The C Line Is So Far, So Good

Governor Walz grabs a freshly cut ribbon to celebrate the successful ribbon-cutting of Metro Transit's C Line. The C Line operates between Downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, paralleling Metro Transit's Route 19.

Governor Tim Walz grabs a freshly cut ribbon to celebrate the successful ribbon-cutting of Metro Transit’s C Line. The C Line operates between downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, paralleling Metro Transit’s Route 19. Author photo

On Saturday, June 8, Metro Transit debuted its latest Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line. The C Line operates from downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center Transit Center and, in between, serves Olson Memorial Highway, Penn Avenue, Osseo Road and Brooklyn Boulevard. The C Line parallels Metro Transit’s Route 19, which saw its frequency and operating hours reduced (just as Route 84 did when the A Line debuted on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul). Route 19 now comes every 30 minutes and runs from 2 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Opening day went relatively smoothly. People were excited to see new buses — with new features — in their neighborhoods. But it wasn’t without some bugs. The wait between the inaugural bus and the first revenue bus was long (about 30 minutes), for example, but it was worth the wait.

People Love The C Line

A Metro Transit staffer, identified by a t-shirt with a graphic of the limited-edition C Line poster, talks to riders on the bus on the first revenue C Line bus on opening day, June 8, 2019. The persons depicted in this photograph do not represent the ridership of the C Line.

A Metro Transit staffer, identified by a T-shirt with a graphic of the limited-edition C Line poster, talks to riders on the bus on the first revenue C Line bus on opening day, June 8, 2019. Author photo

People seem delighted to be riding something new. Karen Nelson, a St. Paul resident, rode the C Line on its first afternoon of revenue service. She reports on NUMTOT-Twin Cities that the best part about her ride was seeing “the reaction of the local teenagers getting on in (the) middle of (the) route.” She was delighted to see the positive reaction to the extra door and the USB chargers onboard.

Several riders whom I spoke with on the route during the past week said they liked it. One told me it’s a “smooth ride.” I agree.

The stop-request buttons are much easier to push compared with the A Line. Maybe too easy. In 2015, San Francisco Muni replaced all of these buttons on their older buses — which happen to be New Flyer buses — because they were constantly being triggered by accident. But I love them.

On the other hand, I wish these buses didn’t come with the yellow Stop Request tape mounted on the window pillars; if one pushes the tape, it triggers a light on the operator’s dashboard alerting them that someone wants to get off at the next stop. Metro Transit says the tape is easier to maintain. However, I’ve seen riders struggle with using it.

There’s A Long Gap Between 43rd and 51st

A Route 19 bus is pictured operating on Osseo Road just northwest of Victory Memorial Highway. Service on Route 19 was recently reduced to operate every 30 minutes at all times because the C Line opened. The C Line does not stop at Victory Memorial Highway or anywhere near it because of concerns expressed by neighbors and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.

A Route 19 bus is pictured operating on Osseo Road just northwest of Victory Memorial Highway. Service on Route 19 was recently reduced to operate every 30 minutes at all times because the C Line opened. The C Line does not stop at Victory Memorial Highway or anywhere near it because of concerns expressed by neighbors and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. Author photo

When I was on the C Line last Monday, the operator made an announcement at 43rd. The operator seemed uncomfortable making the announcement, since the service was new and the operator wasn’t sure how riders would react. “There is a long interval until the next stop. The next stop is somewhere over in Brooklyn Center.”

Fortunately, no one on my bus reacted as we made our way over to Brooklyn Center.

When the C Line stations were being considered, Metro Transit discussed establishing a station on Victory Memorial Highway. Those plans were axed because of low ridership potential and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board citing“the historic character of Victory Memorial Parkway and its role as a memorial to veterans.” Neighbors also complained.

There really should be a stop on Victory Memorial as part of the D Line project, but no plans are in the works. At the very least, it would afford riders access to yet another regional park.

The Electric Buses Work Fine, But Let’s Wait Until Winter

A C Line electric bus is parked below one of two rapid chargers at Brooklyn Center Transit Center on opening day, June 8, 2019. As of this writing, the overhead chargers are not working as some parts are delayed. The chargers are expected to begin working this coming week. In the meantime, operators assigned to a run with an electric bus are still expected to dock below a charger as if the chargers work.

A C Line electric bus is parked below one of two rapid chargers at Brooklyn Center Transit Center on opening day, June 8, 2019. As of this writing, the overhead chargers are not working as some parts are delayed. The chargers are expected to begin working this coming week. In the meantime, operators assigned to a run with an electric bus are still expected to dock below a charger as if the chargers work. Author photo

The route is normally served by 14 buses, eight of which are electric. The electric buses are recharged at the garage, as well as by two rapid chargers at Brooklyn Center Transit Center. The rapid chargers are there to ensure that the buses can operate a full service day.

