Known mainly for offering express bus service on motor coaches between the southwestern suburbs and downtown Minneapolis, SouthWest Transit recently launched a new Chanhassen Connector in an effort to bring back some local service.
Route 692E will circulate through Chanhassen’s downtown area four times an hour from 8:50 a.m. to just after 4 p.m. on weekdays throughout the summer. Buses will travel on a loop that follows Lake Drive, Powers Boulevard, W. 78th Street and Great Plains Boulevard.
The route will take passengers past key shopping and dining destinations such as Target, Cub Foods and Market Square, the city’s library and large employers such as Emerson. It also will pass St. Hubert’s Church and City Hall. It will stop at the Chanhassen Transit Station, where riders can connect with SouthWest’s routes that serve Eden Prairie, downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota.
“We are trying to re-establish some level of local service,” said CEO Len Simich.
Over the past few years, Simich said SouthWest has had to cut local services in the three communities it serves, Chanhassen, Eden Prairie and Chaska, and use its resources to keep its express service strong and beef up service.
“There simply have not been additional dollars to keep both going at any significant level, and our growth has been in the express market,” he said.
SouthWest does operate one local route in Eden Prairie, but it runs only one day a week. Although anybody can ride the “Shopping Bus,” that is a route that runs on Tuesdays and is aimed at seniors. It runs between senior high-rises and shopping centers.
Last summer, SouthWest had a local route in Chanhassen, but it operated primarily north of Hwy. 5. Merchants on the south side of the highway, which splits the downtown, said they wanted to showcase the shopping opportunities, coffee shops and dining establishments on their side of the highway. So this year, SouthWest expanded the loop to circle south of Hwy. 5.
On Thursday evenings, the merchant group called “Buy Chanhassen” will hold special events starting in June. Along with promotions at establishments, “Buy Chanhassen” will cover all bus fares so rides from roughly 6 to 8 p.m. will be free.
“You don’t see a lot of bus service in the suburbs,” said Jerry McDonald, a City Council member and Buy Chanhassen board member. “With what we have set up, you can park your car and go to all these shops. We provide the transportation back and forth.”
At all other times, riders will pay the peak fare of $2.25 before 9 a.m. and from 3 to 6:30 p.m., and $1.75 at other times. Those are the same fares charged on by other metro area transit agencies. But since the route is so specialized, Simich is seeking approval from the Met Council to introduce a lower “downtown fare.”
SouthWest Transit will use a 22-passenger trolley and a bus about half the size of its larger motor coaches on Route 692E. Buses will run clockwise on the loop from 8:50 a.m. to 10:23 a.m. and counterclockwise from 10:30 a.m. to 4:03 p.m.
SouthWest also hopes the circular route will lead to increased ridership.
“This is aimed at getting people to try the bus and see how it works,” Simich said. “If you wanted to take a bus from Chanhassen to Eden Prairie, you will have that opportunity. The idea is to expose the bus to a new market, and then have them take our bread-and-butter service during the year, which is our express.”