The Drive: Trip Planner program helps Metro Transit's website traffic soar

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2013 - 8:31 PM

A week ago Sunday after flying back into town, I caught a Blue Line train from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to downtown Minneapolis where I needed to catch a bus to complete my trip home.

As I stood at the corner of 4th Street and Nicollet Mall, I wondered how long I’d have to wait since my route doesn’t run too frequently on weekend evenings. A quick call to Metro Transit’s ­NexTrip line told me a mere 6 ­minutes. Happy day.

Of course, this occasional ­transit user could have avoided the ­uncertainty had I used Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner. That would have given me all the information I needed before I got to the bus stop.

Savvy riders have been using Trip Planner in record numbers this year. In September, those who went to the agency’s website via their personal computers and smartphones used the feature to plan 657,458 trips. That eclipsed the previous high-water mark of 656,017 set in September 2011 and was up from 652,401 in August 2013.

“It’s been a big year so far,” said John Howley, manager of transit information, who expects the total number of trips planned in 2013 to surpass the 7 million mark. “With the prevalence and convenience of mobile devices, they can plan their trips at their own convenience. It’s growing and growing.”

Trip Planner debuted in 2000, but it’s only been since Metro Transit redesigned its website in 2010 that usage has taken off. The service works like this: Once on the website, www.metrotransit.org, riders can enter landmarks, addresses or intersections of where they want to go, and when. The site then ­displays routes, travel time and fare information. The site allows a rider to modify a trip by requesting one that would require fewer transfers, less walking or faster travel times.

Trip Planner also can be used to get information about routes operated by regional and suburban transit providers, including Maple Grove Transit, Plymouth Metrolink, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, SouthWest Transit and BlueXpress.

The popularity of Trip Planner has boosted visits to Metro Transit’s website. In September, the agency recorded more than 901,800 visits, the most ever in a single month. The top five months for website visits have occurred in 2013. In August, the agency recorded more than 280,000 unique visitors out of the 899,789 who logged on, said spokesman John Siqveland.

Along with Trip Planner, the most-used features have been NextTrip, which lists actual arrival and departure times, and the ­feature that lets riders add values to their Go-To Cards. Newer additions such as the Services Finder, which lists locations of park-and-ride lots, bike lockers and carpooling options, and the new Rider’s A­lmanac blog have been popular, too.

“We are spending a lot more time on the website than we did five years ago,” Siqveland said. “We are constantly enhancing the website and adding information and features that give people better transit tools. Whatever your ­question is related to Metro Transit, you can find it there.”

Even with the large increase in Web traffic, Howley said it’s still unknown how many of the trips that are planned turn into actual bus or train rides. But previous surveys have shown that 94 percent of people who contacted Metro ­Transit did get on board.

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.

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