The chargers at Brooklyn Center were not working on opening day. As a result, Metro Transit assigned the electric buses to straight-through nine-hour runs, since that’s the longest they’ve been able to operate without failing. Additionally, to provide enough buses for revenue service while the electric buses are being charged, they also operated five standard articulated buses that were repainted with the Metro branding. These buses look exactly like the buses used on the C Line, but lack creature comforts like USB chargers and an extra door in the middle.

On the bright side, two operators confirmed that the electric buses were able to make it through nine hours of revenue service on a single charge. One of them pulled out of Heywood Garage — located just north of Target Field, where the buses are stored — on an 85 percent charge. The bus was at 37 percent when I spoke with the operator toward the end of the run.

The electric buses were a smooth ride, like being on a cloud! It helps that Penn was reconstructed. I’ve ridden New Flyer electric buses in San Francisco, and the ride quality degraded whenever the bus traveled a street with a lot of potholes. I highly recommend riding one. Soon.

Bear in mind, however, that it is summer. Battery technologies are notorious for functioning inadequately in extreme cold, and some operators are concerned about this. We’ll see how these buses perform once winter comes.

Let’s Not Get Distracted From What Needs To Be Done

A woman onboard Metro Transit's Ceremonial First C Line bus looks in awe at the crowd as a Metro Transit police officer and a worker looks on. Rather than paying onboard, riders will pay before they board, and Metro Transit Police Officers will enforce payment.

A woman aboard Metro Transit’s Ceremonial First C Line bus looks in awe at the crowd as a Metro Transit police officer and a worker looks on. Rather than paying onboard, riders will pay before they board, and Metro Transit Police Officers will enforce payment.

Overall, despite the infrastructure hiccups, the C Line is off to a good start. People are still figuring out the system, and it will take months to understand how much impact the C Line has on transit service in north Minneapolis.

With that in mind, the agency should ensure that the Twin Cities doesn’t create a two-tiered transit system. That system would go something like this:

  • The A and C lines have coaches replete with special paint schemes, amenities and police officers. They operate frequently and serve only select stops.
  • The other system, which comprises the rest of the transit network, has none of these amenities. It operates anywhere from once a day to once every eight minutes, and serves the hell out of our neighborhoods.

Harry Maddox, one of my good friends, was born and raised in St. Paul. He is a lifelong transit rider, and remembers the days when transit service operated more frequently and covered more ground.

He’s also a lifelong transit activist. Time and again he has said that we should focus on investing in the entire system, not just upgrading certain bus routes.

It’s great that certain people can get to work faster now. Someone who lives in Brooklyn Center and works at the Mall of America can save 15 minutes by riding the C Line and Blue Line, compared with riding Route 5 straight through. They even have access to amenities!

But so should everyone who rides the bus. Ideally:

  • Every bus operates at least every half hour, at minimum.
  • Every bus operates from morning until night.
  • Every bus has all-door boarding.
  • Every street that has a bus route and has congestion has transit-only lanes.
  • The overnight network is more robust.
  • Every bus operates as smoothly as the electric buses that run on the C Line, and every bus (see below) has USB chargers.

Every rider — not just those living near the A and C Lines — deserves to ride with dignity.

The C Line Isn’t the Only Route With Buses That Have USB Chargers

Onboard one of Metro Transit's 20 new buses equipped with USB chargers. These buses will operate on regular routes originating out of Nicollet Garage in Minneapolis.

A USB charging cable is plugged into one of the USB outlets onboard one of Metro Transit’s 20 new buses equipped. These buses will operate on regular routes originating out of Nicollet Garage in Minneapolis.

At the end of the month, Metro Transit will finish receiving 20 new buses. These buses were ordered last July, and are the last buses that Gillig will produce for Metro Transit, for now. Seventeen of these buses, numbered 1800-1816, are assigned to routes that Nicollet Garage operates, which include the 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 12, 17, 18, 21, 23, 46, 67, 113, 114, 133, 135 and 554. The other three, numbered 8013-8015, are assigned to the A Line. These buses were opposed by MN350 and the Twin Cities Transit Riders Union as they are diesel buses, not hybrid or electric.

As pictured, the 1800-series buses look exactly like the 1790 series buses, inside and out, that were delivered to Metro Transit in 2017. They are equipped with USB chargers, just like the buses on the C Line. One major difference: They are mounted on the side of the bus. Happy riding, and happy charging!

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11 Responses to The C Line Is So Far, So Good

  1. Linda Higgins June 17, 2019 at 9:42 am #

    Just a note that it is Victory Memorial Parkway, not Victory Memorial Highway.

  2. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker June 17, 2019 at 10:47 am #

    Good review. I am cautiously optimistic about the BEB winter performance, and hopeful that not just will battery technology improve, but designs will improve in ways that will better protect the battery’s life. The charging station should also help matters, I’m not sure other BEB trials have had a similar feature.

