A Proposal to Double Express Bus Frequency Without Increasing Costs

The express bus system in the south metro has many inefficiencies in its design, leading to low service frequencies. By redesigning the system to consolidate duplicative routes, we can more than double bus frequencies without large increases in operating cost or travel time.

My experiences with express buses

Express Bus Highway

An express bus passing traffic in the north metro.
Image Credit: Metro Transit

This summer, I started riding the express bus system everyday from the Eagan Transit Station to downtown Minneapolis. Taking an express bus into work has many benefits for me: I have a faster overall commute thanks to the use of MnPASS lanes on 35W, I gain over an hour of free time every day during my commute, and I don’t have to worry about parking in downtown. It also means I don’t have the expenses of an additional car in my household, since I carpool to the bus stop. Commuting by express bus instead of by car also reduces wear on our roads, lowers riders’ emissions, and allows us to more efficiently use space both on our highways and downtown. These are some of the many reasons why transit agencies should be looking to promote express bus ridership for suburban commuters.

However, maintaining an express bus network presents many difficulties for transit agencies. The low density and lack of a grid network in most suburbs means reaching new customers becomes more difficult, and maintaining a frequent bus route is downright impossible for nearly all suburban areas. Express buses also need to compete with cars on both comfort and cost. In a time with low gas prices and high bus headways, it’s hard in many cases for buses to compete. As a result, express ridership in the metro area is down 8% in the last year, compared to a 2% drop for overall transit use.

As an avid transit enthusiast, I wanted to look more deeply into this trend and see if there was anything that could be done to reverse the ridership slide. Specifically, I examined the frequencies of buses and what could be done to improve them for the average rider. What I found is a relatively inexpensive way to drastically improve the express bus transit experience. By designing a more efficient suburban express bus system, we can effectively double average trip frequencies without a large increase in operating costs.

Why is frequency important?

Hi Frequency 1

Metro Transit’s High Frequency Network

Frequency is one of the most important metrics, if not the most important metric, when evaluating a transit service. Studies show that increasing frequencies directly improves ridership, and many examples across the country back this assertion up. After all, one of the reasons why the light rail is so popular is its incredible ease of use. Nobody keeps track of the light rail timetables – you can just go to a station and expect that a train will be arriving soon. As famed transit planner Jarrett Walker likes to say, “Frequency is Freedom.” Because of the high level of service provided, light rail ridership is growing dramatically, in contrast with the shrinking Twin Cities transit system as a whole.

Unlike the light rail, most express bus routes are not this easy. If you want to ride an express bus, knowing which station to get on isn’t enough – you have to learn the schedule, and figure out which bus you need to get on, and which bus can take you home. For many would-be express bus riders, the infrequency of services causes them to choose driving over transit. But what if it weren’t this way? What if riding the express bus were as easy as riding the light rail?

After analyzing the network of express buses operated by MVTA in the suburbs of Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Lakeville, Prior Lake, Rosemount, Savage, and Shakopee, I found a relatively simple way to more than double average bus frequencies. All we need to do is consolidate our existing express bus network into a set of core, high-frequency routes. And the best part? Given the inefficiencies in our current network, this high-frequency consolidation could be implemented without a large increase in operating costs!

An example of route consolidation

For example, Route 470 leaves from the Eagan Transit Station at the intersection of 35E and Pilot Knob. The 470 leaves Eagan Transit Station 4 times during the peak hour of 7am-8am. Another bus, the 472 leaves from the Blackhawk Park and Ride, a few miles south of the Eagan Transit Station. Route 472 also has 4 departures during the peak hour.

Currently, these two routes are completely separate: both buses head straight downtown without any stops. However, I believe that we can strengthen the quality of bus service by combining these bus routes into one route, starting at the Eagan Transit Station and stopping at Blackhawk Park and Ride before heading to downtown. Since there would now be 8 departures each hour, the frequency of the route is effectively doubled without needing new buses or drivers.

What’s more, I found possibilities for this type of route consolidation in every other suburb I looked at in the south metro. In the following section, I will describe my proposal for a new express bus system and analyze the potential effects of the system on riders.

Methodology

As the concept of frequency is very important in my proposal, I need a standardized way to calculate it. I chose to determine current bus frequency at a given station by counting the number of buses leaving the station during the peak hour of 7:00am to 8:00am, the time when most people leave for work. Peak service will of course be extended before and after this timeframe, but using 7-8am as a base gives me an easy way to calculate hourly frequency for all stations in a standardized way.

In addition to frequency, I need a standardized way to calculate the changes in trip time caused by the route detours. To find the northbound detour change, I find the time it takes to reach 2nd/Washington in downtown with and without the detour, with existing routes leaving at approximately 7:30am. For southbound trips, I find the time it takes to reach each station from the Gateway Ramp with and without the detour, with existing routes leaving at approximately 5:00pm.

As an example, I’ll use the northbound buses from Rosemount Transit Station to downtown detouring at Palomino. Normally at 7:30am, a direct bus from Rosemount to downtown takes 50 minutes, while a direct bus from Palomino takes 37 minutes. According to Google Maps, driving time from Rosemount to Palomino is 14 minutes. Thus, the total time with the detour is 14+31=51 minutes, 1 minute longer than the direct trip from Rosemount. I also add an extra minute for boarding at all stops other than Burnsville Transit Station, which I allocated 2 minutes for boarding due to the station design. With this extra minute, we calculate a total detour time of 2 minutes.

Current system

Express System Current

Our current express bus system in the south metro. Look at all of the redundant, overlapping lines with low frequency!

