Network Now online survey to capture rider feedback
Marie Yang, a sophomore at Como Park High School, believes she may get a car next year. Taking the bus to school from home has been difficult for her, in part because the bus stops so infrequently.
“If it were a choice, I would not go on a bus. It takes longer to get to my destination. Whereas if I had a car I can go straight there,” said Yang as she rode the 3A bus home from school.
For years Metro Transit has struggled to keep up with service, in part because they haven’t had enough drivers. The pandemic also upended travel patterns and ongoing quality of life concerns–particularly with riders feeling uncomfortable in public transit with someone doing drugs–which is depressing ridership. In addition, the agency potentially faces a $300 million deficit when they run out of federal pandemic-relief funding in 2026, meaning it may have to make drastic service cuts.
Riders throughout the region agree that Metro Transit needs to provide more frequent service. The question is where. As a result, in the coming weeks, Metro Transit is asking riders to tell them what they should focus on over the next five years, in an initiative they are calling “Network Now.”
Through the “Network Now” initiative, riders can provide feedback through an online survey and a series of community meetings where participants partake in an interactive activity to cut two and add three trips from a list of 10 that serve different purposes and have different ridership levels and frequencies. The agency then plans to take this feedback to make service changes in the coming years.
Service changes needed
The agency says change is necessary. The agency’s average weekday boardings hovered around 133,000 in March 2023, half of February 2020 levels. Meanwhile, with the opening of the Orange and D Lines, bus rapid transit ridership at the end of 2022 appears to have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, while local bus routes retained 55 percent of its pre-pandemic ridership and commuter express route ridership retained 15 percent of its pre-pandemic ridership.
Metro Transit also struggles with hiring drivers as they address how to ensure that drivers are not assaulted while on the job. Even though the agency’s hiring events have been successful, as of February they remain 200 drivers short.
To provide service where it is most needed, the MSR has outlined some hypothetical scenarios that Metro Transit could implement to address ridership changes along certain routes. These prospective changes are not currently under consideration by the agency, but are viable alternatives according to MSR’s analysis. Metro Transit could keep service as it is now, running the 11, 17, and 18 every 15 minutes, even though the 18 carries more riders than the 11 and the 17. Or they could choose to provide as many trips as possible in transit-dependent areas and make people walk farther to a bus route by eliminating all of Route 11, as well as Route 17 service in Minneapolis, to increase Route 18 service so that it runs every five minutes, and extend it to run in northeast Minneapolis to Columbia Heights. Route 17 service could then run every 15 minutes between Knollwood Mall in St. Louis Park and the Uptown Transit Station.
In St. Paul, Metro Transit could run the 63 every 10 minutes seven-days-a-week, while eliminating the once-hourly Route 70 service on Burns Avenue. Service on White Bear Avenue on Route 80 could also be eliminated, in favor of the agency’s long-planned extension of Route 3A to Sun Ray Transit Center as well as increased service on the 54M.
In another scenario, Metro Transit could let riders travel quickly and conveniently to busier destinations. They could eliminate the 22 and instead extend Route 722, to run from Brooklyn Center to downtown Minneapolis via the Shingle Creek neighborhood and Interstate 94, while at the same time having Route 14 run every 10 minutes in south Minneapolis.
In the western suburbs, Route 645, a limited stop route that serves St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, and Wayzata, could either be permanently eliminated so the agency can focus on serving busier transit routes or restructured to be an express route for the first time since 2017, making stops only at the West End shopping complex in St. Louis Park, Ridgedale and downtown Wayzata, as well as one or two additional stops along the way. Route 645 riders would then have to take a service similar to Metro Transit’s Northside micro service to get to where they need to go.
Prioritize daytime service
In yet another scenario, the agency could prioritize offering transit service during the day when more people are riding. This could mean overnight service on the 5, 10, 18, 19 and the Green Line, suspended when the pandemic began because the agency found a disproportionate amount of biohazard incidents happened overnight, may never return.
Another scenario could allow the agency to serve the suburbs as much as they serve Minneapolis and St. Paul proper. In Brooklyn Center, Crystal, New Hope and Brooklyn Park, the agency could increase service on the 721, 722, 723 and 724 and make them run later into the evening while eliminating the commuter express routes that serve it, like the 760, 761, 762, 763, 764, 766, 767 and 768.
Increasing Route 721 service and having it run later on the weekend was something many Route 721 riders desired when they spoke with the MSR on a rainy Thursday afternoon. They complained that limited service on Route 721 prevented them from being able to get to and from work and to spend time with family.
“I can’t work on the weekends, because I can’t get home [with the 721 not running]. I spent time with my kids on the weekend and I [had] to rush back to [Brooklyn Center Transit Center] to get home. It’s not fair. We can’t get out, if the bus don’t run,” said Mya Major of Crystal, adding the alternative to taking the 721 involves walking 12 blocks from the 724.
Riders have until May 15 to take a survey on how Metro Transit should prioritize its service. They can also participate at two meetings the agency plans to host, one at the Brookdale Library in Brooklyn Center on Tuesday, May 2, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m., and one at the Brian Coyle Center in Minneapolis on Thursday, May 4, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. The agency also plans to host two online meetings on Wednesday, April 26, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. and Friday, April 28, from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Metro Transit plans to restore service that was cut to operate once every two hours late last year to run once an hour in June. They plan to have details available in mid-May.
Learn more about the Network Now initiative at www.metrotransit.org/network-now.
This story was updated on April 29, 2023, to reflect hypothetical route changes made by the author.