Auditing the High-Frequency Lines: Are They Truly High Frequency?

Metro Transit has 14 lines that they advertise as high-frequency. According to Metro Transit, these lines, or the portions of them that are high-frequency, will have service every 15 minutes from 6 AM to 7 PM on weekdays, and from 9 AM to 6 PM on Saturdays. But do they?

High Frequency: 14 routes with no more than 15 minutes between trips

The high frequency network standard, per Metro Transit

To find out, I checked out each of the 14 lines to see if they meet that standard. For the sake of testing, my guideline was that I must be able to, based on the scheduled timetable starting March 9, 2019, arrive at any timepoint along the high-frequency portion of a route during the designated high-frequency hours and be able to board a bus or train within 15 minutes. There’s three lists:

  • Definitely High Frequency: there’s no point along the high-frequency portion of the route where I would wait for more than 15 minutes, based on the schedule, for a bus or train
  • Technically Not High-Frequency: usually there’s a bus scheduled every 15 minutes, but there’s a few runs (typically on the edge of high-frequency hours) where at least one timepoint has a bus less often than every 15 minutes, but at least every 20 minutes.
  • Practically Not High-Frequency: There’s at least one timepoint, during high-frequency service, where I’d arrive at a stop and have to wait more than 20 minutes for a scheduled bus, or there’s numerous times during high-frequency service where at least one time point has a 15+ minute gap during weekdays.

Let’s dig in! A quick disclaimer: There’s likely some frequencies I missed, and there’s a chance I did some math wrong in my head. Sadly, there’s enough different times where the routes don’t meet the standard that one or two errors on my end likely wouldn’t bump the route to true 15-minute frequency.

Definitely High Frequency

Technically Not High-Frequency

  • Route 2 – On weekdays, there’s a 20 minute gap at 6 AM-ish eastbound between Franklin Ave. Station and the end of the high-frequency portion. Westbound there’s a similar 19-minute gap between Riverside/25th and Hennepin/Franklin. By 6:30 the high frequency portion is at 10-minute or so frequencies. The final eastbound bus during high-frequency hours leaves Hennepin/22nd at 6:59 PM, with the next bus 16 minutes later. On Saturdays, there’s up to a 20-minute gap from 9 AM to 9:20 AM at Franklin/Nicollet and Hennepin/Franklin.
  • Route 6 – On weekdays, there’s a 17-minute gap southbound between the Hennepin/Franklin and Hennepin/36th stops just after 6:00 AM.
  • Route 10 – On weekdays, the first bus northbound after 6 AM at Central/51st doesn’t arrive until 6:18 AM. There’s also 16-minute gaps north of Central/Lowry until around 7 AM. Southbound, 16-17 minute frequencies start on weekdays just after 6 PM from Central/51st down the entire route until around 7 PM. On Saturdays, northbound there’s 16 minute gaps during the 9 AM hour along the entire route, with multiple between Central/41st and Central/51st. There’s also another 16-minute gap around 10:40 AM at the same stops. Southbound there’s a 16-18 minute gap around 10:15 AM at the Convention Center and the Leamington Ramp. There’s also an 18 minute gap along the entire high-frequency section, starting at Central/51st around 5:20 PM.
  • Route 19 – This one is so close to definitely high-frequency, and it is on weekdays! On weekends northbound there’s 16 minutes between the 9:33 and 9:49 AM departures, which extends toMetro Transit sign for Stop 11791 at Payne and Magnolia17 minutes by Penn/Lowry. There’s also 18 minutes between the 4:45 and 5:03 PM departures. Southbound there’s 16 minutes from Penn/Lowry from 11:45 AM to 12:01 PM, again from 12:16 – 12:32 PM, and again from 12:32 to 12:48 PM. There’s more at various times throughout the afternoon, and they can extend throughout the entire route.
  • Route 64 – Eastbound weekdays there’s a 16-minute gap around 6:20 AM and 11:15 AM east of downtown, along with a 16-minute gap between 6:53 – 7:09 PM at Smith Ave. Ramp. Westbound there’s a 16-minute gap downtown between 6:25 and 6:41 AM from Wall/East 7th, a full-route 16-17 minute gap starting at Maryland/Clarence between 6:24 – 6:40 AM, a 16-minte gap at Maryland/Clarence between 9:30 – 9:46 AM, and full-route gaps of up to 19 minutes right around 7 PM at the end of high-frequency hours. Saturdays eastbound there’s a 16-minute gap at Maryland/Clarence between 9:48 – 10:04 AM, and starting at Payne/Geranium between 10:43 – 10:59 AM. Saturdays westbound there’s a 16-minute gap east of downtown around 5:00 PM.
  • Route 515 – Eastbound weekdays there’s up to 19-minute gaps at 6 AM east of 66th/Nicollet. There’s 16 minute gaps at Southdale after the 5:35 PM departure, and from Southdale through 66th/35W at the 5:51 PM departure. Westbound weekdays there’s a 16-minute gap starting at 66th/Portland from 4:43 – 4:59 PM all the way to Southdale, and between 66th/35-W and Southdale just before 10:00 AM and just before 11:45 AM. There’s also a 20-minute gap starting at 6:58 PM at 66th/Portland. Saturdays eastbound there’s a 17-minute gap along the full high-frequency portion, starting between 9:15 – 9:32 AM at Southdale. Westbound there’s a 16-minute gap along the full route, starting at 66th/Portland between 10:03 – 10:19 AM, and again from 10:34 – 10:50 AM.

