Bus route changes lure U commuters

Kane Loukas

The Metro Transit Authority extended its services Monday, creating Route 50 and beefing up Route 16, to attract new riders and cater to the growing numbers of University and business commuters.
Transit officials began an express service along University Avenue with rush-hour travelers in mind. The new service, named Route 50, overlaps with the current Route 16 providing transportation between St. Paul and Minneapolis. Route 50 has about half the number of stops between the cities, trimming a downtown-to-downtown trip from 1 hour to about 45 minutes.
“The route is actually a restoration of service,” said John Levin, a planner for Metro Transit. Levin referred to the post-World War II transit system that laid down a similar express service in 1946. The route was discontinued soon after the freeways were built.
“But with renewed interest in transit,” Levin said, commuters “are thinking, 145>Can the bus get us where we want to go faster?'”
The Metro Transit authority is hoping to answer that question with Route 50 since it gets people to their destinations in less time and for the same fare: $1.50 for rush-hour service, and $1 for all other times.
The University Avenue route is the second busiest route for Metro Transit, carrying an average of 16,000 passengers per day. Travel time will be reduced since 20 of the route’s 30 regular stops were eliminated.
In addition to the creation of Route 50, bus company officials made changes to Route 16U. Beginning Monday, buses began running around the clock. The bus route was also extended to include eastbound service to St. Paul. The new route is renamed 50U, replacing 16U. 50U is among the first routes in the Twin Cities to expand to 24-hour service.
For those concerned with safety on their after-hours bus hopping, Bob Gibbons, director of customer service for Metro Transit said not to worry. “We have a transit police force, and we have a good relationship with the campus police and the city polices.” When there are incidences, he said, there is always someone to assure a safe bus.
The bus company usually runs a fleet of 900 buses, all of which run during rush-hour service, Gibbons said.
Route 52U, which carries passengers from metro suburbs to the University, is cutting down its service during the summer. The reduction isn’t connected to the other route expansions, Levin said. Summer means lower volumes for Route 52U.
Levin stressed the University’s importance in planning Route 50. “We’ve always tried to make an effort to get ridership from the University. It’s the third largest employee center in the metro area.”
He added that the busy lifestyles of students and school staff are conducive to public transportation. “They make for a great ridership,” Levin said.
Kathy Laudenslager, a market development specialist for the bus company, said their biggest concern is acquainting people with the changes.
“All the bus stops will have a special sign letting customers know that Route 50 won’t be stopping,” she said. “We’re also doing a direct mail to about 80,000 people around the (new route).”
University of Minnesota Paratransit Service, which supplies transportation to persons with disabilities, will not be interrupted or replaced by any of the new Metro Transit services catering to the University area.