Note: this is not a BRT bus as we were originally led to believe
This past weekend I was without a car and wife but had both the kids. With the weather as it was, it was difficult getting out and about aside from a few hours between the rainstorms. However, on Sunday morning after hoping the weather report was correct, I decided to brave the elements and walk to the Apple Valley Transit Station to take advantage of my tax dollars being utilized for free rides on the joint venture by Metro Transit and the MVTA for the new BRT service running as the “Red Line” to the Mall of America. It was during this trip that all of my fears about the line were realized and then some.
I left the house at around 9:40 AM hoping to make it to the AVTS for the 10:20 AM bus. As I was passing the old AVTS which is stil being used as a reststop for bus drivers, doubling the taxpayer’s cost in operating two facilities instead of one which in 2010 was already 3x as expensive to operate than that of the old station, I saw a Red Line bus ready to depart for the new Apple Valley Transit Station. Knowing that they were running about 30 minutes apart on the weekends, I ran the rest of the way, boarding just before it departed 4 minutes earlier than I expected it to.
The northbound trip was more or less uneventful. While I was surprised that the Red Line, billed as “Bus Rapid Transit”, still has to exit Cedar at Diffley to get to the Cedar Grove Transit Station and head back along the same route to get back on Cedar. While there are the beginnings of plans to add another millions of dollars more to this already $100+ million project, currently the route adds 3 minutes Northbound and 5 minutes Southbound. While the northbound bus scraped the elevated walkway at the Mall of America as it arrived, nothing else was out of the ordinary from any other MetroTransit city bus as that’s exactly what this was! They weren’t even MVTA branded as was promised back in 2010 and especially did not meet the super special “Trains on Rubber Wheels” marketingspeak talked about so many times before (including in the 1950s when the oil companies bought out the streetcar lines and replaced them with buses). Where are our fancy train buses the County and MVTA were touting in 2008?
After spending a few hours at the Mall of America, we headed back to the Red Line. Now, this is where the problems begin:
1. The Red Line access point is on the other side of the LRT vehicles and have very little signage. In fact, if I hadn’t come northbound I would have had no idea where to get on at all, incorrectly assuming these buses would pull up to the windowed area at the Mall of American Transit Station.
2. The access to the Red Line from the direction pointed to by a single board noting the location on where to go (on the LRT platform) is not handicapped accessible. I had to navigate a narrow section of sidewalk between the concrete stanchions and the elevated edge of the platform only to find that I could not access the Red Line buses from there. I ended up having to hop the kids down into the parking lot and walk all the way around (more than 100 feet I’m guessing) to get to a handicapped accessible entrance. Cute. More signage and less ridiculous access points are needed immediately.
3. As I board I am rudely admonished for not folding my stroller by an MVTA/Schmitty and Sons trainer (not the driver). This was not done in a professional or polite manner as I would expect from a public/private partnership when dealing with the customer/taxpayer. Admittedly I immediately went on the offensive in response as this was the first time I’d heard of the buried stroller policy (it takes 4 clicks from their main page to get there and in my 5+ years of riding the bus have never heard of this or heard of any driver asking for another person to fold their stroller).
I find the entire policy to be in need of a revamp:
1. Remove child(ren) from stroller(s).
2. Collapse stroller(s) and make sure it/they are not blocking the doorway or the aisle of the bus.
3. If strollers do not collapse for storage, we are unable to accommodate you on the bus.
4. Strollers may not be placed in the wheelchair area on any bus. These spaces must be available to our mobility-challenged riders at any time.
NOTE: Folding the stroller not only makes it easier for other customers to get on and off the bus, but it also makes the ride safer for you and your child. A child in a stroller runs the risk of being injured as a result of sudden bus movements. Thank you for your cooperation.
Our double-wide stoller has a four-point harness for each child and four brakes. It is infinitely more secure than me having to have one child, unbelted and facing sideways in a seat next to me while another sits on my lap. When the bus driver slammed on the brakes as someone made an expected turn into White Castle in Apple Valley, my son nearly went flying out of his seat due to the lack of being as safe as he would have been in the stroller.
4. After being rudely and unprofessionally admonished for my lack of following the unposted and buried rule on strollers, of which I begrudgingly complied, a woman approached the trainer to ask a question carrying a large drink. While there is a sign above the driver (on all buses) which asks for no eating or drinking, I made sure to mention that all rules must be equally applied including the no drinking clause. I was ignored.
5. When I pointed out that the trainer was in violation of the placard which reads:
Federal law prohibits operation of this bus while anyone is standing in front of the white line.
I was told she was a trainer and therefore permitted to stand there.
6. I asked for the driver’s name and badge number and alerted her to my intention to speak with Beverly Miller at the MVTA on Monday morning. She ignored me and I again asked for the information to which she rudely replied that she would provide it to me in a minute.
7. As I was packing up the stroller to disembark, the trainer rattled off her name and badge number. I told her that I patiently waited for her and she would do the same for me. After rattling it off two or three more times before I got it all, I explained to her that the placard did not read “anyone except MVTA staff”, it read “anyone”. It was at this point that she turned her back on me and walked towards the back of the bus for no reason. I told her that she will listen to what I have to say and she continued to walk away. I mentioned again I would be contacting MVTA staff in the morning and then, after I had left the bus, I heard her yell something about wanting my name. She will learn soon enough I’m certain.
Now, the bus line itself is a problem. It’s nothing that it was originally promised to be all those years ago. It does not at all fit the true definition of BRT as it exists elsewhere, it is no different than any other city bus route or anything other than a more direct variation of the several MVTA routes which already head to the Mall of America from Apple Valley.
While the bus line is useless, the fact that after 1.5 years of not riding the bus and taking only two rides before running into some sort of customer service issue from the MVTA is disgusting. Riders are to be treated kindly, fairly, and as adults. All drivers must be reeducated on the stroller policy (including the one who allowed me to continue uninterrupted that morning) and Ms. Larson (#1134) needs to be told to stay behind the line when the bus is in operation and go to some sensitivity training to learn how to better meet the needs of her customers.
What do you think about the failure that is the Red Line (!BRT)? Do you think all rules should be evenly and equally applied? Do you think that MVTA staff should treat customers better than they do? Whatever you have to say about this oe go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear what you have to say.