How to ride it, and how to deal with it even if you don't
On some level, it's just another big tin can on wheels. However, light-rail transit (LRT), set to debut Saturday, June 26, has set off sparks of possibility and controversy that make it more than just another commuting technology. Yet, whether you think June 26 marks mass transit's rebirth or a Viking funeral for $700 million, the truth probably won't be known for years. Meanwhile, maybe you want to ride the thing.
Here are some questions we can answer so you can figure out how to use LRT, or cope with it as a major new part of the Downtown landscape.
HOW TO RIDE IT
What's the fare?
$1.25, or $1.75 at rush hour (Monday-Friday, 6-9 a.m. and 3-6:30 p.m.) -- same as a regular or nonexpress bus. Your bus pass will work fine, unless you use a "stored value card" (more on that later). You can also buy a $40 monthly pass for unlimited LRT rides.
Can I ride for 50 cents within the Downtown zone, just like I can on buses?
Yup. Rides between the four Downtown stations (Warehouse District, Nicollet Mall, Government Center and Metrodome) cost just half a buck.
What hours will the trains run?
From about 4 a.m. to 1 a.m.
How often do the trains stop at the Downtown stops?
At rush hour, every seven-and-a-half minutes. The rest of the workday, every 10 minutes. In the evening and on weekends, every 15 minutes.
Any express trains?
Nope. Every LRT train stops at every stop on every run and the time between stations remains the same.
How long do I have to catch the train once it stops at the station?
About 20 seconds -- and that's for everyone to get off and on. The driver has mirrors that can see everyone leaving or boarding, so he or she can delay pulling away.
One of the train's most interesting wrinkles is that you open its doors (during nonrush- hours) by pressing a big blue button with flashing white lights. This helps retain the air-
conditioning or heat.
How will the "honor system" for LRT ticketing be enforced?
Train conductors don't take fares like bus drivers do. You're expected to buy a ticket at a
station vending machine or have a valid transfer or the appropriate Metro Transit pass.
No one will stop you from boarding for free, but decide if the gamble is worth it. Metro Transit officials say the dozen transit police assigned exclusively to LRT will cruise the trains and plat- forms randomly asking to see your proof of payment; their goal is to check one of every four rides. If you can't show a ticket, a valid transfer, or an activated pass, you can get hit with a citation for a cool $107.
And the citation is tougher than a traffic ticket because it can't be appealed: you get it, you're guilty.
I see strange machines at LRT stations. What are they and how do they work?
They're ticket-vending machines. You put coins or dollar bills in and an ATM-like screen guides you through the purchase of a single-ride ticket or a pass. (You can't use a credit card yet, but Metro Transit is working on it.)
Any cost to transfer from a bus to a train?
No. Get a transfer from the bus driver. The only wrinkle is if you paid your bus fare using a "stored value card" (sort of a bus debit card), you need to ask the bus driver for a "rail-only transfer." That's because a stored value card offers no way to prove you've purchased a valid train fare. Rail-only transfers are good all day.
Anything special for ballgames?
Yes. There's a $3, two-way event fare. It will save you the trouble of having to buy a return fare at the Metrodome Station (for Twins, Vikings or Gophers games) or at the Warehouse District Station (for the Wolves or Lynx).
HOW NONRIDERS SHOULD DEAL WITH IT
Where are the danger spots for Downtown drivers?
According to Metro Transit officials, the biggest knuckle head move is turning right onto 5th Street from south-bound avenues such as Marquette.
You can still turn right -- west toward the Warehouse District -- but it can't be a hard/sharp right because that will put you on the tracks. (You need to make a softer/easier right turn to ease past two lanes of tracks.) Because you need to get past the tracks, you can't go right on red anymore.
Metro Transit and the city have posted somewhat
bewildering signs that translate to "there's a couple of tracks between you and a sharp right turn, dummy, so don't try it," but we're betting this is the most likely way a cocky moron will wind up eating aluminum.
There are a couple of other bewildering spots. Between Park and 4th avenues South, there are two westbound driving lanes separated by tracks; one lane turns left at 4th Avenue and the other forces a right turn at 5th Avenue South. Drivers who get in the wrong lane might try to cut back across the tracks.
And between Nicollet and Hennepin avenues, the single driving lane splits into two: veer right and you must turn right at Hennepin, stay straight and you can turn left on 1st Avenue North. Right now, the configuration makes it look like all traffic must veer right, so some drivers who really want to go to 1st Avenue might cut back across the tracks, dangerously.
What are the danger spots for Downtown pedestrians?
