Category Archives: Public transit

Bus–Highway Connections Make Transit More Competitive With Driving

Researchers developed a method for associating travel times and travel costs with transit mobility. In an evaluation of bus–highway system interactions, investigators found that park-and-ride lots and managed lanes put suburban and walk-up urban transit options on equal footing. Bus–highway system interactions improve access to job locations and have improved transit access to job sites by about 20 percent compared to automobile access. When wage-related costs are included, the benefit of automobile use over transit use diminishes significantly.

What Was the Need?

Bus service in the Twin Cities relies on MnDOT-built park-and-ride (PNR) lots and managed lanes—lanes for buses on streets and highways, including high-occupancy lanes—to help transit users travel from the suburbs and urban locations to job, retail, service and entertainment sites. 

One measure of how a transit system of PNR lots and bus service works for users is job accessibility—the number of jobs that can be reached by a mode of transportation within a certain travel time period.

The type of lanes a bus uses impacts travel times via bus, and the differences in these travel times in turn impact the transit user’s ability to reach locations using walk-up transit service. The transit alternative to walk-up service is drive-to-transit service via PNR lots. The Twin Cities transit system intersects with over 100 PNR lots where transit users park their vehicles and take express and limited-stop services to business districts and job locations. 

Understanding the impact of managed lanes and PNR lots on transit effectiveness in terms of job access requires diving into transit and travel data; developing ways to measure accessibility for walk-up, drive-to-transit and automobile-only travel modes; and adjusting methods so the cost of travel and the time of travel can be reasonably compared between modes. 

What Was Our Goal?

MnDOT sought to evaluate how the bus and highway systems interact in terms of job accessibility. The research would consider how managed lanes and PNR lots affect job accessibility for walk-up and drive-to-transit users, compare these findings to automobile-only usage, and profile how well the transit system of the Twin Cities serves users in terms of cost to use and travel time. 

What Did We Do?

In the first stage of work, the research team focused on the managed lane network to determine how it contributes to walk-up transit accessibility. Investigators developed a computer program to modify transit schedule data to reflect how buses operate in different managed lane configurations and calculate walk-up access to jobs systemwide. 

In the second stage, the team developed a method for calculating accessibility via PNR use, and PNR accessibility in terms comparable to access via walk-up transit and automobile use. 

In the third stage, researchers developed a mixed-mode accessibility profile of the system. 

“The researchers did more than just measure mobility; they quantified access to employment in terms of travel time and travel cost, as well. Results put park-and-rides and suburban transit on equal footing with walk-up transit in urban environments.”

—Jim Henricksen, Traffic Forecaster, MnDOT Metro Traffic Forecasting and Analysis 

The research team incorporated a monetary dimension to travel time accessibility measures, associating costs of automobile use, parking fees, transit fare and travel time with travel modes in a value of time unit to compare accessibility between automotive and transit usage. 

What Did We Learn?

Study results showed that PNR lots and managed lanes offer greater access to job sites. The longer the trip to a job site, the more competitive transit becomes with driving for commuting to work. Bus–highway interactions via managed lanes and PNR lots improve transit job accessibility relative to automobile use by 3.8 percent in a 30-minute commute and by 19.1 percent in a 60-minute commute. For the 60-minute scenarios, transit accessibility from the suburbs to the central business district improves by 319,322 jobs for the average worker. 

For managed lanes, the greatest benefit is for suburban regions near express routes. On the I-94 corridor, where the greatest improvement by transit to accessibility is felt, every mile of MnPASS lanes offers an increase of 98 jobs accessible to average riders. 

With express bus service, travel times from PNR lots to destinations decrease by an average of 10.7 minutes for the system. Compared to walk-up transit travel, drive-to-transit from suburban areas offers accessibility values roughly three times greater than travel by walk-up transit, in part because time spent driving in suburbs gets users to more transit facilities than the same time spent walking.  

“We developed tools and methodologies, and applied them metrowide to bring new insights to the role of highway operations and planning on access to jobs through transit.”

—Andrew Owen, Director, Accessibility Observatory, University of Minnesota

Researchers found pockets in the Twin Cities where transit and PNR are more competitive with automotive travel per dollar of travel. These areas highlight urban locations where the transit network is the most robust and suburban areas where automobile travel times are long compared to express transit. When researchers applied wage value to time spent traveling, the benefit of driving rather than using PNR lots and transit dropped 89.6 percent. The relative value of transit may increase further if measures account for productivity on transit. 