 

Currently, there are 11 express bus routes from the southern suburbs to downtown Minneapolis – 10 routes operated by MVTA and route 467 operated by Metro Transit. Many of these routes also have multiple branches, making the effective number of routes even higher. My proposal is to consolidate the current system into 6 core express routes. This will make the system much more understandable and increase route frequencies without increasing the operating costs of the system.

Proposed system

Express System Proposed

My proposed express bus system. Notice how much more clean and understandable this new system is!

Eagan

As I described above, I propose to consolidate Routes 470 and 472 into one express route. The new route will start at Eagan, stop at Blackhawk, and then continue into downtown.

Rosemount

Route 478 from Rosemount Transit Station has 3 departures during the peak hour. Route 476 from Palomino Hills Park and Ride has 4 departures during the peak hour. I propose to consolidate these into one express route, which will start at Rosemount, stop at Palomino, and then continue into downtown.

Apple Valley

Route 477 from Apple Valley Transit Station has 9 departures during the peak hour. I am not proposing any changes for this route.

Lakeville

Route 467 has 7 departures during the peak hour from Lakeville Kenrick Park and Ride. I propose increasing this to 15 departures, with all trips now stopping at Heart of the City and Burnsville Transit Center as well.

Prior Lake

Route 464 has 6 departures during the peak hour from Savage Park and Ride. All departures stop at Heart of the City Park and Ride. I propose doubling this to 12 departures, with the addition of a stop at Burnsville Transit Center.

Prior Lake is currently served by Route 490, with 1 departure during the peak hour. I propose extending express bus service from Savage to Prior Lake, and eliminating service on the 490.

This is a huge increase in service to Prior Lake, one which I believe will create significant new ridership. Route 490 currently terminates in a relatively commercial area, so new transit-oriented development could form. I would also not be opposed to the construction of a Park and Ride in Prior Lake.

Shakopee

Route 493 has 3 departures from Marschall Park and Ride during peak hours. Route 490 has 5 departures from Southbridge during peak hours, which also branches to either Marschall or Eagle Creek Park and Ride. I propose consolidating these into a single route which starts at Marschall, and stops at Eagle Creek, and Southbridge before continuing into downtown.

Burnsville Transit Station + Cedar Grove Transit Station

With the implementation of the proposed express system, 2 convergence stations will form: Burnsville Transit Station and Cedar Grove Transit Station.

Burnsville Transit Station currently has 14 departures during the peak hour. With my proposal, buses from Prior Lake and Lakeville will converge at Burnsville with a trip frequency of 27 departures during the peak hour. With extra funding, I would want to create a dedicated southbound transit ramp from 35w, to match the northbound transit ramp and speed up travel time, but this is not strictly necessary for the proposal.

Cedar Grove Transit Station currently has 1 departure during the peak hour that serves Downtown Minneapolis. It’s not even a very great “express” route – after leaving Cedar Grove, it meanders around local streets for 20 minutes before crossing (but not stopping at) Cedar Grove again to get to downtown!

I want to use the recently built $14 million dollar online station to actually serve express riders at Cedar Grove. Specifically, I propose that all express buses from Blackhawk, Palomino, and Apple Valley stop here. With my proposal, frequency will increase to 24 departures during the peak hour. Stopping at an online station should not create much of a delay, so I’m not sure why buses don’t do this already.

Analysis

Full Table

Analysis of Frequency and Travel Time

 

The two major changes the proposed system will have on riders are frequency and travel speed. Taking a simple average of the change in frequency and travel times over all stations gives us an increase in frequency of 479% and a decrease in travel time of 0.9 minutes! These seem like amazing results, but are in fact very misleading, since most of the positive effect is coming from the two stations of Prior Lake and Cedar Grove, both of which have very low ridership currently.

To better understand the actual impact the redesign will have on transit users, I could take an average of the station data weighted by transit ridership at the station. However, I don’t have access to MVTA ridership data, so I estimated ridership by considering number of existing departures by station and number of cars parked at each station. For example, I estimate that Burnsville has about 25% of total riders in my system, because it has 29% of all parking usage and 21% of all departures in the current system. This estimate isn’t perfect of course, but it gives us a decent starting point for analysis.

Using this ridership estimate, I find that in the redesigned system, the average transit rider’s frequency is increased 244%, while their trip time increases by only 1.3 minutes (3% of total travel time). What’s more, every single rider in the system will have access to frequencies of at least 7 departures per hour or greater. This is actually a higher frequency than the light rail provides!

From these numbers, it is clear that the average rider is gaining enormously, since the choice between more than doubling frequency and a 3% increase in trip time is obvious. However, not all riders are gaining from the redesign equally. Specifically, the stations that will incur a positive increase in travel time are Heart of the City Park and Ride, Eagan Transit Station, Kenrick Park and Ride, Savage Park and Ride, and Rosemount Transit Station. Riders from these 6 stations make up approximately 36% of all riders in the system. If my proposal is implemented, these riders can expect their trip frequency to increase 336%, but their trip time will increase 5.2 minutes (11% of total travel time).

For these riders, there is a decision to be made between frequency and speed. From my personal experience as a daily rider at one of these stations, I strongly believe that the massive increase in frequency compensates for the slight increase in travel time, and I feel that most other riders will as well.

Challenges

Other than increased trip times, there are a few topics which might cause issues when implementing the proposed express bus system:

Cost: One of the big claims about this proposal is that it can double frequencies without requiring a corresponding 2x increase in operating costs. The reason why this is possible is because the new system isn’t actually adding any extra trips, so the number of buses and drivers will remain the same.

