By Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager
With the end of summer comes the beginning of the school year and, with it, a perceptible change in the faces we see on Metro Transit buses and trains.
Thousands of students in Minneapolis use Metro Transit to get to school. This is the third consecutive year we have partnered with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to provide transit-eligible high school students with Student Passes that provide unlimited rides on our buses and trains during select hours.
After expanding in the previous two years, more than 5,000 students at 10 Minneapolis high schools hold Student Passes this year. Another 2,400 students at 17 other area schools also received transit passes. Together, we expect these students to take more than 2 million rides this school year.
Transit trainers give students tips on how to ride
To prepare incoming freshmen and others new to transit and the Student Pass program, Customer Relations provided How to Ride presentations last spring at 18 schools, reaching more than 2,000 students. Transit Information Center representatives provided additional outreach in August.
On the first day of class, we positioned transit supervisors at busy school boarding locations to ensure smooth operations. Metro Transit Police also assisted by having officers at several locations, including community service officers downtown.
We began our work months ago as schedules and routes were adjusted to serve students during busy periods while remaining integrated into our regular operations. That includes nearly 100 “school extras” each day.
Operators, of course, play a pivotal role, taking responsibility not just for driving safely but for providing extra assistance to students who are unfamiliar with our service. Their patience with students is what truly allows this service to thrive.
Strong allies at MPS and several other area schools are also a tremendous help.
While there were questions about how this program could work, it’s increasingly clear that providing transit options to area students is a win-win-win.
Transit opens doors for students, experience creates lifelong customers
For Metro Transit, there are not just immediate rides but the hope of creating lifelong customers. Students who have positive experiences now are more likely to continue riding as they enter adulthood and the workforce.
For students, transit is a key to continuing education outside the classroom, allowing them to get to work, internships, college classes and cultural events. With extended service hours, more students can also engage in opportunities before and after school – a type of transportation that can’t be duplicated with yellow buses.
For the public, there are efficiencies in eliminating a duplicative service and reducing the number of buses that need to be out on our roads every day.
Taking transit to school is not uncommon for students in larger cities. But for a region the size of the Twin Cities, such programs are rare.
While we will fully realize the benefits as we collect more data and track progress in the years ahead, it’s increasingly clear that we are setting a standard and establishing a model that can be replicated in other areas. In fact, we have commissioned the University of Minnesota to study the educational, economic and societal benefits of our partnership with MPS.
As more schools see the value in partnering with Metro Transit, we hope to continue expanding our Student Pass program in the future. As we do, it will be because of the hard work of all those who have brought us to this point and continue to offer exceptional service to this important group of riders.