Bus service to be enhanced in 2015

Metro Transit officials are still searching for funding to begin improvements.

Jessie Bekker

Buses servicing the University of Minnesota could run more frequently and in additional places within the next few years, in an effort to encourage the public to lean on public transportation rather than cars.

Metro Transit officials proposed a service improvement plan last month that aims to increase frequency, lengthen daily operation times and extend or create routes over the next 15 years.

Although officials have not identified a funding source for the plan, it estimates $75.5 million is needed annually over the next 15 years to implement every proposed change.

Out of 122 projects that Metro Transit plans to undertake, at least six would cover the University of Minnesota campus,
including changes to routes 2, 3, 6, 7, 22 and 61, which runs through St. Paul.

For example, the plan proposes increased frequency for the 2 line on both weekdays and weekends.

Ross Allanson, the University’s Parking and Transportation Services director, said the University has reviewed the proposal and is content with the proposed changes to on-campus routes.

“I think we will have a good representation in the plan,” he said, adding that the proposed modifications should allow for more opportunities for students to explore public transit for traveling to and from campus.

Animal science senior Lisa Tan said she rides the bus daily to and from campus to get to class, and that she wishes Metro Transit would run buses more frequently.

Kyle Burrows, associate transit planner for Metro Transit, said officials would use the plan to demonstrate the need for additional bus lines and operating funding.

“Buses are currently the backbone of our transit system,” he said, adding that more than 70 percent of ridership comes from bus usage.

Part of that 70 percent can be attributed to riders on the University campus, where students like Tan ride the bus as a part of their daily routines.

Biochemistry junior Samuel Burciaga uses the 2 and 3 lines to get to work several times a week. But like Tan, he thinks they could come faster.

Tan also sees a problem with many buses arriving at once, and said she has seen clusters of buses where schedules aren’t being followed.

“When they’re together, I don’t see the point of [buses],” she said. “They make the wait longer.”

The service improvement plan was developed through input from planners and analysts, customer relations personnel, transit information center staff members and frequent riders who took surveys, Burrows said.

Final results for each bus improvement were ranked on a scale of high to low priority, and those coming in at high and medium were included in the proposal, Burrows said, adding that factors like productivity and social equity contributed to the rankings.

Changes would occur in three time periods, from 2015-17, 2018-20, and 2021-30, Burrows said, with a long-term goal of expanding ridership beyond the usual commute to and from work and school.

“What we want to do is support a car-light lifestyle,” he said, citing trips to the grocery store and a friend’s house as reasons to choose public transit.

Metro Transit plans to revisit and revise the plan every four years as new data becomes available, Burrows said.

Currently, the plan is in its public comment period. Community members had the chance to speak about the plan at two public meetings this month, and four more will come later this month. Residents can also give feedback online, over the phone and via comment cards before the final proposal is presented for Metropolitan Council approval next year.

Officials like Allanson said they are excited to see the changes the proposal will bring for public transportation.

“What they’re doing with the service improvement plan is a step forward,” he said. “It is one that we would appreciate, and we would support.”