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Dakota County protests sharing 'rapid' bus label

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE
  • Star Tribune
  • November 30, 2012 - 7:07 PM

As proud sponsors of the Cedar Avenue BRT -- the metro area's bus-rapid-transit line -- Dakota County commissioners were most unhappy to hear that "rapid" may be used in the name for another type of bus service.

Commissioners learned last week that Metro Transit is planning faster bus service on 11 key streets in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington and is referring to it as "arterial bus rapid transit."

A name won't be approved by the Metropolitan Council until February, after public discussion in January. But Dakota County wants "rapid" dropped now to avoid confusing people about which service is which.

"Rapid should not have been considered," board Chairwoman Nancy Schouweiler said sternly after a Metro Transit planner's presentation on the new service last week.

"Please don't name it bus rapid transit," said Commissioner Liz Workman.

Commissioner Will Branning said: "I have a concern that there is going to be a lot of confusion if you keep using 'rapid.'"

The issue has come up just as preparations for the $111 million Cedar busway -- from Bloomington through Eagan and Apple Valley to Lakeville -- are entering the final stretch. All seven buses have been delivered, two final stations are under construction and the service is set to start in May or June.

The pressure is on to finish the stations, get the service working properly and attract riders. Putting together the right marketing campaign for a new kind of bus service is already weighing on the county, so news of a similar name in use elsewhere is not a welcome development.

The new faster bus service Metro Transit is developing is targeted at existing high-ridership routes that connect major destinations. American Boulevard in Bloomington and Central Avenue, Chicago Avenue, East 7th Street, Hennepin Avenue, Lake Street, Nicollet Avenue, Robert Street, Snelling Avenue, West 7th Street and West Broadway Avenue -- all in Minneapolis or St. Paul -- are the routes under consideration, according to Metro Transit. Faster service on these routes is scheduled to start in 2015.

The emphasis is on "rapid transit" because many people don't ride the bus now because they find it slow, Charles Carlson, Metro Transit's senior manager of the new rapid bus project, told the commissioners.

In tests with marketing groups, "rapid" was the word people reacted to most favorably for the name of the new service, Carlson said.

Other terms -- connect, swift, max, move and select -- were not as popular, he said.

"The concept would improve travel speed, increase reliability, enhance the ride and create faster connections. Making these things a reality requires eliminating delays: from cutting the time it takes to board, reducing the time buses wait at traffic lights and lessening time spent in traffic congestion," the Met Council website says.

A "rapid bus" line would use low-floor buses that could be boarded through two doors, like a train. "Fares would be paid before boarding -- just as on light rail -- so more time is spent moving rather than at stops. Trips would be frequent with fewer stops per mile."

Many of the same characteristics apply to the Cedar Avenue busway between Bloomington and Lakeville.

A key difference is that the Cedar BRT has its own shoulder lanes. The "arterial rapid transit" buses would use the streets.

But Dakota commissioners don't want to have to make distinctions. The Cedar BRT is part of the metro area's larger transit framework, Schouweiler said. "We are trying to build a transit system that has multiple modes," including light rail, commuter trail and BRT, she said. "We have an idea of what BRT is in that concept."

Carlson downplayed the conflict between the two names, pointing out that the Cedar busway is now officially called the Red Line under the Metropolitan Council's transit plan and that it will have been in service two years before the faster service starts on the arterial streets in 2015.

Commissioners didn't buy that argument. It will be years before people who live, work or commute along Cedar refer to the new BRT as the Red Line, Branning said.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287

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