Practically Not High-Frequency

  • Route 5 – On weekdays, there’s a 17 minute gap northbound around 4 PM from Chicago/56th and Chicago/38th. There’s a similar gap (this one 19 minutes) around 4:45 PM, and again around 5:20 PM. Southbound, there’s a gap between Chicago/38th and Chicago/56th for up to 21 minutes at 6 AM. There’s similar 16-17 minute gaps around 7:45 AM, around 8:10 AM, and around 8:40 AM. In the afternoon, there’s more 16-19 minute gaps between Chicago/38th and Chicago/56th around 3:50 PM, 4:20 PM, and 5:00 PM. On Saturdays there’s a 16-minute gap southbound between Chicago/38th and Chicago/56th around 9:15 AM, and the entire route has a 17-minute gap between the 5E leaving Fremont/Broadway at 10:49 AM and the 5B leaving at 11:06 AM.
    This one was close between technically not high-frequency and practically not high-frequency. The numerous gaps from 38th to 56th, especially during rush hours, pushed it to practically not high-frequency. If this route only was considered high-frequency to 38th, it’d be technically not high-frequency only due to the 17-minute gap once on Saturday.
  • Route 11 – the route that caused me to write this post! Northbound, there’s a 18-19 minute gap starting in downtown on the runs just after 6 AM. There’s also a 16-minute gap along the entire route between the 9:20 AM and 9:36 AM departures from Nicollet/46th. This happens again at 11:05 AM and 11:21 AM, and again at 11:35 AM and 11:51 AM. There’s another 16-17 minute gap north of downtown around 2 PM, again at Grand/29th between 2:23 and 2:39 PM, and again between 5:48 and 6:04 PM. Even worse, there’s 31 minutes between the 6:35 PM departure from Nicollet/46th and the 7:06 PM departure, leaving that gap during high-frequency hours all the way to downtown. Southbound, there’s 16-minute gaps along the entire high-frequency portion around the 6 AM hour, one north of downtown between the 7:05 and 7:21 AM departures from Grand/29th, again along the entire route throughout the 8 AM hour (worse south of downtown,) again throughout the route at the 10 AM hour, the 11 AM hour, between the 2:22 and 2:38 PM departures at Grand/29th, and sporadically throughout the evening rush (4 PM – 7 PM.)
    Saturdays northbound out of downtown there’s a 17-20 minute gap around 9 AM, a 16-minute gap along the entire route northbound between the 1:14 and 1:30 PM departures from Nicollet/46th, between the 3:30 and 3:46 PM departures, and between the 5:15 and 5:31 PM departures. Southbound there’s similar 16-minute frequencies throughout the 9 AM hour, between the 11:28 and 11:44 AM departures from Grand/29th, and north of downtown between the 4:00 and 4:16 PM departures.
    Given its current schedule, this route should not be considered high-frequency. There’s far too many small 16-20 minute gaps and a giant 31 minute gap near the end of weekday high-frequency service.
  • Route 18 – On weekdays, northbound there’s a 16-17 minute gap between 6:26 and 6:42 AM at Nicollet/66th, between 7:30 and 7:47 AM, between 9:59 and 10:15 AM, between 11:00, 11:16, and 11:32 AM (this particular one also goes upline between around 11:20 AM at Nicollet/38th and Nicollet/32nd,) between 12:45 and 1:01 PM (again upline at Nicollet/38th and Nicollet/32nd,) between 1:30 and 1:46 PM, between 2:20 and 2:36 PM (upline as well,) between 4:24 and 4:40 PM, between 5:11 and 5:28 PM, and multiple frequencies between 5:42 and 6:54 PM. Southbound there’s a 16-17 minute gap at Nicollet/32nd south around 6:10 AM and around 7:20 AM. At Nicollet/66th there’s 16-minute gaps after the runs at 8:50, 9:20, 10:06, and 11:22 AM. Afternoon that same 16-17 minute frequency strikes after 12:03, 12:19, 1:50, 2:07, 2:24, 3:16, 4:16, 4:46, and 6:12 PM frequencies. There’s also a 16-17 minute gap at Nicollet/32nd and Nicollet/38th around 1:40, 4:00, 4:35, and 6:00 PM, and at Nicollet/38th at 2:40 PM.
    On Saturdays, there’s numerous 16-17 minute gaps at Nicollet/66th, Nicollet/38th, and Nicollet/32nd. For the sake of brevity I’m leaving out listing them all.
    This route suffers from the same problem the 5 does – there’s a portion that simply doesn’t get full 15-minute or better frequency and instead is left with 16-17 minute frequency. It also suffers from having a branch a few blocks off that, while giving the corridor better-than-15 minute frequencies, gives the high-frequency portion that it deviates from 16-17 minute frequencies during that deviated time. A bit of additional frequency on the route, or eliminating the deviation on Grand and using that to extend true 15-minute frequency to 66th, would bring this route to definitely high-frequency status.
  • Route 21 – When they cut the frequencies back in December, they never updated the length of the high-frequency portion. Thus, east of Lake St/Midtown station on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning frequency is only 20 minutes or so. Outside of that, there’s an 18-minute gap weekdays eastbound just after 6 AM from Chicago/Lake Transit Center east, a 16-minute gap from 6:51 – 7:07 AM from Lake/Lyndale east.
    Metro Transit really needs to update their map to reflect the reduced frequency east of Lake St./Midtown station. Not even having the map updated on the printed 21 schedule, which was updated with the schedule changes just a few months ago, is a glaring oversight.
  • Route 54 – Weekdays westbound there’s a 16-minute gap from 6:33 – 6:49 AM at MOA, along with a gap from 10:12 – 10:28 AM from West 7th/Albion west and on the full high-frequency route westbound after the 1:27 and 1:43 PM departures from 6th/Cedar. There’s another 16-minute gap from 3:04 – 3:20 PM starting at W 7th/Maynard west.
    Saturdays eastbound there’s up to 30 minute gaps around 9 AM from West 7th/Albion east, around 1:30 PM there’s a 16-minute gap at the downtown stops., and there’s a 18-minute gap along the full route between the 2:55 – 3:13 PM departures from MOA, along with a 17-minute gap from 3:13 – 3:30 PM. Westbound on Saturday there’s 16-23 minute gaps around 9 AM starting at West 7th/Randolph, a 16-minute gap from W 7th/St. Clair west between the 11:43 – 11:59 AM departures, a 17-minute gap along the entire route between the 2:06 – 2:23 PM departures at 6th/Cedar, and up to 17-minute gaps right at the end of the high-frequency window on Saturdays until the airport.
    Some tighter bus turnarounds or additional buses would help here, especially during the Saturday morning window.