    I’m all for investing in the bus system overall. As I’ve written recently, I think a huge part of that needs to be a more rapid roll-out of aBRT upgrades. But there’s plenty of room for intermediate upgrades, like the stop consolidation on the #2 and planned for the #63. The last time I was in town, I also noticed a greater roll out of real time information along the major transit spines in both downtowns, which is excellent. In the future, I hope to see red lanes as well for buses, especially on Hennepin and Lake.

  3. Ben June 17, 2019 at 2:55 pm #

    I rode one this weekend. It wasn’t one of the models with the usb plug-ins. We ended up spending 5 minutes downtown for the driver to load a wheel chair. The driver had to manually flip the ramp down and then had this finicky high tech arms he had to wrap around the wheelchair. It kept beeping and giving us errors. I also noticed that the stops 55 are barely improved with people entering most of the doors from the grass. I don’t know if there was some issue with MnDot or etc as to why they didn’t improve these stops more.

    Also, I would prefer they don’t add a station at Victory Memorial Drive it’s nice how it is.

    On an aside I remember running the Red White and Boom Half Marathon down Victory Memorial Drive and seeing a 19 stopped by the run with a passenger yelling that they need to go to work. I guess this year the BRT will be stopped as well.

    • Trademark June 17, 2019 at 3:52 pm #

      The stops on 55 were not improved as much because they are temporary stops until the Blue line extension is built. Then the C-Line will move to Glenwood

  4. Alex June 17, 2019 at 3:10 pm #

    I live near Penn and couldn’t find my Go-To Card so I had to use one of the C-Line ticket machines. They were extremely slow and eventually timed out with “tech problems.” Turns out one of them actually did charge my card the $2 but didn’t print me a ticket. Eventually I managed to just download the app and get a ticket that way, but these mini-ticket machines (which also sadly lack Go-To Card services like balance reload) are much, much worse than the full-sized machines that light rail stations have.

  5. Brian June 17, 2019 at 4:34 pm #

    Why should we run every route all day long? There are plenty of suburban express routes that would be burning a lot of fuel with maybe one or two passengers.

    I would love more options to get to/from downtown other than 5:15 am to 8:35 am in the morning, a 1:18 pm run out of downtown, and 2:40 pm to 7:18 pm in the evening. However, I am a realist and realize that buses would be mostly empty outside of the hours already run.

    The only advantage more run times would have is it may get more to take the bus if they know they can get home early if school or daycare calls.

    • Trademarks June 17, 2019 at 11:39 pm #

      Because transit needs to be about more then jus getting to and from work. Instead it must be an option to replace driving. Be able to support trips to go to groceries, schools, doctors appointments, and to see friends and much more. The more people we can get on a car free lifestyle the healthier society is due to less pollution and a more connected community and a society that exercies more just to name a few as well as most importantly allowing for equitable opportunities with regard to transportation even if you not able to have a car with the housing prices rising fast in the city

      • Brian June 18, 2019 at 4:37 pm #

        How much money should society expect to spend driving buses around with three passengers or less?

        • Trademark June 18, 2019 at 6:07 pm #

          Ridership is driven by demand. And yes not every route should be saved. Consolidation will have to occur. But by raising rates for parking city wide and getting rid of minimum parking laws for new property as well as increased gas tax. Car traffic will be dis-incentivized.

          This will increase bus demand as well as the supply of increased bus routes will generate more ridership due to induced demand. If people can rely on something to get them back home they are more willing to ride it more often then knowing just one mistake by them or the bus will leave them stranded and forced to find other options home.

          • Brian June 19, 2019 at 7:42 am #

            The article suggests that all buses should run at least every 30 minutes and run from morning until night.

            My focus is mainly on all the suburban express buses. It would seem crazy to me to run those buses every 30 minutes from morning until night. I can’t imagine that the mid day buses would have more than a few passengers each run. The extra runs would have to generate a lot more passengers in total to justify the extra costs.

            I ride the 250 nearly every weekday with the 264 occasionally and driving downtown a few times a year. The 250 has service every ten minutes or so from about 6:15 am until about 7:45 am. In the afternoon it has service every ten minutes from about 3:45 pm to about 5:15 pm. Outside of those peak hours the remaining buses are rarely full. I have had occasion to ride the 7:18 pm bus and a busy day would be half full in a 40′ bus.

            Most of the riders on the 250 will not stand and they’ll wait for another bus instead if seats are not available. It is a long trip to stand the whole way. Personally, I would love to have trips every half hour all day long, but I also realize that buses that frequent would be empty or nearly empty much of the time. The only change I would like to see is to move the mid day bus out of downtown from 1:18 pm to 12 noon. It isn’t much of a half day off work if you don’t get home until after 2 pm.

          • Brian June 19, 2019 at 8:06 am #

            I agree that regular route service should be at least every 30 minutes, but not so much for express commuter service.

            It has been suggested that regular route service is not really useful for many potential passengers until it runs every ten minutes so that buses show up at least every 15 minutes. 10 to 15 minute service is considered often enough that passengers don’t have to consult schedules.

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