To the uninitiated, the new Snelling Avenue bus rapid transit vehicle looks like any other bus, maybe a little sleeker and less winter-worn.
But, as Metro Transit officials pointed out Wednesday, there are important differences that will make the BRT trip from Rosedale to the 46th Street Blue Line light-rail station in Minneapolis as much as 17 percent faster than the regular old bus.
The new A Line BRT route, along 46th Street, Ford Parkway and Snelling, will begin service on June 11. Metro Transit officials gave a preview of the route Wednesday.
The $27 million A Line will feature fewer stops — 20 — than the Route 84 bus, which covers the same route but stops much more often. BRT features light-rail-like amenities, such as pay stations at bus stops that require passengers to pay in advance, and wider doors that can let people on and off at the same time. Priority at traffic signals should mean fewer red lights.
All are intended to speed up the trip, which will take 30 to 40 minutes — compared with 34 to 48 minutes on the traditional bus. During rush hours, midday, evenings and weekends, the A Line will stop every 10 minutes, just like light rail. There will be less-frequent service in the early morning and late at night. The cost of the ride will stay the same.
Traditional buses take more time “because sometimes the customer isn’t ready with their change, they have to get out their purse or their wallet,” and multiple passengers are trying to get on and off the bus at the same time, said Dale Patrin, a Metro Transit bus driver. With BRT, “you’ll have none of that,” he said.
But there’s some confusion among the commuting public about BRT. What is it, exactly? Karyssa Jackson, Metro Transit’s community outreach coordinator, hears that question all the time.
“People who are regular transit users get it, but some people don’t really understand it,” she said. “Once they see it, they get it.”
Transit purists say “real” BRT lines have a dedicated right of way solely for the bus. The A Line is “arterial” — meaning it travels within existing street traffic, mostly on Snelling, which cuts through several busy commercial districts.
“We looked [at a dedicated lane on Snelling], but it didn’t seem like a reasonable proposition,” said Charles Carlson, senior manager of BRT for Metro Transit.
The Twin Cities’ first BRT project was the Red Line, which opened in 2013 and connects the Mall of America to Apple Valley. The $150 million Orange Line, which will link downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville along Interstate 35W, is in the works. So is the C Line, which will travel largely along Penn Avenue between downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center. (The B Line, along W. 7th Street in St. Paul, is on hold for further study.) All told, Metro Transit is planning about a dozen BRT lines by 2030.
Metro Transit says Snelling was chosen for its connections with two light-rail lines — the Blue Line station at 46th Street and the Green Line stop at University Avenue in St. Paul. The latter stop will feature the biggest BRT bus shelter on the line.
All of the new BRT shelters will feature ticket machines, real-time bus arrival screens, and better lighting and heating, as well as security cameras and emergency phones.
The A Line touches on some of the biggest real estate development projects in the Twin Cities.
The former Ford plant in St. Paul’s Highland Park is being redeveloped, and the new Minnesota United stadium and related development is planned for the Snelling-University area.
Although the Red Line got off to a slow start, Metro Transit says transit helped spur new retail, housing and hotel development worth $273 million.