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Redesigned transit service achieves greater efficiency, equity

Two years ago, the Metropolitan Council embarked on an all-too-rare governmental effort — to redesign an unwieldy program with the goal of making it more efficient and equitable.

Redesigned transit service achieves greater efficiency, equity

Two years ago, the Metropolitan Council embarked on an all-too-rare governmental effort — to redesign an unwieldy program with the goal of making it more efficient and equitable.

The program was the dial-a-ride transit service being delivered in the seven-county metro area by a hodge-podge of 14 different providers — some of them community and social-service agencies. The program had developed over several decades with the help of federal and state funding — and without a lot of regional oversight.

In 2010, the Met Council began a major restructuring effort designed to:

  • Eliminate duplication and overlap among the providers, while extending service to areas that had no service.
  • Establish uniform fares and operating rules, and eliminate the perception in some areas that dial-a-ride service was limited to seniors or lower-income people.
  • Streamline administration.

The restructured dial-a-ride service, called Transit Link, established a single identity for the program with one phone number to call, one website for information and vehicles with the familiar white, blue and yellow colors that are part of the regional transit brand.

Given the option

Counties were given the option of managing the service themselves, which Anoka, Carver and Scott counties chose to do. The other four metro counties chose to have the council manage the service. But the number of private contractors providing the service was reduced from 14 to five.

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Gerri Sutton, assistant director of metropolitan transportation services for the council, says the role of Transit Link is “to provide public transit in areas where fixed-route transit service is not available.”

The restructuring of dial-a-ride service does not appear to have significantly reduced total operating expenditures. While overlapping and duplicative service was eliminated in communities such as Hopkins, West St. Paul and White Bear Lake, service was extended to a number of rural areas where population is sparse and trips tend to be longer.

Total ridership actually has declined — from 450,000 in 2009, the last year before restructuring, to 383,000 in 2011.

One reason, says Sutton, is that when customers call requesting Transit Link service, they are steered toward fixed-route transit service if it is available.

And there’s a very good fiscal reason for doing so: the public subsidy per Transit Link passenger is a hefty $17, compared with the $2.27 average for Metro Transit service.

Distance traveled

Transit Link fares are based on the distance traveled. A trip less than 10 miles is $2.25 each way, between 10 and 20 miles is $4.50 each way, and more than 20 miles is $6.75 each way. Persons with disabilities who are ADA-certified pay a maximum of $4.50 per direction.

Service is available from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Rides may be reserved up to five business days in advance of the trip. Same-day rides may be scheduled, but there must be at least two hours between the time the rider calls to reserve the ride and the desired pickup time, subject to availability. 

The goal of Transit Link is for drivers to arrive within 30 minutes of the scheduled pickup time. In most parts of the metro area, on-time performance exceeded 95 percent in 2011, according to Sutton. 

At this point, the Met Council can’t claim any big savings as a result of the restructuring effort. However, it appears that dial-a-ride service is being delivered more efficiently and equitably.