The Quarterly Transit Report – October 2018

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.

New Garage

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:

  1. Pullouts from the garage at the beginning of the day and pullins to the garage at the end of the day.
  2. Driver reliefs when the bus stays out all day and the drivers must be replaced.
  3. 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.

New Officers

Metro Transit’s new police officer class, October 2017.

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.






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.

18 thoughts on “The Quarterly Transit Report – October 2018

  1. Janne

    It’s a failing of our community that we rely on Metro Transit to provide emergency shelter. It’s not Metro Transit’s job. It’s not safe or humane shelter. We can and must do better for all transit riders, whether they have stable homes or not.

    I appreciate your focus on humane solutions, Aaron, and it’s clear you care about the people who are forced to shelter on trains and buses because our community has not prioritized building enough homes to go around, and we have not prioritized ensuring people have access to homes. I also want to highlight how language is important. People experiencing homelessness are people. I encourage you consistently reinforce that in the way you write about people living without stable shelter.

    “The homeless presence” and “the homeless” is language the hides the humanity of people experiencing homelessness. While it can feel tedious to center the humanity of people living without homes, we need to do it every time because it’s too easy for our society to hide behind dehumanizing language.

    Thank you for highlighting how it’s a struggle for Metro Transit and what they’re trying to do to make things work better for all of us, given our failings.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Is there any wiggle room for buses to be stored in structured parking? It is pretty painful to see another massive, single-story garage planned on the edge of downtown — despite the practicalities of it for the agency.

    It’s a huge parcel of land to never be taxed, in an area that could be very valuable. And it further solidifies the division between the north Minneapolis and downtown and north loop. Walking from Heritage Park on N 7th St, you have nearly a full mile of bleak frontage: I-94, this currently vacant / future garage site, the Heywood Garage, old Olson Hwy crossing, and then HERC before you finally reach the first slightly people-oriented thing: Target Field. Crossing into downtown on Olson Hwy is only slightly better.

    So, I am sure there is more to this picture that I need to learn but: can’t they just build a multi-story garage with generous turning radiuses, etc?

    1. Matt Brillhart

      It would seem a better outcome if the new garage was being planned to accommodate expansion AND as replacement for the current Heywood Garage. The current garage property would ideally get redeveloped with dense office, residential, etc., given the unmatched proximity to Target Field Station. The existing MT office and new MTPD office buildings could stay right where they are, but surrounded by infill development.

      The new garage site is far less desirable as TOD, given the longer walking distance from light rail, hemmed in by highway to the north and west, etc.

      tl;dr The new garage is great. It’s the existing Heywood Garage that should be planned for removal & redevelopment. It doesn’t seem like that’s the trajectory Metro Transit is on.

      1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

        Finally, Metro Transit does indeed need the the garage capacity. That’s why the second garage is being built.

        Before you dismiss the existing Heywood Garage, consider what it is as an employment site. Working there are about 400 bus drivers, 50 mechanics, over 200 administrative staff and (when the police HQ is finished), another 200 police and support staff. That’s almost 900 premium jobs with good pay and full benefits. Where’s the incentive to redevelop?

        There’s another reason to leave the garage alone. It’s one of the largest employers of African-Americans and it’s right in North Minneapolis.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          Those 900 jobs are indeed valuable. But that job density is pathetic. 60 jobs per acre.

          By comparison, the Be The Match headquarters down the block from Heywood has 955 jobs, or a job density of 776.42 per acre.

          I agree with Matt Brillhart’s suggestion. This new garage should only be built in a way that allows the existing garage to be torn down and redeveloped with a land use that is much more valuable in terms of financial land value, employment density, walkability/granularity, etc.

          1. Monte Castleman

            Do the people working at Metro Transit have the skills and qualifications to work at Be The Match instead? If we built the bus garage in Blaine would we be complaining about how ironically transit inaccessible those jobs are? Are we running out of space for companies to the degree that the next company has to locate in Blaine because there’s no available space in downtown because of the bus garage?

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              I’m not proposing the people who work at Heywood have their jobs moved to Blaine. I proposed the people who work at Heywood are moved to a larger combined facility across the street to the north.

  3. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    The cost per parking space of a parking ramp for automobiles is about 4 times the cost per space for a flat lot. I’m sure a similar ratio would apply to a parking ramp for buses.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I very much dislike the expansion of bus garages on so much valuable land on the periphery of where our city’s core is growing.

    The existing complex appears to be approximately 15 acres. The proposed expansion appears to be approximately 12.2 acres. By comparison, a downtown block is approximately 2.6 acres. One this is complete, Metro Transit will be occupying a monolith of more than 10 city blocks sited on two superblocks. That’s messed up.

    Nearly 1/3 mi frontage on 7th St, and major frontage on 6th Ave (Olson Ext) and Lyndale Ave N. These superblocks create major hostility to connection between the Near North neighborhoods across 94 to the growing neighborhoods of the North Loop and Downtown, and also create barriers (along with the garbage burner and Target Field superblock) between the North Loop and the West Loop area planned for redevelopment with a Green Line station in the future. That’s also messed up.

    I understand these massive facilities may provide operational benefit for Metro Transit. But they are a major disaster for land use, land value, tax base per acre, walkability/granularity, and neighborhood connectivity. We need to do a better job of balancing these competing public interests. As is, Metro Transit’s plan is extremely hostile to the neighborhood.

    1. Nathan Bakken

      I have to disagree, and agree very much with Jeremy below. It is not desirable land for redevelopment. A bus garage is good use of it’s space.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Sorry why is this a bad site for redevelopment (the Heywood site)?

        It’s right by a station serving the entire light rail system and commuter rail. It’s right on one of the key gateways to downtown from the regional highway system. It’s right by Target Field. And it has a demonstrated, healthy market within a block of residential and office use.

  5. Jeremy HopJeremy Hop

    My opinion on the bus matter is as follows: The major benefactors of our transit system is Minneapolis proper. If we value our system a.d wish for its expansion, we as Minneapolis residents must tolerate and welcome the very facilities necessary to perform the functions of the system. Just like the HERC, we are producing the waste here in the city. We must also not hide it away in a far off place. This super block area is bounded by massive freeway trench as well as the off ramps from 94, the parking facilities not too far away. The north side is hemmed off by 94 and Olson. Those two very facilities create a perfect armpit so to speak to bookend the city’s not so pretty mechanical elements. It is organic growth pure and simple.

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