Of course, there is a small increase in cost because of extended service to new stops, but without more financial data from the MVTA, I can’t calculate exactly what it would be. The two biggest operational cost increases will be extending the old 460 to Lakeville, and extending the old 476 to Rosemount, which could add an extra ~30% to costs. However, these two routes make up much less than half of all routes total. It’s also important to note that every express bus full of passengers also has an empty express bus going the other way, and this empty bus is not affected by new stops. Keeping this in mind, a very, very, back-of-the-envelope estimate for a cost increase is 10-15% to the total system.

Too much service?: Once concern transit officials might have with the system is the extension of trips to far-out suburbs where people might not use them. For example, Prior Lake is increasing from 1 departure to 12 during the peak hour! Service vs Ridership is a very chicken-and-egg problem, and I would argue that people don’t use express buses because the service is underwhelming, and not the other way around. With the current system, adapting to the rigid bus schedule can seem very unappealing compared to the flexibility of a car. On the other hand, I don’t know anybody who enjoys driving in traffic or parking in downtown. I could see a future with booming express bus use, as long as riders are given an easy-to-use system that is more convenient than driving.

One way to measure ridership potential would be an expensive, drawn-out study period like those that many new transit proposals face today. However, since the new system doesn’t have any upfront costs needed for implementation, we could instead simply pilot the proposal for a year, giving us much more useful data and avoid unnecessary overhead expenses.

Gradual Rollout vs System Overhaul: One nice thing about this proposal is that many of the planned route changes are independent of other route changes. For example, the 470 and the 472 can be consolidated without touching any of the other express routes in Apple Valley, Burnsville, or Shakopee. However, I would recommend that the system  be implemented overnight instead of a gradual rollout. Not only will this prevent local routes being in a constant state of disorder over the rollout period, but an instant redesign makes for better publicity and allows potential future riders to see the new network with a fresh eye.

Defining Peak Hours: While this post used the period between 7am and 8am for determining route frequency, this is of course not the maximum range of service. In the current system, express buses generally run from 5:30am-8:30am in the mornings, and 3pm-6pm in the evenings. Because my proposal only consolidates bus departures without adding any new service, this window of buses will not shift much with the consolidation. However, times maybe expanded slightly in some cases. For example the latest bus from Blackhawk leaves at 8:15am, while the latest bus from Eagan leaves at 8:18am. When these two routes are consolidated into one route, the latest departures can shift further back, to around 8:30am.

Providing Off-Peak Service: The lack of off-peak service can be a huge deterrent for riding express buses. Even if running buses outside of rush hour can be expensive, having the flexibility to ride throughout the day can boost confidence in the peak hour busses. As an everyday express bus rider, I often feel this squeeze whenever I need to stay past the last available bus for Eagan Transit Station. Luckily for me, I can usually take one of the later buses to the Burnsville Transit Station and get a ride home, even though it’s quite out of the way from my house. Other people, especially if they park at a park-and-ride, don’t necessarily have this luxury and may simply choose to drive all the way to downtown instead.

While I understand the importance of off-peak service, it is somewhat out of the scope of this proposal – my goal for this analysis was to improve current bus service without adding new buses. However, I do have some ideas for implementing cost-effective off-peak transit to the southern suburbs. Look for that proposal in my next post!

 

Conclusion

Summary

Summary of Proposed Express Bus System

Overall, I believe that I’ve designed an express bus system that works much better for transit riders than our current system. By consolidating similar routes and eliminating inefficiencies, my proposed system is able to increase the average bus frequency nearly 250% while only increasing travel times 3%. Most importantly, this increase doesn’t come with a heavy price tag, since the new system has the same number of buses, drivers, and individual trips as the old system.

This analysis focused specifically on the MVTA-served suburbs of Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Lakeville, Prior Lake, Rosemount, Savage, and Shakopee. However, preliminary analysis of other express bus routes leads me to believe that this kind of system consolidation is possible throughout the entire region. With a high quality express bus network reaching all corners of the metro area, we can begin to reduce parking requirements in downtown Minneapolis, unclog our congested highways, and promote a cleaner, greener lifestyle for all residents in the Twin Cities.

Let me know what you think of my express bus proposal in the comments! I’m especially interested in hearing feedback from people who regularly ride express buses like me. Would you prefer the current system or my proposal?

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58 Responses to A Proposal to Double Express Bus Frequency Without Increasing Costs

  1. Elizabeth Larey October 21, 2019 at 10:09 am #

    Hey, what about us peeps in the north metro? I swear we are the last place on earth as far as mass transit goes. I’d sure take something if it was available. Thanks for the informative article, makes total sense. I love DC transit the best in this country.

    • Saumik Narayanan
      Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 12:24 pm #

      The north metro does have an express bus system as well and I think a lot of the same ideas with route consolidation could be applied there too, from the brief time I spent looking at it.

  2. Gary Severson October 21, 2019 at 10:33 am #

    Is your express bus proposal different from the Orange, Red et al BRT systems? Is the frequency in MSP BRT systems like light rail frequencies. If so are BRT systems having the same increases in ridership as light rail?

    • Gary severson October 21, 2019 at 11:25 am #

      OK, I see BRT is separate from the “express system”. I guess one of my questions is still relevant, i.e., does the “Red BRT” show greater ridership equal to increases in light rail increases & greater increases than express lines?

      • Saumik Narayanan
        Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 12:35 pm #

        Yup, like you said, the express bus system is separate since it only runs during rush hour. Ridership is fairly strong, especially at the stations with high levels of service – Burnsville and Apple Valley Transit Stations (chicken-and-egg?).

