It's rare for a new bus route to get much fanfare, but Route 494 isn't your typical new service.
Four transit agencies that compose the Suburban Transit Association (STA) will jointly operate the region's first suburb-to-suburb express and limited-stop bus service, which is aimed at getting people to and from jobs clustered along the I-494 and Hwy. 169 corridors in the west and southwest metro. A website for the Suburb to Suburb Transit Service (s2s494.com) debuted last week. Bus service begins Jan. 19.
"This is really exciting," said Robin Selvig, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, which has teamed with SouthWest Transit, Maple Grove Transit and Plymouth Metrolink. "We're hoping to reach the employers and employees that desperately need service like this."
The Station 73 Park and Ride at Hwy. 55 and County Road 73 in Plymouth will be the route's hub. Buses will make 20 trips a day — 10 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon and early evening — between Station 73 and the Marschall Road Transit Station in Shakopee, the SouthWest Transit Station in Eden Prairie, Hopkins Crossroad Transit Station off I-394 and the Maple Grove Transit Station. Buses running about every 30 minutes also will serve the headquarters of UnitedHealth Group and Optum in Eden Prairie. The fare will be $2.25 each way.
From each station, riders can connect to local buses or services such as Plymouth's Dial-A-Ride or SouthWest Transit's SW Prime to complete their trip at no extra charge. said Jeff Wosje, the STA's board chairman and a Plymouth City Council member.
Other than a handful of Metro Transit routes such as the 32 from Roseville to Robbinsdale and the 801 from Brooklyn Center to Columbia Heights, using transit to get from one suburb to another can be a chore. Riders often have to go downtown, then catch another bus to their destination. With Route 494, commuters can bypass downtown and have a trip time on par with those who drive.
"We said, 'What if we all four work together and provide that service instead of operating in our separate silos,' " Wosje said. "Nobody has done this. It's groundbreaking."
The idea for suburb-to-suburb transit service has percolated for a couple of years. The STA lobbied the Legislature for $2 million to operate the service for the next two years. The hope is it becomes permanent, Selvig said.
At the outset, it's unclear how many people will ride Route 494, but the potential is vast. Several large employers have offices in the western suburbs. For example, TCF Bank has consolidated operations and now has 1,700 employees at its Plymouth campus. Furthermore, the number of jobs in the 14 cities covered by the STA members is forecast to grow by 50 percent and its population by 36 percent over the next two decades, according to the Metropolitan Council's Thrive MSP 2040 report. That underscores the need for improved and expanded transit options in the suburbs.
"Employers who provide jobs can reach out and offer jobs knowing that people don't need a car to get to work," Wosje said. "There's options for people to get to that job in Maple Grove or Shakopee that they didn't have before. That's the big win for everybody."