides. Expressed another way, the average rider had a 1/10th of 1 percent chance of needing to call the police. According to Harrington, that makes the transit system safer than the city as a whole. Transit is also much safer from an accident standpoint than driving your car. Much of the public has a double standard that perceives transit as unsafe, when just the opposite is true.