        The BRT systems provide all day service. The Orange Line isn’t up yet, so not much can be said about it yet. The Red Line has been very underwhelming, mostly because it’s much worse than driving. It connects some park-and-rides, shopping centers with free parking, and the MOA, also with free parking. With 20 minute headways, the service is not good enough to take extra cars off the road.

        On the other hand, express buses allow riders to avoid the congested 35w corridor with transit lanes, and parking is actually a hassle in downtown Minneapolis, so there are reasons to use express buses over driving.

        There are some ways to fix the Red Line, and I’ll discuss some of my ideas in an upcoming post!

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke October 21, 2019 at 11:00 am #

    Suburban express buses require such dramatic subsidies in the form of the parking ramps and infrastructure around them. I am skeptical that they should be a priority for investment, but that said, your proposal seems wise. Frequency and flexibility are often overlooked parts of transit planning, where people assume that everyone can easily keep to a fixed schedule.

    • Saumik Narayanan
      Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 12:38 pm #

      Suburban express buses actually have relatively low subsidies in terms of operating cost alone, but I agree that when you add all the park-and-ride infrastructure, this cost does go up significantly. Fortunately, my proposal doesn’t require any new infrastructure and if ridership increases, express bus subsidies could go down even more.

    • Mark October 21, 2019 at 1:19 pm #

      What’s the solution you propose for those living in the suburbs? Either they take transit, and a ramp is built to house their car, or they drive and their car clogs up the road, pollutes even more, and then sits in a ramp.

      • Max Singer October 21, 2019 at 4:31 pm #

        Maybe there is no solution for living in those suburbs. Following the wisdom of Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, maybe the best options for those suburbs will be expensively retrofits or being reverted to their prior uses (ag and low-intensity development).

        • Saumik Narayanan
          Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 6:28 pm #

          As long as people live in the suburbs and travel to downtown, there needs to be a solution, since no solution just means more people driving to work.

          Current suburban commuting patterns are are inequitable and unsustainable, but that’s not gonna be solved with a cost-neutral transit system redesign. We need to build enough political consensus to actually overhaul how we price parking/driving. Until that’s feasible, park-and-rides are the best we can do.

        • Brian October 24, 2019 at 12:04 pm #

          So, everyone in the suburbs should just demolish their house and move to a homeless shelter? (Not too many can afford to pay a mortgage for a non-existent house in the suburbs and rent in Minneapolis too.)

      • Monte Castleman October 21, 2019 at 4:40 pm #

        Finding a job in the suburbs would be another option. Prime just got a huge new building and is hiring. Universal Healthcare is hiring. The unfortunately named Sick wants to build an enormous new building north of the Mall. I’ve never had to face the prospect of having to ride a bus or paying for parking downtown because I always found a job before I had to resort to applying to downtown companies.

        • Andrew Evans October 22, 2019 at 9:29 am #

          Monte, that’s a great point. Also that those working in the suburbs and who aren’t living close to a downtown may have limited transit options open to them. I don’t consider that a bad thing, it is what it is. I do think that some, especially those who are huge proponents of transit and alternative transit in the area, feel that Minneapolis and St. Paul, and their downtowns, operate in a bubble and that any and all solutions to whatever problems must happen there. The metro area, as you pointed out, has many enclaves of commercial development, and those companies along with their workers have a choice that’s not limited to a downtown area.

          When and as the metro expands it won’t solely be the downtowns that grow, or the two major cities. Make it harder on companies and their workers in those downtowns and some may decide to move or not move in.

  4. Monte Castleman October 21, 2019 at 1:50 pm #

    I’m assuming that most of the people that are using these express buses are not making spur of the moment trips to go downtown to get beer or ice cream, where frequency of service would matter. Nor would they start making these trips if frequency was increased. Instead they’re going to work at a specific time of day, every day, so their trips are able to be planned around existing service.

    In particular we’ve already decided Kenrick doesn’t warrant high frequency service in the form of an Orange Line extension. Having buses from there stop at the two Burnsville stations would require it leave the HOT lane to cross the congested general lanes, exit, take a long, slow, curvy, lurching trip around Heat of the City, then get back on the freeway and once again cross the slow general lanes to get back into the HOT lane.

    • Andrew Evans October 21, 2019 at 3:05 pm #

      Yeah, pretty sure going into the year 2020 that most would have heard about the different transit options and that employers downtown would subsidize a Metropass.

      That said the article does miss the point about a grid system. The suburbs have that, it’s roads and cars. It’s extremely high frequency since that person can get in their car and go somewhere. I’m guessing this is why a lot of the transit centers are park and ride.

      • Saumik Narayanan
        Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 6:17 pm #

        Even if people know about transit’s existence, I think that providing simpler routes and higher frequency will make it easier and more attractive for new riders.

        I’m not sure I understand your comment about the grid system, can you explain what you mean?

    • Saumik Narayanan
      Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 6:13 pm #

      As a daily express bus rider, I strongly disagree with the assertion that frequency isn’t important, or increased service won’t attract new riders. People don’t commute at the same time every day – sometimes they have early meetings, or extra work one day, or plans after work, or maybe they even just overslept. In an ideal transit system, running late 5 minutes shouldn’t mean having to wait an extra 30 or 60 minutes for the next bus.

      Regarding Kenrick, the decision was that Lakeville doesn’t need 15 minute off-peak headways, which I 100% agree with. But peak commuting is a different beast, since the demand is actually there.

      The detour at Heart of the City and Burnsville Transit Station is annoying sure, as it adds 11% to the trip time for Kenrick riders. I think gaining frequency is worth the extra travel time, but I’m willing to hear from express bus riders who disagree.