Metro Transit BusTL;DR: every route that isn’t a “rapid” route (either aBRT or LRT) fails to meet a strict high-frequency standard, and many don’t even meet a more forgiving standard.

Sure, all of this is interesting, but what does it mean on a practical sense? For me, it means three things:

  1. Trying to run a strict 15-minute-or-better standard with 15-minute frequency is bound to fail. There’s too many variables to travel time, bus utilization, and other factors for a 15-minute standard to be doable with 15-minute frequencies. A 12-minute frequency seems to be bare minimum, with 10-minute being a strong standard to absorb those operational fluctuations. This probably is part of the reason why the A Line feels better than our local routes; the entire route is frequent enough that even with operational fluctuations to the schedule it still comes every 10-or-so minutes.
  2. It’s important to make sure that the start/end times of the 15-minute (or whatever-minute standard is chosen) is such that the entire route can support that, and that buses are pushed out early enough that service is ramped up to that 15-minute-or-better frequency throughout the entire route by the start of the window, not just at the endpoints. Similarly, at midday service can’t be ramped down excessively, and in the evening service needs to be sustained long enough to keep 15-minute frequencies through the end of the window across the entire route. Quite a few of the abnormalities were during the first or last hour, and often over only portions of the route.
  3. The high-frequency-ness of the routes needs to be looked at and re-evaluated frequently. One option is to have the definition updated to reflect the on-the-ground changes (maybe “under 20 minutes”) and new routes added (for example, portions of the 3, 4, and 62 are about as high-frequency as the worst of the current high freuqency routes.) The other would be to aggressively remove routes from the network as soon as they dip below the standard, ideally using that as a talking point to legislators as to why we need to fund transit better (look at how much we’ve had to cut already!)

Hopefully, these situations can be improved, and we can get our high-frequency network back to high-frequency soon, for the good of transit riders across the metro!

Jeb Rach

About Jeb Rach

Born and raised in rural Minnesota, Jeb has been an avid transit geek since he first discovered it trying to save money on parking in the Twin Cities. He now lives in St. Paul and works in Roseville.