Service on the Green Line was briefly interrupted during last Monday’s morning rush hour when a sport-utility vehicle collided with a light-rail train on University Avenue near Hwy. 280 in St. Paul.
Word about the mishap did not reach rider Kathy Stjern, of Roseville, who was left standing in the subzero cold on the Raymond Avenue platform with no word as to why her westbound train to downtown Minneapolis wasn’t on time — or if it was coming at all.
The crash was cleared and service was restored in about 15 to 20 minutes. Metro Transit did not issue a rider alert because of the brevity of the disruption, said spokesman Howie Padilla.
But should it have? It’s a question both riders and the transit agency itself are asking.
Metro Transit’s policy regarding the Northstar line is to send notices to riders who subscribe to its e-mail alert service when trains are 15 or more minutes late. Word about delays also are sent out on social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook.
The policy with light-rail trains is handled on a case-by-case basis, Padilla said. Often, he said, incidents on the Blue or Green lines can be resolved quickly, and by the time alerts are prepared, trains are rolling again.
“We are cognizant to that these past few days that being on time or letting riders know why they are or are not is a priority,” Padilla said. “We are not blind or deaf to the elements. We are continually evaluating the process, and trying to make sure we can improve and where we can improve.”
Stjern’s husband, Bob, who gave her a lift to work when the train didn’t show up, suggested Metro Transit send the alerts, or at minimum scroll messages across electronic sign boards or use the public address system at platforms.
“We are sold on the service and come to expect it every eight to 10 minutes,” Bob Stjern said. When trains are late and there is no notice, “it’s frustrating, because you doubt you are ever going to see it.”
Padilla said the agency’s rail communications center can make station-specific announcements at all light rail and commuter rail stations and try to do that any time a train is five or more minutes late.
Sometimes, like last Monday, that does not happen. Other times the audio system might not be working. Padilla said Metro Transit tests its equipment regularly and sends personnel to platforms to perform spot checks.
Mechanical failures and cars stalling on the tracks will happen. For riders a setback of even a few minutes could mean a missed connection or make the difference between getting to work on time or avoiding late fees at the day care.
However, an alert every time a train is a couple minutes late might be overkill.
“Should we err on the side of overnotifying?” Padilla asked. “We are evaluating that process and seeing if we can get better. Our riders are very loyal and they might get frustrated, but it’s borne out of the fact that they want to make us better.”
For now riders can access Metro Transit’s NexTrip system to get real-time arrivals and departures, or call the agency’s customer service line at 612-373-3333. Without elaborating, Padilla said changes to the system are coming.
“We hope to have a more seamless system for our riders in the coming months,” he said.