  5. Scott Walters October 21, 2019 at 2:07 pm #

    This looks absolutely awesome. I live downtown, 3 blocks from work, so this isn’t my problem at all, but I hope someone at Streets knows how to take what you’ve done and make sure it gets in front of the people who could actually make this happen. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

    • Saumik Narayanan
      Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 9:57 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, it’s encouraging to see others like this idea as well!

  6. karen Nelson October 21, 2019 at 4:01 pm #

    I really like this idea – and love that it would be so easy to test to see if works.

    Also, the suburban park and ride infrastructure and land area seems wholly wasted. At Maplewood mall one, I see people of humble looks, walking to it from nearby businesses at all hours of the day, no cars, in addition to rush hour downtown commuters who park and ride.

    And yet it is sort of this deserted island among unpleasant to walk surface parking lots.
    .

    Why not make use of this primo real estate – have a convenience store, coffer shop – and shoot they have parking, could use it in or have some space for small employers, offices that are too often in strip malls – lawyers, tax guys, dentists etc.

    • Saumik Narayanan
      Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 10:19 pm #

      Yup, one of the best things we can do to improve suburban transit is making the immediate surroundings around these stops more walkable (and bikeable).

      Creating mixed-use nodes around each station would definitely help, especially if parking use can be split. Heaving other businesses nearby makes transit as a whole much more useful, especially if it’s geared towards riders. Unfortunately, the layout of most suburbs makes this kind of development difficult, but it can still be possible if we focus our efforts efficiently!

  7. Max Singer October 21, 2019 at 4:39 pm #

    I grew up in Minneapolis, and have never once taken the MVTA. So these questions come from a place of ignorance, but genuine frustration at the diversion of needed transit resources chasing “choice riders”.

    Are these routes currently served by MVTA’s coach style busses?
    If yes, is part of the rationale for the excessive amenities of these routes (P&R, coach buses) offering a guaranteed level of comfort for these long distance commuters? Would the trade off of higher frequency be worth it if commuters weren’t guaranteed a seat, or, if the bus filled up a previous station, which could be possible? Coach buses could be a bad adaptation precisely because, as far as I know, they are not designed with standing room as a possibility.

    • Monte Castleman October 21, 2019 at 6:20 pm #

      To put it bluntly, I think part of using coaches it is to provide a psychological class distinction as well as just offer plushness.

    • Saumik Narayanan
      Saumik Narayanan October 21, 2019 at 6:39 pm #

      Most MVTA express trips use coach buses. In my experience, current buses are usually not full. Definitely park and rides aren’t full, according to the data online.

      If ridership increases enough that service takes a hit due to crowded buses, that’s a good thing in my mind, since it means subsidies are lower and the demand exists to increase service by adding trips, buying articulated buses, etc.

      Even if we don’t increase service to compensate, I think the issue of crowded buses solves itself. It’s like that saying “Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore, it’s too crowded”.

      Another option could be to increase fares or add parking costs until demand matches supply.

      • Andrew Evans October 22, 2019 at 9:06 am #

        No, crowded and full buses aren’t a good thing because I bet enough of these commuters are taking the bus by choice. Making it more frustrating and difficult would tip the scales for them to other options, like driving.

        Have a captive audience that must take transit and this is a different discussion.

        Comfort is a part of this. Especially when it’s a choice. I’d personally want a plus bus, with wifi, that I could sit back and check emails on or maybe get a head start on the day with my laptop. Time is money, and if I couldn’t easily do that, and could afford downtown parking, I may as well drive.

        • Saumik Narayanan
          Saumik Narayanan October 22, 2019 at 9:14 am #

          Oh, I definitely agree that crowded buses by itself isn’t a good thing, we don’t want to intentionally degrade the quality of our transit.

          What I meant by my comment is that crowded buses are an indicator that we are building successful and usable transit. If a bus comes to the station every 8 minutes and each bus is packed, we know that we can potentially upgrade frequency to every 6 minutes or every 4 minutes, since we know the demand is already there.

  8. Gary Severson October 21, 2019 at 7:56 pm #

    From the “Streetscape” blog. “Looking at the 2018 NTD data, of the top 35 regions for transit usage, ridership is rising in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Detroit, and Las Vegas. Patterns clearly emerge when examining these cities”.

    All 7 above cities redesigned their bus systems as Saumik recommends. They are the only cities that showed increases in ridership.

  9. Gary October 21, 2019 at 8:01 pm #

    https://www.streetsblog.org/ is the correct source & not “streetscape”.

  10. Gary October 21, 2019 at 8:21 pm #

    Hennepin County has 600 sq miles & 41 cities. Houston Tx .alone has 600 sq miles of the 10,000 sq mi. in the Houston CSA. My question here is that, is the Metro Council effective enough to provide transportation options for Hennepin County much less the MSP CSA? Houston’s shear 600 square miles allow it to accomplish more mass trans options as a single city than any city in the MSP CSA.

  11. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson October 21, 2019 at 9:21 pm #

    I love this kind post on Streets.mn. Thanks for writing it!

  12. Brian October 22, 2019 at 7:33 am #

    One of the nice things about routes that start at a park and ride is they are pretty much always on time and rarely leave before the scheduled time. If a bus coming from another stop is early are they just going to load and go even if ahead of schedule (This happens all the time on regular route buses.)?

    If buses are arriving already full from their first stop then eventually some of the riders are going to get sick of standing and just start driving downtown instead.

