Metro Transit upgrades state’s busiest bus route

One extremely brisk Saturday morning, at close to 4 am, a Metro Transit rapid bus pulled up to the 8th St. and Nicollet station across from the Dayton building in downtown Minneapolis. These buses, specially painted in red, yellow, and blue, are prevalent on the C Line that runs on Penn Ave.

This bus, however, is instead running on the D Line, which will be similar to the C Line except it runs most of where Route 5 runs. The D Line began running on Dec. 3. 

The route still has some issues to work out, and people still need to adjust to the new route. But commuters are already liking it, and drivers, who struggle to keep up amid a driver shortage, hope it will be safer for them to work. 

“I’ve ridden the C Line before; I know it’s a little bit faster. Anything that gets me to work quicker is fine in my book,” said Cynthia Ramsey, a Southside native, as she rode the D Line to work on Saturday afternoon. 

The D Line has been in the works for almost a decade. It was identified in 2012 as one of 10 corridors to receive the rapid bus treatment, which consists of higher-quality shelters and fewer stops, priority snow clearing, the ability to pay before you board like on light rail, and for police officers to patrol for fares. Construction began in 2020, mostly concluded in September, and cost $75 million to build.

Among those excited for the D Line was Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley, who represents the South Side east of I-35W and grew up riding the 5. 

“Route 5 took me to school. It brought me home from school. And it brought me to work right here [at Mall of America] 30 years ago when the transit center looked way different than it does today,” said Conley at the D Line’s ribbon cutting inside the Mall of America Transit Station.

County Commissioner Angela Conley at the D Line grand opening.
Photo by H. Jiahong Pan

The agency acknowledges the D Line is not perfect yet as it has kinks to work out. Not every station has permanent trash cans in place, so the agency installed temporary ones inside shelters. Some buses also had audio announcements that did not work. 

Not every rider was aware of the changes, particularly those who could not understand English. Some prepared to hand over coins, flash their Go-To cards, and asked for courtesy rides without realizing that the rides were not only free for the weekend, but they normally will need to pay before they board. 

Some riders also were not aware that replacing the D Line with the 5 meant the 5 would be reduced to run only once an hour, and stops served by the 5 would not be served by the D Line. 

A D Line bus this reporter was on picked up a passenger who only spoke Spanish at a stop in North Minneapolis not designated for it. Another rider with two suitcases on hand who boarded at 38th and Park Ave. decided to get off at Chicago-Lake Transit Center and wait 20 minutes for the next 5 because it would get them closer to home in the North Loop neighborhood. 

Perhaps the biggest issue to solve is how the D Line will interact with 38th and Chicago, if at all. 38th and Chicago became occupied by local activists in the days after George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin. 

The City reopened the intersection to car traffic in June 2021 while preserving the memorial. They also plan to reconstruct the intersection and may include Metro Transit buses in the mix. (See story on the front page of this edition. The MSR will provide more reporting about the future of 38th and Chicago in a future issue.) 

Metro Transit plans to build more of these routes in the coming years. In early December, they sought feedback on where to locate stops for the F Line, which will upgrade Route 10U to be similar to the D Line. 

When the DFL trifecta takes control of state government in January, they anticipate fully funding efforts to upgrade the portion of Route 62 on Rice Street and the portion of Route 68 on Robert Street, as well as create an entirely new rapid bus route to run along Como Ave. between the University of Minnesota and Sun Ray Transit Center.  

Have an opinion? Share it below.