Jaywalking wasn't exactly a high-priority crime in Minneapolis -- until LRT came to town. Metro Transit officials have a simple rule to help pedestrians know where to cross: only where you see a "Walk" signal. Midblock crossers are subject to a $109 fine.
Will my bus route change June 26?
Possibly. Bus route changes go into effect the same day LRT debuts. If your route is changing, the "TAKEOUT" brochures that hang from the overhead bar provide an overview of schedule changes. You can also check www.metrotransit.org to see if your route is affected. (Go to "Transit information," select "Route changes effective June 26.")
Routes with major changes include the 2, 7, 8, 14, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 64, 69, 84, 134 and 191.
Generally speaking, the closer your current bus runs to the LRT corridor, the more likely its route or schedule will change.
My trip Downtown takes a little longer because my bus was rerouted to hook up with LRT. Why is that?
Metro Transit wants to have more frequent buses (and trains) on high-traffic corridors. That means more transfers for some riders -- rerouting some short-haul routes to hook up with the high-frequency routes.
Bus officials say that overall, more-frequent routes boost ridership because people just show up at stops instead of having to organize their lives around a bus schedule. Some current passengers will be worse off, though.
I ride a suburban bus, not one operated by Metro Transit. Any changes for me?
Only if you ride a Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) bus from Apple Valley, Rosemount or Burnsville. Most of the changes are minor, such as additional trips and schedule adjustments of fewer than five minutes.
When will I be able to ride to the Mall of America and the airport?
Not until December, when those stations open. No firm date has been set, but Metro Transit always changes schedules on a Saturday, so it will be Dec. 3, 10, 17 or Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve.
Currently, though, you can take the train to Ft. Snelling and catch a shuttle bus, Route 155, to the airport and Mall, trips that take 33 and 43 minutes, respectively.
Where can I get a schedule?
On platforms, in transit stores (there's one at 719 Marquette Ave., open weekdays, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) and at www.metrocouncil.org/transit/images/routesnew/M055.pdf. It's called Route 55.
If you don't want to download or pick up the entire schedule, you can enter your commute in Metro Transit's Trip Planner (on their "Trip Information" page at www.metrocouncil.org/transit/index.htm) to see if and how the line will change your commute.
What do I do if I get hassled in an LRT car without a conductor in it?
LRT trains need only one conductor but some will have two cars, meaning one car could have no Metro Transit employee on it. If you're being hassled, there are four red intercom buttons in each car. Push one and ask for the conductor. There are also cameras in each car, viewable by the conductor and Metro Transit's Rail Control Center.
What do I do if I get hassled at an LRT station where there's no transit cop?
Every station has push-to-talk emergency phones, monitored at the Rail Control Center. Personnel there can see what's going on via camera and can talk to you or to the whole station via a public-address system. Of course, they can also direct a police officer to where you are.
Is there a "third rail" or some kind of electrification I need to watch out for?
Unless you're twice as tall as Kevin Garnett, don't sweat it. Electrical lines running 16 feet overhead power LRT -- the tracks in the ground are just there to guide the wheels.
By the way, 750 volts of direct current power the trains -- but you have to be grounded to fry. That's why birds can perch on the hotwire and be just fine.
Can I park near a neighborhood light-rail station and ride into Downtown?
There are limited park-and-ride possibilities at some stations. Ft. Snelling will have 550 spots on opening day, with an eventual 900. There are 50 spots on the west side of the Lake Street Station, and Metro Transit is working on 150 spots on the southeast side.
Residents of Minneapolis neighborhoods near LRT stations are worried riders will take all the on-street parking. For now, they and the city are waiting to see if problems develop before instituting resident-only permit parking and other enforcement measures.
More park-and-ride spots will be available at the five LRT stations that open up in December.
Can I bring my bike on the train? If so, how?
Bikes are welcome. You can walk your bike onto the platform and into the LRT car. There are four bike hooks in each car. You can also park your bike at any station or for $40 you can rent a bike locker at the station from April 1 to Nov. 30. (or for $60 year-round).
Can I bring a cup of coffee on the train?
Yes, but it must be in a sealed container. No alcohol. And you're not allowed to eat in the train car.
Will any of the Downtown stations be heated in the winter?
They all will be, using radiant overhead heating. Metro Transit officials say stations will be warm enough to stand in, but not to live in.
Can I bring a wheelchair on the train?
It's your right. LRT is designed to be accessible -- you board at-grade and there is designated seating.
FACTS & FIGURES
How many people can a train hold?
Sixty-six seated and a maximum of 190 per car. That compares to 43 seated and a maximum of about 55 per standard bus.
How fast will LRT go?
Top speed is 55 mph. It can go through intersections at 45 mph, but through Downtown it won't top 20 mph.