A transit service that began as a small pilot program nearly two years ago is now making a big difference for airport workers who serve passengers in the wee hours of the morning.
Dozens of food and beverage outlets at MSP International Airport need workers on duty early in the morning to open for the day and late at night to serve customers arriving or departing on red-eye flights. At the same time, people with low incomes and new Americans may be looking for their first job and need transit when regular-route service is not an option.
Off-hour service provided by the Metropolitan Council is making the connection. This service helps meet the needs of businesses at MSP and the transportation needs of workers who staff them at odd hours of the day and night.
Service uses otherwise idle Transit Link buses
The service uses three small Transit Link buses operating seven days a week between approximately 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Airport employers help fund the service by matching the passenger fare and the Council pays the remaining costs.
Airport employees ride only one way to or from the airport because they can use Metro Transit’s regular-route service when their shift begins or ends. For example, a Transit Link rider who arrives at the airport at 4 a.m. can ride Metro Transit home around noon.
“We’re pleased by the ridership growth since we launched the pilot,” said Gerri Sutton, Assistant Director in the Council’s Metropolitan Transportation Services. “We’ve seen a 30% increase in service productivity – rides per hour – just since last summer.”
Employers are pleased with the results
“The service has helped drive revenue,” said Butch Howard, general manager of HMS Host, which operates about 40 food and beverage franchises at the airport. “We are now able to open up all of our Starbucks, French Meadow Bakery and Market outlets at 4:30 a.m.”
Roxanne Viska, HMS Host operations manager, agrees. “We have a lot more stores being opened on time,” she said. “And this is a great benefit for our employees.”
An employer must have a signed agreement with the Council to participate in the program but it doesn’t obligate them to use the service, Sutton said. “The agreement just acknowledges that they will match the employee’s fare payment when they use the service, whether now or sometime in the future.” The Council has agreements with nine employers, and a tenth is in progress.
The service contributes to the region’s economy, puts money in people’s pockets, and helps lessen income disparities, said Sutton. “These are all goals the Council is working toward – goals in our long-range regional plan, Thrive MSP 2040.”