Metro Transit tests new Uber-Lyft-like service on Northside

A Metro Transit micro bus outside of the Northside Cub Foods
Submitted photo

Metro Transit will begin running an Uber-Lyft-like service to transport Near Northside riders this weekend. On September 10, Metro Transit will launch Metro Transit micro, which is stylized in lowercase and will offer rides to anyone who needs to get around in the city’s Near North, Bryn Mawr, and Harrison neighborhoods.

The catch? They need to either call ahead or use an app to request the ride.

Why North Minneapolis? “[North Minneapolis riders are] a group of riders…that [are] still riding. This is a great place to test out some urban micro-transit service, given how much uncertainty there has been over the past couple of years around the future of transit,” said project manager Victoria Dan, who added that the service is intended to provide better access to transit and jobs.

Although the idea is not new to the Twin Cities, it comes as the agency is experiencing a chronic driver shortage. The agency risks threatening its relationship with its drivers’ union because of the drivers they are hiring to provide the micro service.

The service works very much like Uber and Lyft. Riders who wish to ride can use an app or call someone to schedule an immediate ride. But instead of someone driving a car to pick them up at their front door, someone drives a Metro Mobility-sized bus to where they want to be picked up. Someone else may be riding along with them as they get from their Point As to their Point Bs.

The service will only provide rides by appointment in a roughly three-square-mile area bounded by Theodore Wirth Park to the west, West Broadway and Golden Valley Road to the north, Interstate 94 to the east, and Dunwoody Blvd./Interstate 394 to the south.

This concept is not new to the Twin Cities. Southwest Transit has operated such a service called Prime, serving southern Hennepin and southeastern Carver Counties since 2015. Minnesota Valley Transit Authority has operated its Connect service serving northwestern Dakota and northeastern Scott Counties since 2019. In addition, all rural parts of the Twin Cities are served by Transit Link, a similar program where riders call days ahead to schedule a ride.

Both MVTA and Southwest Transit report ridership on their respective services is growing steadily, with Southwest Transit reporting their Prime ridership is recovering faster than its commuter express service. Its average daily June Prime ridership is 94% of the average daily June 2019 ridership. They plan to add three more drivers to the service this month to meet growing demand.

Metro Transit says it’s keeping the service area smaller than the areas MVTA and Southwest Transit serve to manage riders’ expectations. “We designed our pilot [to] be very small and compact…to address questions of wait times and [to make] sure that the service that we deliver at launch will hopefully meet customer expectations and be a convenient and viable option for riders,” said Dan, adding the service could change in the first three to six months.

The people who drive the service won’t be directly employed by Metro Transit. The agency is using non-unionized drivers from the Minneapolis-based Transit Team, which operates Metro Mobility in Hennepin County.

Such a move may further inflame relations between the agency and the drivers’ union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, who have already declined re-negotiating the existing contract agreement that expires in 2023 to increase driver pay, believing the agency wanted the union to offer concessions in contract negotiations next year.

The agency says they normally contract out service that uses Metro Mobility-sized buses, and that Transit Team has the experience in providing service using these buses.

The MSR spoke about the project with North Minneapolis riders in the future service area one rainy August morning, none of whom had heard of it. However, people seemed generally interested in the idea, such as Dorothy Beal, who rides the 9 from South Minneapolis to work in the Harrison neighborhood six days a week.

Beal recounted times when she had to take Uber or Lyft when the 9 didn’t show up. “I don’t like being late, so I have to do it,” said Beal shortly after she got on the 9 on Glenwood on her way to the downtown Target.

She may consider taking ​the micro if the price is right, she said, particularly since she has a monthly pass. Metro Transit said fares for micro won’t be free because that would require a federally mandated review process that could last longer than the one-year pilot. Instead, fares will be the same as regular route transit: $2.50 during rush hour and​ $2 outside of rush hour. It will also accept all passes and transfers from other bus routes with no additional fees.

Its hours of service will also be the same as many of the region’s transit lines, from 5 am to midnight, seven days a week.

To request a ride, call 651-602-1170 or download the Metro Transit micro app on the App Store or Google Play. Rides on the micro service will be free until midnight on September 17. Learn more about the project at www.metrotransit.org/micro-project.

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