The Quarterly Transit Report – November 2019

The December service change consists of numerous minor schedule changes. Some trips are being added, others eliminated to match demand. Although there are some big BRT and LRT service increases on the horizon, for now adding service is constrained by a shortage of bus operators and a looming budget deficit. Currently Metro Transit is about 90 drivers short and getting all the work filled each rush hour is a challenge. The chart shows actual operators compared to the “ideal”, meaning the number of operators that would provide the service reliably at the lowest labor cost. The shortfall is partially covered by offering increased  overtime, and by employees from other departments driving short rush hour pieces of work, also at overtime. Unfortunately, those resources aren’t always sufficient to prevent trips from being cancelled.

Driver Shortage763

It’s been this way for the last couple of years. Although it pays well, bus driving is seldom anyone’s chosen profession. The work hours are inconvenient. Conventional shifts like 8:30 AM to 5 PM don’t exist. Split shifts are common. It’s simply the nature of the business, and whenever unemployment is low, hiring becomes difficult.

According to a new report to the Met Council, annual driver attrition is 16 percent, so Metro Transit has to hire and train more than 250 new drivers each year. Each year there are over 2000 applicants, but only 10-13 percent are hired. Why? It’s a demanding job. Metro Transit has high standards and the highest pay of any local bus operator. The goal is for applicants to make it a career, not some temporary stop gap job. Training is expensive. Hire just anyone and you’ll pay a price in absenteeism, poor operations quality and accidents. Bad employees drag down morale. Metro Transit is playing a long game, but until the next recession arrives, staffing will be a challenge.

New MOA transit center opens

The Mall of America is the busiest suburban transit center in the Twin Cities. Served by the Blue Line LRT, plus Routes 5, 54, 415, 444, 495, 515, 538, 539, 540, 542 and Red Line buses, it sees 5000 boardings per day.

Why redo the transit center? The old one had a couple of problems. Inbound buses entered with delivery trucks and were often delayed by truck security checks.

Capture Gate 6 Backup 1.11a 10 5 15

Here’s a particularly bad backup at the security checkpoint. Now that buses have their own entrance, they’re not subject to security delays.

Outbound buses had to cross the LRT tracks, which also caused frequent delays. Due to inadequate space, the Red Line boarding area was located away from all the other buses and was hard to find. All the LRT passengers had to cross the bus drive lanes, a safety issue that created more bus delays. Esthetically, the old facility fell short, a dimly lit concrete cave.

The new center is located on the east side of the LRT station.

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The new bus boarding area is east of the LRT, seen at right.

It’s a longer walk into MOA, but the buses get their own entrance and exit, eliminating delays. LRT passengers no longer cross the bus road. There’s much better natural and artificial light. The large climate controlled waiting lobby looks directly out on all the boarding areas. Real-time screens count down the minutes for each departure, so passengers can wait inside until just before the departure time.

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The waiting lobby.

From the waiting lobby, a long hallway leads to an escalator directly into the mall. No longer do transit users have to cross the perimeter road between the parking ramp and the mall. In this regard, transit is actually treated better than automobiles, and how often does that happen?

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A long hallway leads to an escalator directly into the mall.

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The transit station entrance leaving the mall.

The C Line is doing well

Metro Transit reports that the C Line, which opened last June in the North Minneapolis’ Penn Avenue corridor from downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center, is experiencing the same kind of ridership increase as the A Line before it. Local Route 19 previously carried about 6000 daily passengers. In October the C Line carried just over 7000 weekday passengers. The scaled-back Route 19, which continues to provide local service to all the stops, carried just over 1200, for a weekday total of over 8200. Weekday ridership is up about 30 percent, Saturday is up 25 percent and Sunday is up 40 percent.

I have another post in the hopper that will discuss the other Bus Rapid Transit lines that are planned or under construction. Look for it soon.


Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.