The local bus of the future pulled into Metro Transit’s headquarters this week.

Agency employees gathered in the parking lot Monday afternoon for the arrival of the first urban or “arterial” rapid transit bus, which will make its debut next spring on Snelling Avenue. The A Line will be the first test of a new concept to overhaul local bus service in the Twin Cities, replicating efforts in other cities to speed core urban routes.

Aside from a wider-than-normal rear door, the new bus was most notable for what it lacked: Payment machines.

That’s because passengers will be paying before they board and entering through either door — similar to light rail — to help speed service. The route will also feature longer spacing between stops, and buses will employ traffic signal priority technology to move more easily through lights.

The preboarding payment system requires new ticket machines, which were also on display Monday at Metro Transit. The devices at each stop will accept credit cards for those passengers who lack a GoTo card or cash.

Police will make random ticket checks on the bus to ensure compliance, similar to light rail.

The 20-station A Line is expected to cost approximately $27 million, more than half of which will pay for enhanced bus stops. The stops will feature tall, real-time arrival screens, heated shelters and security cameras. Several stations will have higher curbs to ease boarding difficulties.

About 3,800 people per day already take the No. 84 bus in the corridor spanning from Rosedale Mall down Snelling Avenue to 46th Street and Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis. The No. 84 spends 40 percent of its trip stopped for passengers, stoplights and traffic. Metro Transit expects the A Line to travel 27 percent faster.

Metro Transit purchased 12 new Gillig buses in all, said Metro Transit’s bus rapid transit manager Charles Carlson. They cost about $500,000 apiece, he said, only slightly more than a normal bus.

The agency hopes to roll out similar service on other high-ridership corridors, starting with Penn Avenue, but funding has been difficult to obtain. Unlike large, regional light-rail and highway bus rapid transit projects, urban rapid bus projects do not receive money from the quarter-cent transit sales tax administered by five metro-area counties.

 

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