By Hilary Reeves, Communications Director
Metro Transit is developing a new Service Improvement Plan (SIP), primarily focused on local and express bus service. TLC recently checked in with Cyndi Harper, Metro Transit’s Manager of Route Planning, about details. See our Q & A with Cyndi below. Then take the opportunity to influence this plan!
We encourage everyone who rides the bus (or has thought about it) to fill out Metro Transit’s SIP survey online. Make sure to note the routes you ride and use the comment space provided to let Metro Transit know what would make riding the bus better or more convenient for you, whether to work or school or appointments of every kind. The survey asks for your zip code, so you can be specific about the needs in your neighborhood.
TLC is working to increase funding for transit, bicycling, and walking. The bus is at the center of the system. Help us show it matters to you—fill out the SIP survey today!
Metro Transit's Cyndi Harper at a recent SIP stakeholder meeting. Photo: Metro Transit.
TLC: When was the last time Metro Transit created a Service Improvement Plan?
CH: Metro Transit first created a Service Improvement Plan in 2009. The primary difference between that project and this one is a much more vigorous public outreach effort. The feedback of customers and communities will play more direct and integral role in shaping this plan.
TLC: Is the purpose of the SIP to define the need for the system over the next 10-15 years or to be ready if there is additional revenue?
CH: Both. We intend to use the SIP as a way to demonstrate the benefits of additional revenue as well as show what improvements are necessary in order for transit to reach long-term regional goals.
TLC: If it is about future need, does it make sense to frame it as trade-offs between coverage area and frequency of service? Does that limit the vision?
CH: These trade-offs do exist. Part of this project involves providing a basic presentation of planning principles in order that customers and other stakeholders can better understand the work planners do and how the transit system is developed. We are seeking stakeholder and public input regarding the balance between these two objectives, realizing that projects that primarily focus on improving coverage usually don’t generate as much ridership as projects that improve the frequency of service in areas that already have a strong transit network in place. I expect the Service Improvement Plan will be a combination of projects supporting each of these objectives. Ultimately, we are responsible for delivering transit service that is a wise investment of public funds and we do need to identify limits where investments are no longer cost-effective.
TLC: Demand for transit is growing across the region, but aren’t there areas of the region where transit is most cost-effective? Is that what your “transit service areas” help us understand?
CH: Yes, we have identified those areas where the land-use patterns and population and employment densities are more supportive of successful transit service. These areas—essentially the core cities and immediate surrounding areas ( known to us planners as Transit Market Areas 1 and 2)—are places where there is enough demand for transit service to allow for good access to jobs and services for those without a vehicle, whether by circumstances or by choice. Lower population and employment densities in lower density suburban areas (Market Area 3), cannot cost-effectively support the same high-frequency transit service that is possible in the densest areas of the region.
Metro Transit Market Areas. Source: Metro Transit (PDF).
TLC: What percentage of current bus service is focused on the morning & evening commute to the two downtowns, Minneapolis and Saint Paul?
CH: About 44 percent of trips during weekdays are scheduled during rush hour service to the downtowns. Note: Trips and ridership are distinct—peak-period bus trips are generally busier than non-peak trips.
TLC: How likely is expansion of the high-frequency network in the Twin Cities? Metro Transit currently has eleven “high-frequency” bus routes, with service every 15 minutes or better, six days a week. These routes are great for swing-shift workers and make it easier for people to depend on the bus for all kinds of needs.
CH: The expansion of service with these characteristics is very likely. This continues to be a dominant theme that we have been hearing from customers and stakeholders. The concept of having better levels of frequency on certain routes/corridors to allow better access for all trip purposes is certainly something we envision as part of the Service Improvement Plan.
A sample question from the SIP survey. Note that improved amenities on buses and at stops (better signage, lighting, shelters, etc.) are also under consideration. In the comments section provided, you can get specific about exactly what you'd like to see and where.
TLC: Are bike and pedestrian connections to transit, including access for disabled populations, a focus of the SIP?
CH: They are not the primary focus of the plan, but since most transit riders are pedestrians or bicyclists at some point in their trip, suggestions are certainly welcome. Even if they are not specifically included in the Service Improvement Plan, any suggested improvements that increase ridership and access to transit will be shared throughout our agency to assist planning.
TLC: What about park-and-ride facilities? Are these a focus of the SIP? How does our network of park-and-rides compare to other regions?
CH: The region has a relatively high number of park-and-ride spaces and express routes compared to other metro areas of similar size. While the park-and-ride network is largely built-out, suggestions for additional express routes are welcome.
TLC: Metro Transit has an online survey for input about the SIP. What is the deadline for filling out the survey and what are the next steps for the plan?
CH: The deadline for filling out the survey is February 28, 2014. Staff will compile survey data and use it to create a draft plan in the spring. The draft will be the presented in another robust program of public outreach, including public meetings. Staff will modify the plan based on public feedback, with a goal of finalizing the plan by the end of summer.
Note: This interview has been edited for length.