Perks mark new transit

Metro Transit will celebrate the opening of light rail with two days of free rides.

Emily Kaiser

Fifty years ago, the last streetcar ran in the metro area and a new busing service took over the Twin Cities.

Now, rail transit is back and Metro Transit is prepared to welcome riders to light rail with celebrations and two days of free rides when light rail transit begins on June 26 at 11 a.m.

The first phase of operation will run from the Minneapolis Warehouse District to Fort Snelling in St. Paul. The second phase, which stretches to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America, will open in December.

All rides on the light rail transit system and buses will be free Saturday and Sunday.

On June 26, the Warehouse District and Fort Snelling stations will feature large celebrations and the smaller stations will host activities all afternoon, said Bob Gibbons, Metro Transit spokesman.

Before the train service begins, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Congressman Martin Sabo and others will speak at the Warehouse District station.

The Downtown East/Metrodome Station is designated as the University station and will involve the University in its opening. Goldy Gopher will make an appearance, and University student-athletes will sign autographs. The University pep band will also perform.

Light rail transit will give University students another way to get around the Twin Cities, said Lori Vicich, marketing manager for the University’s Parking and Transportation Services.

“The U-Pass is covered under light rail, so the University has a big stake in it because we have 14,000 students who buy U-Passes,” Vicich said.

Metro Transit hopes students will use it to get to campus as well as downtown, Gibbons said.

“For students who live in south Minneapolis, it’s a great way to get close to campus,” Gibbons said.

Beginning June 28, riders must purchase tickets on the station platforms. Students who have U-Passes must keep their passes on them while riding.

Transit police will randomly get on trains and ask riders

for proof that they have paid. Trying to ride a train without paying could result in a fine of up to $107 and a citation, Gibbons said.

Metro Transit is also making major changes to the bus system to make light rail transit easier to use.

Some of the changes will affect bus routes on or near campus beginning June 26.

“The only route that is significantly changing that goes on campus is Route 2, which will have better frequency during rush hour,” said Adam Harrington, manager of Metro Transit route and system planning.

“Students should look at the maps and if they live in the Hiawatha Corridor, they might want to look at those routes and think about the new options,” Harrington said.

From the Metrodome station, students can best reach the University via bus routes 3, 16 or 50, Harrington said.

While the second phase is still under construction, riders can transfer to a shuttle at the Fort Snelling station that will take them to the airport and Mall of America, Gibbons said.

For the University, this is only the beginning of a bigger plan to expand light rail to the campus itself, Vicich said.

“The line that’s been put into place starts the infrastructure of something that may get bigger in the future and we want to be supportive of that,” Vicich said.

For more information on bus route changes, check out the Metro Transit Web site at: metrotransit.org