Metro Transit riders with questions about fares, where to find park-and-ride lots or which bus or train to take have a new way to get in contact with a transit representative after the agency recently rolled out an online chat service.

The feature allows riders to click a "Need Help" button at the bottom right corner of the agency's website at and be connected to a representative in the Transit Information Center — not a bot — and talk in real time.

"We opened the new channel to reduce pain points and improve the customer experience, to let them choose how to communicate with us," said Wendy Adams, Transit Information Center (TIC) supervisor. "It is a great way to meet customers where they are."

When the chat service went live on June 21, TIC operators had 36 interactions with customers who chose to use the live chat option.

Live chat users can receive a transcript of the chat by supplying an e-mail address. Customers also have the option of calling the center at 612-373-3333 or communicating by text message at 612-444-1161.

Phone calls, text messages and live chats are available between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays. The TIC is closed Sundays and holidays.

For years, customers with questions or problems had only one option: call the TIC and speak with one of the 22 representatives who work in the center. As recently as a decade ago, the call center received 1.5 million calls annually.

But that number had been slowly dropping and had fallen to between 800,000 to 900,000 calls a year in the late 2010s — a trend that continued with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those calls shifted to text message interactions. In 2019, Metro Transit began its text message service, which allows customers to correspond with TIC representatives by typing on their phones.

Many companies have long had an online chat feature in various forms, and it was something Metro Transit had been looking at adding for a couple years, Adams said.

Using the live chat doesn't mean customers get answers faster than those who call or text. Chat requests are placed in queue along with calls and text messages, and are routed to TIC representatives in the order in which they come in.

"There is no moving to the head of the line [with the chat]," Adams said. "They are all treated equally."

MVTA Fun Bus returns

The Minnesota Valley Transit Authority has brought back its 4 Fun Bus, a weekend express route serving the Mall of America, Mystic Lake Casino, Valleyfair and Canterbury Park. Buses also pick up and drop of at the Marschall Road Transit Station in Shakopee.

Trips run hourly from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday through the end of October. Rides cost $2.50.