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Transportation panel learns more about Metro Transit's bus rapid transit plans

Unlike the typical city bus moving people around neighborhoods in fits and starts, vehicles in Metro Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit network move riders much more quickly with less hassle, and have proven popular enough that several new lines are planned.

The House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee discussed several proposals Thursday that would help fund them, including two that would use bonding dollars to pay for the bulk of the work.

The meeting dovetailed with a hearing earlier Thursday of the House Capital Investment Committee, when Charles Carlson, Metro Transit’s director of BRT Projects, updated members on the success rapid transit buses have enjoyed and plans to expand them. He was due to give the same presentation to the transportation committee but members ran short of time and heard short summary instead.

Carlson told the bonding committee the A Line – which began service in 2016 and runs from Rosedale Center to south Minneapolis – and the C Line – which began service in 2019 and runs on Penn Ave. N in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, are both already very popular, with over 3 million BRT rides in 2019 and 2.4 million in 2020.

He said the ridership decrease last year was experienced across the whole system due to the pandemic, but BRT routes did not see as much decline as many of the others.

“The features of this network are oriented toward providing a faster, more reliable and attractive service to transit customers,” Carlson said. Some of the key selling points are fewer stops, prepaid tickets that reduce wait times, specialized vehicles that allow boarding through all doors that also reduce delays, better safety and comfort at BRT stops and, ultimately, a faster trip.

Metro Transit uses three types of bus rapid transit:

  • Arterial BRT – buses that operate primarily in mixed traffic conditions;
  • Highway BRT – buses that primarily use HOV lanes; and
  • Guideway BRT – buses that run in exclusive BRT-only lanes.

Routes in the latter two categories are named using colors (Orange Line), while buses on arterial routes are named using letters (A Line).

“We’re seeing reliable, all-day service as the key demand that we’re able to fulfill effectively with these investments and that makes us feel very confident about the future of this mode,” Carlson said.

New routes and upgrades

Work on a number of new BRT routes is also underway, including the Orange line, which will run from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville and is part of the soon-to-be completed I-35 improvements project that has been going on the last few years. Carlson said the route should open later this year.

Metro Transit’s planning includes new routes and upgrades to existing routes. Transportation committee members heard proposals Thursday meant to fund both types of projects, including two that would rely on bonding dollars.

One came from Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), chair of the committee, who explained the provisions of a bill he intends to introduce that would appropriate $40 million in bond proceeds to help pay for upgrades to the current Route 6 bus line, which runs from the University of Minnesota to Southdale Transit Center, creating the E Line.

Rep. Erin Koegel (DFL-Spring Lake Park) also outlined the bill she sponsors, HF1381 that would appropriate $55 million from bonding to create a new F Line BRT route along Central Ave. in Minneapolis that would then travel to Columbia Heights, Fridley and Spring Lake Park. The companion, SF1456, is sponsored by Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL-New Brighton) and awaits action by the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

The legislation was heard on an information-only basis and no action was taken, but Hornstein said, “Members you got a preview of, I think, the next two [Arterial] BRT lines in the metro area today.”

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