    I have talked to co-workers about why they don’t take the bus downtown. Some simply don’t like sitting with a bunch of strangers. They want to be able to play their music as loud as they want. Some of them talk about lack of money while spending an extra $200 to $250 a month to drive. Regular transit buses are quite uncomfortable. The seats are narrower than an airplane. The window passenger can end up jammed against the window by the other passenger, especially if they are quite large.

    • Andrew Evans October 22, 2019 at 8:57 am #

      Trying to remember back to my last time working downtown. It wasn’t a high paying job, and I didn’t work with any real high paid co-workers. Most already too transit from the various places they lived, and most didn’t pay for traffic. Which is why I commented before that I’d be willing to bet most workers downtown already know about transit options.

      From there I guess it depends on money, and what they want to do. I can’t personally comment on parking downtown if I got a job there since I’d more than likely ride my bike most of the time (being extremely cautious in North Mpls). That said, I’d have to consider the time I worked, got off work, and the value of my time. An extra $200 a month may be worth it if I had other stuff going on after work, and could get into and out of downtown without any major traffic.

      Tell you what though, if buses were 15 min apart, and I couldn’t board because of a full bus, then I’d look to driving.

      • Andrew Evans October 22, 2019 at 9:08 am #

        edit [job is distracting]
        Trying to remember back to my last time working downtown. It wasn’t a high paying job, and I didn’t work with any real high paid co-workers. Most already took transit from the various places they lived. Which is why I commented before that I’d be willing to bet most workers downtown already know about transit options.

    • Saumik Narayanan
      Saumik Narayanan October 22, 2019 at 9:24 am #

      If buses are only coming every 15 minutes or 30 minutes or 60 minutes, then having the bus leave early is a terrible feeling – it’s happened to me before. However, in my proposal, the worst frequency is every 5-8 minutes. I suspect that at this point, missing a bus isn’t as big of a deal for riders.

      If ridership is strong enough at one of the earlier stations that capacity is limited at a later station, than we can increase the supply by either running more frequently or buying bigger buses to compensate. I would rather have a bus full of standing passengers going to downtown than an empty one.

      Some people will choose to never take the bus to downtown, and there’s nothing we can do about that. However, if we build usable enough infrastructure that the bus is more convenient than driving, then the average person will stop driving to work, and that’s the ultimate goal of these express buses.

      • Andrew Evans October 22, 2019 at 10:40 am #

        You’re not getting the choice thing…

        Driving isn’t a value added activity a lot of the time. It’s boring, dull, and takes all of a drivers attention. I’d even argue that biking is the same when used for commuting – sure it’s exercise, but it still requires full attention and effort.

        Riding the bus, potentially can bring value because it allows a person to do other things with that amount of time. As I said before, a person can check up on email, open their laptop and get a jump on work, or even take a nap, none of that can really happen if they are driving or operating some kind of vehicle.

        That said, if you have now full standing room only buses, does that offer the same kind of service? Money isn’t always the end all be all of these things, and I’m sure more than a few commuters (enough to make a dent in service if they left) make the choice to save money but could otherwise afford parking. Take those value added amenities away from those folks and they make the choice to drive.

        This is why, as a wild guess, those buses are fancy and more comfortable than a city bus. The market, those folks who would otherwise be able to drive, is asking for it.

        This is also why, I’ve said repeatedly, that those who are interested in taking the bus are already doing so and that increased frequency may not be enough to attract new riders. Not that we need to give up with expanding service, only that I don’t feel your ideals and features are what new riders would be looking for.

        On the flip side the city could take the method of removing supply and cutting parking and ramps. This happened with the Federal Building fiasco and their proposed ramp. Although that too has ramification since employers and employees can choose to go elsewhere if commuting and access is impacted in a way that they perceive is negative and if all the pieces align for a company to move or employee to find a new job. Also for what it’s worth my birthday is coming up and I’m considering ending the 7 year streak of going to Bachelor Farmer due to parking and access, I also haven’t stopped there for Armagnac after work due to parking, even though I drive right by. Maybe my business doesn’t matter in the long run, but I’m not that unique and I’m sure others are making the same choices, then too, more people may be living around there to support the businesses, so it could even out in the long run.

        • Joe October 22, 2019 at 11:51 am #

          You keep stating your opinion as fact.

          At my work, about 50% of eligible people take express buses downtown. Of the 50% that do not, the #1 reason cited was because of the lack of frequency.

          One anecdote: A coworker has 3 buses to come in the morning, which arrive at (roughly) 6:45, 7:45 and 8:45. We start the day at 7:30ish. Needless to say, he doesn’t love the idea of getting in 45 minutes early every day.
          In addition, to make it home, there are buses at 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00. Our workday traditionally ends around 4:00. He can either duck out early every single day to catch the 4:00, or sit around for 45 minutes at the end of the day to catch the 5:00.
          So he drives. But if his bus increased frequency to every 15 minutes, he’d be all set!

      • Brian October 22, 2019 at 4:34 pm #

        5 to 8 minutes can make all the difference in the world if you have to make a transfer downtown. Today I would have just made my transfer in downtown had the bus been on time and a bus 5 to 8 minutes later would have made me late for the transfer. (Sure wish the 7 was more than every 30 minutes, but ridership isn’t high enough as is.). I missed the transfer anyhow because the bus was 20 minutes late due to rain.

        Yes, standees mean a successful route, but some percentage of riders will decide to drive instead so standees may not be a problem for long. I used to take the 5 bus at least weekly and at times there literally was no more room for passengers, seated or standing. However, many passengers on the 5 don’t have an alternative so they put up with the crowding.

