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
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
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
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
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
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!