My love/hate relationship with Metro Transit

I love being able to take the bus or train, but sometimes the failures drive me crazy. My stop — at Temple Court on Cretin Avenue — exemplifies my love/hate relationship. After years of walking three-quarters of a mile to the nearest stop, I love that the bus now stops within a couple of blocks of my house. But — the stop fails anyone who needs accessible transportation. There’s no sidewalk: you have to walk on grass in the summer and snow or ice in the winter. Anyone using a wheelchair is out of luck, summer or winter. And there’s no bus shelter or bench for waiting.

Lack of a crosswalk makes crossing Cretin next to impossible. Cretin is a busy, four-lane street, and drivers do not look for pedestrians. Ever. (Not even at the stoplight that’s a block away from the bus stop.)

Still, there’s a lot to love in Metro Transit, starting with the bargains: Free rides to the Farmers Market on Saturday mornings! Free rides to some special events! Six-hour event passes! Reduced fares for seniors and people with disabilities and students!

I love putting my bike on the bus. Simple to do, and lets me bike one way and come home on the bus if I’m tired.

I love the electronic sign for stops that I recently saw on one bus. The sign was big, and bright, and accurate. If I don’t know all the street names near my stop, that big, bright sign tells me when to pull the cord. Transit centers have similar electronic displays that tell when buses are coming in real time. I hope that real-time electronic signs multiply, both on buses and trains and at more stops.

I also love the Trip Planner, most of the time. You can enter addresses or landmarks and the time you are traveling, and get a complete route, with bus or train times and stops. Except that the Trip Planner doesn’t tell you if the bus is detoured. That happened when I went to the Internet Cat Video Festival at the Saints Stadium with a mobility-impaired companion. The Trip Planner told me exactly what time the bus was coming and exactly when and where it would stop — right at the stadium.

But when we got downtown, less than an hour after I had checked and double-checked the Trip Planner, the streets around the stadium were closed. The bus took an unannounced detour, so we walked a couple of extra blocks. And when the festival let out, neither our bus nor any information about it was anywhere to be found. I asked a police officer — he didn’t have a clue. We walked to Union Depot and asked a Metro Transit supervisor, who said, “There’s a detour? Really?” He referred me to an MTC operator, who said, “If it isn’t on the regular route, I have no idea.”

I know those people were all busy trying to supervise the homeward rush of 13,000 festival attendees. But that is exactly why they should have had the information. They knew this was a big event. The MTC should have planned ahead:

1) The Trip Planner could have been programmed to give accurate information about where the bus would stop.

2) A sign could have been posted on the bus fare box, announcing a detour.

3) The driver could have clearly announced (a) that there was a detour, (b) where the many riders headed for the festival should get off, and (c) where they could find the return bus.

4) Bus stops could have been posted with signs saying where riders could find the detoured bus.

5) MTC supervisors could have been given maps to hand out.

And so on. It’s really not rocket science.

In the end, we ended up taking the train and then transferring to a bus. Because of the crowds, that meant at least a half-hour wait for the train, followed by a 20-minute wait for a bus, because the bus was on a 30-minute schedule. When you have 13,000 people downtown, and you want to encourage transit use, couldn’t you put more trains and buses in service?

Aside from the Trip Planner and the GoTo card page, the MTC website is a mess. I use the internet a LOT. I use apps. I search websites. And this one doesn’t measure up.

I tried to find a bus schedule for the 87. I know these schedules exist on the website. I’ve seen them before. But there’s no tab to click for bus schedules. When I search for schedules, the website tells me to install a new extension — which promptly crashes and disappears from view. I try to reinstall it, and am told it is already on my browser, though it’s invisible and non-functional. Eventually, I give up on the MTC website and the extension. Instead, I find the bus schedule through Google. The website should be simple enough for a beginner to use, not so difficult that a fairly sophisticated internet user gives up in total frustration.

I fell in love with reliable, convenient public transit decades ago, when I moved from the farm to Chicago. Public transportation opened up the city for me, letting me go to college, to work, to libraries and museums and demonstrations.

When I moved back to Minnesota in the 1980s, I was appalled at the lack of public transit in the Twin Cities. The MTC has come a long way since then, but it needs to work on both physical and information accessibility.

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