  13. Gary October 22, 2019 at 4:02 pm #

    I remember a study from 20 years ago that discovered only 7% of the commuters from the suburbs had downtown as their final destination. In fact they were just driving through DT to get to a job beyond DT from where they lived. How does this impact our understanding of bus frequencies increasing ridership? If the express bus terminates DT then it can’t serve the 93% of commuters that aren’t actually going to a DT job. When u have 100 burbs competing for tax base by creating their own industrial parks then we r in a very different equation than the Houston’s of the world where industrial park dispersement can more easily be controlled.

    • Monte Castleman October 22, 2019 at 8:02 pm #

      It might be a bit more now with several companies having relocated there, but I’m not at all surprised and I think there’s a huge amount of self selection bias going on. Despite my aunt who used to commute to Wells Fargo from increasingly farther out (northeast Minneapolis before it was hip, then east Bethel, and now North Branch! I think people in the suburbs tend to want jobs in the suburbs in those industrial parks (my first job) or sprawling corporate campuses (my second job) and presumably those in the city tend to want jobs downtown?

      It becomes kind of a mismatch of values when a suburbanite takes a job in the city of vice versa. The suburban person is going to complain about parking while the city person is going to complain they have to get into their car and drive to find lunch. Having a different type of bus with a different type of service kind of sends the message that at least you can ride into the city on a “suburban” bus, not like the city bus that travels down surface streets and stops every other block.

      • Gary October 22, 2019 at 10:14 pm #

        Also 20 years ago a friend of mine was in charge @ the Met Council of creating a bus system that went laterally from burb to burb in recognition of the fact that only 7% of trips were to DT. It didn’t really work out. Realize too that Mpls & St. Paul have such small footprints (55 sq. miles each) that for MSP dwellers to drive to the burbs where most jobs are is not a problem because the distances are short to get to places like the huge industrial park in Eden Prairie. For 5 years I commuted from Chaska to Mpls & for the 17 years after that to Bloomington so I know both routes. I’ve also bussed into Mpls. for part of the 5 years I worked there. I have a pretty good idea how the system works. One other thing. The new US census designation for MSP is Mpls/St.Paul/Bloomington because of the MOA. More evidence that Bloomington is a job center drawing commuters laterally from burbs without decent mass transit except from Mpls. It seems to me the bus system is more problematic than we think.

        • Saumik Narayanan
          Saumik Narayanan October 22, 2019 at 11:26 pm #

          Unfortunately, the layout and geometry of most suburbs makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to provide effective and convenient transit to these suburban job areas. The dense nature of downtown areas are much more conducive to usable transit lines, and from a ridership perspective, it is very clear that transit focused on the densest areas of our region provides the best bang for our buck.

          However, that isn’t to say we should be only focusing on Minneapolis and St. Paul. Ridership isn’t the only metric we use in transit planning – equity is extremely important as well, and needs to be kept in mind. We should aim to provide some transit to these suburban job centers in addition to the urban core.

          Regarding Bloomington specifically, there is enough density and demand for more high quality transit than some of the farther-out suburbs. While Bloomington doesn’t have the criss-crossing of high-frequency routes like Minneapolis, it does have the Blue Line and the upcoming Orange Line.

          • Gary October 23, 2019 at 4:38 am #

            Any thoughts about the 7% of commuters going DT & the rest just traveling through to destinations beyond DT? IOW, will consolidating routes attract more riders if they aren’t going where the buses go?

            • Saumik Narayanan
              Saumik Narayanan October 23, 2019 at 9:23 am #

              Strengthening the level of service on one segment of a transit commute will make the whole trip better, since it makes transfers between the segments shorter and more convenient. For example, doubling frequency from 30 minutes to 15 minutes could mean your transfer time decreases from 20 minutes to 5 minutes.

              Of course, it isn’t a fix for everything. If buses on the second segment don’t exist, there’s nothing we can do on the first segment will make transit for the entire trip usable.

              • Gary October 26, 2019 at 10:22 am #

                Is it realistic to think ppl will make a transfer to get to the opposite side of DT when they are in a hurry to get to work anyway? The 7% whose destination is DT makes the increasing frequency argument problematic. It seems to me it is only relevant to the 7% whose destination is downtown. Correct me if I’m wrong please.

                • Saumik Narayanan
                  Saumik Narayanan October 26, 2019 at 11:09 pm #

                  In our current transit system it’s not realistic for most people to rely on transit for suburb to suburb commutes.

                  That’s not the goal of my proposal though, I’m trying to better serve the hundreds of thousands of people who commute to downtown every day, where effective transit is actually possible.

                  • Gary October 27, 2019 at 7:48 am #

                    I agree burb to burn isn’t a realistic bus commuting pattern. That’s not what I’m talking about. You seem to be ignoring the study that says only 7% of car freeway trips are actually destined for DT. It means of all the cars headed towards DT only 7% are actually going there. IOW, they are just passing through so they aren’t candidates for bus commuting in a model with more frequency. If it is true as you claim that there are 100s of 1000s working DT & only 50,000 take the bus then I agree frequency is the solution to get the remaining ones out of their cars & onto buses. If the #s aren’t that great then bus frequency isn’t going to get the huge #s off the freeway into buses.

                    • Saumik Narayanan
                      Saumik Narayanan October 27, 2019 at 9:44 pm #

                      I agree that increasing frequency probably won’t help much for people working outside downtown – it’s in no way to goal of my proposal. However, downtown Minneapolis has over 200,000 workers, so increasing frequency will definitely help these workers.

