Taking a State Fair express bus is a blue-ribbon tradition for thousands of fairgoers. But after Metro Transit abruptly cut 67 trips across 40 routes last month, some Drive readers have asked if there will be enough bus drivers to provide the extra service.

Yes, says Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla. But to pull it off, the agency has had to make some significant changes.

It will be well past breakfast before fairgoers can arrive by express bus. Weekday service from nine suburban park-and-ride lots won’t begin until 9 a.m., an hour later than in previous years. Service from the popular Parade Stadium lot won’t begin until noon.

The agency doesn’t have enough drivers to fill the extra State Fair runs and cover all of its morning routes, Padilla said in explaining the reason for the one-hour delay.

The fair opens Thursday and runs through Labor Day. Metro Transit plans to deploy 60 buses exclusively for the fair in the mornings and 73 in the evenings on weekdays. That jumps to 74 buses in the morning and 81 in the evening on weekends and Labor Day. Drivers will put in more than 11,900 hours over the fair’s 12 days.

Being 90 drivers down, Metro Transit will rely on bus drivers to work overtime shifts. Generally, that has not been a problem, as the State Fair express runs are seen as a plum assignment, Padilla said.

Metro Transit drove more than 654,000 people to the fair last year — that’s 16.4 percent of attendees. The agency has distributed more than 65,000 brochures to highlight this year’s service.

“It’s an important part of the fair,” said Adam Mehl, a market development specialist for Metro Transit. “People like to get there by not driving.”

Express fares are $5, but Metro Transit is offering $4.50 fares at metrotransit.org through Wednesday. The discount rate will be available throughout the fair for those who buy passes using the agency’s mobile app.

Fair rides: What and where

Daily service every 15 minutes: 95th Avenue Park and Ride, I-35W and 95th Avenue, Blaine; Bottineau Boulevard Park and Ride, County Road 81 and 63rd Avenue, Brooklyn Park; I-394 and County Road 73 Park and Ride, Minnetonka; and 82nd Street and 24th Avenue S. lot in Bloomington. Parade Stadium service begins at noon.

Daily service every 30 minutes: Fridley Station, Main Street and 61st Avenue NE.; Signal Hills Shopping Center, Robert Street and Butler Avenue, West St. Paul; Cottage Grove Park and Ride, Hwy. 61 at W. Point Douglas Road, and Maplewood Mall, 1793 Beam Av.

Weekends and Labor Day only: Best Buy, 7701 Knox Av., Richfield; Maple Grove Transit Station, I-94 and Hemlock Lane; Newport Transit Station, 250 Red Rock Crossing; and Oakdale Cinema, 5677 Hadley Av.

Minnesota Valley Transit Authority will run buses from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily from the Burnsville Transit Station, Hwy. 13 and Nicollet Avenue S.; from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends and Labor Day from the Eagan Transit Station, Pilot Knob Road at I-35E; and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends and Labor Day from the Marschall Road Transit Station, 1615 Weston Court in Shakopee.

SouthWest Transit runs weekdays only starting at 8 a.m. from Wooddale Church, 6630 Shady Oak Road, Eden Prairie. On weekends and Labor Day, service will start at 7 a.m. from SouthWest Station in Eden Prairie, SouthWest Village Station in Chanhassen and East Creek Station in Chaska.

 

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