A climate-minded newcomer's guide to riding transit in the Twin Cities

Illustration by Brock Kaplan, Star Tribune

With a little planning and perseverance, it can work for commuting and just getting around.

RReady to reduce your carbon footprint by embracing public transit in the metro area?

Good idea — transportation accounts for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota. Metro Transit and public transit booster groups like Move Minneapolis and Move Minnesota are here to help. So are the dozens of transit riders who responded to our query on social media for tips.

Transit newbies "mostly fear the unknown; there's a fear of getting lost," said Doug Cook, outreach coordinator with Metro Transit. "My job is to get them over that fear, and show them the resources we offer."

So let's get started.

Where do you want to go?

You can download Metro Transit's app on your smartphone and tap where you want to go on the Trip Planner. Once you figure out your route, keep tabs on the bus or train schedule on NexTrip. Others prefer Google Maps, Pantograph or an app simply called Transit; lots of transiteers mix and match apps for different functions. Route information is also available on Metro Transit's website.

Minneapolis and St. Paul have more frequent and available routes. But the suburbs do have their share of service, either on Metro Transit or on suburban providers (which feature somewhat limited express service, but accept Metro Transit fare payments) Maple Grove Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, Plymouth Metrolink, and SouthWest Transit. There are dozens of park-and-ride facilities throughout the metro area, too.

If you frequently use a certain route, sign up for rider alerts, which ping you when there's an issue with service.

How do I pay?

You can download the Metro Transit mobile app to pay for your fare using your phone.

You can also buy a Go-To stored value card on Metro Transit's website and at area retailers, including Cub Foods stores. Keep a record of the serial number on your Go-To card — you'll need it to add value or if it's lost or stolen. You may opt for an employer-subsidized Metropass, or a College Pass or a Student Pass through educational institutions.

Credit cards are not accepted on buses. But you can still pay the old-fashioned way — buses accept cash, but it has to be exact change (coins or dollars). Ask the driver to give you a transfer.

One-way fares on buses and light rail trains vary from $2 to $3.25 depending on the time of day. Northstar Commuter Rail service between Target Field and Big Lake is $6.25 one way.

Metro Transit also offers reduced fares of $1 per trip for people with lower incomes through its Transit Assistance Program.

Now what?

Familiarize yourself with Metro Transit's code of conduct, a lengthy and often-ignored rule book that mandates such things as keeping non-service animals in carriers, one seat per rider (no manspreading!), and no eating on board.

Tap the card on the reader at the front of the bus, or at light-rail and bus-rapid transit stations (A, C, D, and Orange lines) before you board. Some express buses call for passengers to pay as they leave during afternoon rush hours.

Save the front seats for people in wheelchairs or mobility devices, passengers with strollers, and others who may need a little help. If the bus has a rear exit, get off there to avoid a scrum at the front of the bus. About a block before you need to get off the bus, pull the cord, touch the yellow tab near the window, or push the red button to alert the driver.

Common fears

Let's talk about crime and nuisance behavior aboard transit, particularly the Blue and Green light-rail lines. This usually involves drug use, smoking, harassing, creepy, gross or criminal behavior. Metro Transit says it's putting more police, private security and "transit rider assistance program" agents on buses and trains. Frequent transit users say they're noticing these people, but it's too early to say whether it's helping.

In the meantime, if you see something suspicious or inappropriate on a bus or train, text 612-900-0411. Include the location, route number, bus or train number, a description of the issue and the person or people involved. If you witness a crime, call 911.

Frequent transit users recommend boarding the car closest to the driver on light rail; avoid the middle car if there is one, known as the "party" or "poop" car. If it gets bad, switch cars at the next stop, or get off and wait for another train.

Rider tips

We asked frequent transit users on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, for some tips on taking public transportation in the Twin Cities. Responses may have been lightly edited for spelling and style.

Why bother with all this?

Cars are the biggest contributor to a household's carbon footprint, according to the American Public Transportation Association. By taking public transit instead of driving a car for a 20-minute commute, a single person can save 4,800 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, the APTA says.

The U.S. needs to cut annual emissions by about 15,000 pounds per person to help prevent the world's temperatures from reaching a crucial threshold that scientists say could have catastrophic effects on the planet. By taking transit, you're making good progress towards that goal.

For naysayers and gentlemen who email this reporter anti-transit rants in the middle of the night, it is true that buses run on diesel gas or some variation, and transit on electricity. But the Massachusetts Institute of Technology points out that cars usually carry one or two people at a time, while a bus can often ferry dozens of passengers, and a train in a large city may serve thousands. It's just more efficient.

Finally, will I save money?

Households that use public transportation save an average of $6,251 every year, and even more should gas prices rise, according to the APTA. The average cost of owning and operating a new vehicle is close to $13,000 a year, or about $1,000 a month, according to AAA.

So give public transit a try, and ask for help if you need it. As Move Minneapolis' outreach manager John Barobs says, it's all about "trying to take the intimidation and mystery factor out of it."

Star Tribune staff writer Greg Stanley contributed to this story.