                  • Gary November 4, 2019 at 1:06 pm #

                    How many of the 200,000 DT workers actually commute from the burbs? How many DT workers come from within MPLS proper? You have 1000s of ppl commuting from inside Mpls to destinations that take them through DT. Therefore it is plausible that only 7% of the drivers headed in the direction of DT actually stop there. You must know the actual # of ppl actually commuting by bus from the burbs & the # commuting to DT by car. It obviously Isn’t all 200,000 but what is the #?

                    • Saumik Narayanan
                      Saumik Narayanan November 8, 2019 at 10:14 pm #

                      I don’t have any data on how many people commute by car to downtown. Looking at the number of parking spaces in downtown would be a reasonable estimate, but of course this number doesn’t seem to be available either.

                      There are about 80 million transit trips taken every year. Assuming 250 weekdays in a year, this comes to about 160k riders per day. Even if we say 50% of these trips are to downtown (which is ridiculously high considering we are ignoring weekends and the entire rest of the metro), that means there are at most 80k transit riders to Downtown Minneapolis every day. I would guess that the true number is somewhere between 40k-80k riders per day.

                      There is some transit data for ridership in downtown but it isn’t combined in a way that I can easily pick out the number of trips in downtown specifically. Additionally, there would be no way to account for people transferring in downtown but not stopping.

            • Monte Castleman October 26, 2019 at 2:28 pm #

              Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s really what the statistic is saying. I think that only a small portion of the 93% are going straight through downtown to someplace else, the remainder are going someplace else to someplace else not involving downtown, like my old Bloomington to Chaska commute. There’s no way I’d transfer at downtown for that trip.

              • Gary October 26, 2019 at 3:36 pm #

                I read the study to actually mean what I said. IOW, trip origins are coming from 360 degrees & going to destinations after passing through downtown. This is the case because the main freeways funnel traffic through DT. The main metro intersections are 94 & 35w & 35e.

  14. Angela October 23, 2019 at 5:01 pm #

    Metro Transit has too many commuter express routes that are extremely expensive to operate ,each trips have excessive deadheading .For every trip that are about hour ,there are about 2 hours of deadheading or more .The commuters does not even pay much since there are no zone fare(distance base) Most cities the fare are higher than the base fare.NYC and other big cities there fares that are over$5 one-way plus paid parking at P/R.
    Some of these routes/trips are averaging less than less than15-20 riders so the subsidy is very high without factoring in the expensive P/R
    Unless there are a demand for reverse commute METC cannot afford building more commuter P/R without compromising the local routes that people depend on .

    I think its good idea to combine trips for more frequent services but to/from P/R .
    Many of the Peak buses within the two central cities and some first ring suburbs have corresponding local routes with some with a transfer to LRT .

    NorthStar rail subsidy is over$28 yet there are numerous express buses that are complementing the rail ,one would think they will reduce some trips so riders transfer to the rail.

    The base to peak ratio is very higher Agencies except Seattle ,which is contributing factor for the drivers shortage .

    • Brian October 25, 2019 at 11:50 am #

      Is the desire to raise revenue, or to get cars off the road?

      How much additional revenue do you raise if you charged say $2 per day to park and raise the Metropass to say $150 per month? With ridership losses would revenue rise more than 20%? Park and ride users are often choice riders and have the ability to drive downtown if they wish. A bus rider faced with $200 a month in transit expense may decide to just drive downtown instead since they already own a car.

  15. Nicole Salica
    Nicole Salica October 26, 2019 at 9:53 am #

    I wonder how much of the current design is based on prioritizing as few stops as possible, and why that is.
    anyway, more trips is always a good idea!

  16. Sam November 8, 2019 at 12:01 pm #

    I can’t speak for the express routes to Minneapolis, but the Express route 480 to St Paul already does what you are talking about and it’s a horrible experience in my experience. Some of the runs will go to blackhawk and then eagan transit station. It adds about 10 minutes to the ride (if you don’t believe me, check the schedule!). Therefore, nobody at blackhawk boards those buses. If they got rid of the option for the express straight to St Paul, I think the ridership from blackhawk would plummit, for St. Paul riders. 10 extra minutes each way is not acceptable to most people. I could drive to Eagan transit center faster than that.

    • Saumik Narayanan
      Saumik Narayanan November 8, 2019 at 8:32 pm #

      Hi Sam,

      Looking at the 480 schedule, the detour to Eagan Transit Station adds about an extra 8 minutes in the morning and 2 minutes in the afternoon, for an average of 5 minutes extra each way. I would consider this an acceptable trade-off if it allowed for higher frequencies at Blackhawk. However, there is no possibility of higher frequency, since there is no consolidation happening. For this reason, if I were to look at express buses to St. Paul, I wouldn’t necessarily add the stop at Eagan Transit Station.

      For a similar reason, my proposal didn’t touch the current Route 477 from Apple Valley Transit Station to Minneapolis. I could have very easily added a stop at Palomino since it is on the way. However, I would be adding extra trip time for existing commuters with no frequency benefit.

      On the other hand, current riders from Blackhawk Park and Ride are already benefiting from the concept of multiple stops on express buses. Imagine if commuters from Apple Valley and Burnsville demanded that their 480 buses went directly to St. Paul without stopping at Blackhawk, because the stop adds an extra 5(?) minutes each way. Frequency at Blackhawk would decrease from every 5-15 minutes to every 30-60 minutes at best – existing high-quality service would disappear just to save a few minutes of travel time.

      • Gary November 9, 2019 at 8:49 am #

        Thanks, any idea, if any, how that effects your frequency proposal.

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