What’s Next?

This research helps MnDOT plan future PNR and managed lane facilities to maximize benefit to transit services. Value of time models and comparisons offer a way to measure the relative value of transit to automobile use in accessing jobs. 

Future analysis may include long-term fixed costs associated with vehicle ownership and show further improvement in the comparative value of transit services to automobile use. Methods from this study may also be applied to other mixed-mode transit options, like biking, scooters or ride-sharing to transit access points.

This Technical Summary pertains to Report 2019-17, “Accessibility and Behavior Impacts of Bus-Highway System Interactions,” published April 2019. Visit the MnDOT research project page for more information.

A MnPASS lane on Interstate 394 at the General Mills Boulevard exit. The express lane is closest to the highway median, indicated by a white diamond-shaped marker on the pavement and separated from three other traffic lanes by a solid white line. A highway sign above the lane indicates the fees for lane use.
MnPASS lanes are managed lanes that offer buses quicker access to downtown.

MnDOT Chooses EasyMile for Autonomous Shuttle Bus Project

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Department of Transportation chose EasyMile, a France-based company specializing in driverless technology, to lead its autonomous shuttle bus pilot project. MnDOT announced in June it will begin testing the use of an autonomous shuttle bus in a cold weather climate.

“We’re excited to partner with EasyMile to help MnDOT test autonomous technology,” said Jay Hietpas, MnDOT state traffic engineer and project manager. “Their expertise will help us learn how these vehicles operate in a winter weather environment so we can advance this technology and position MnDOT and Minnesota as a leader.”

EasyMile, which has a location in Colorado, has conducted driverless technology cold weather tests in Finland and Norway. Minnesota will be their first cold weather test site in the U.S. EasyMile will use its EZ10 electric shuttle bus that has already transported 160,000 people more than 60,000 miles in 14 countries. The shuttle was tested in various environments and traffic conditions. During these tests, the shuttle operated crash-free.

The shuttle operates autonomously at low speeds on pre-mapped routes. It can transport between six and 12 people.

Initially, it will be tested at MnROAD, which is MnDOT’s pavement test facility. Testing will include how the shuttle operates in snow and ice conditions, at low temperatures and on roads where salt is used.

Testing is scheduled to start in November and go through February 2018. The shuttle will also be showcased during the week of the 2018 Super Bowl.

Hietpas said 3M will also be a partner in the project so the company can research various connected vehicle concepts including sensor enhancement and advanced roadway safety materials. When optimized, these materials would aid in safe human and machine road navigation.


Read more about the autonomous shuttle bus pilot project:


Related MnDOT research:

For millennials, car ownership and family life may not be obstacles to transit use

As the millennial generation comes of age, indications of a significant generational change in travel behavior have raised hopes of robust growth in transit use. As a whole, this generation owns fewer cars, drives fewer miles, and uses transit more than previous generations. However, one key question remains: will millennials continue their high rates of transit use as the economy improves and they increasingly settle down and start families?

“In older generations we have seen significant declines in transit use that coincide with the transition to family life and child rearing,” says Andrew Guthrie, a research fellow and Ph.D. candidate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. To gain insight into the question of whether the millennial generation will be different, Guthrie looked for changes in the extent that two factors—young children in a household and access to a vehicle—affect transit use.

The study, conducted with Humphrey School associate professor Yingling Fan, looked for evidence of these bellwether changes in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul region between 2000 and 2010. This period saw the opening of the region’s first modern light-rail line as well as numerous bus system improvements, including a network of high-frequency local routes. In addition, the region has a strong, knowledge-based economy and has seen an in-migration of millennials.

The researchers used data from the detailed Travel Behavior Inventory conducted by the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council in 2000 and 2010 to compare travel behavior at both the trip and person levels.

Their analysis revealed that both young children in a household and access to an automobile have become “weakening obstacles” to transit use. “Specifically, research models show that participants with access to an automobile were more likely to use transit in 2010 than in 2000, and that participants with young children in their households were less likely than others to use transit in 2000 but not in 2010,” Guthrie says.

“Our models provide strong evidence that the basic relationship between transit use and the presence of young children in a household has changed, as has the relationship between transit use and access to an automobile,” Fan adds. “In fact, regardless of the specific modeling approach, these two traditional obstacles to transit use either weakened or disappeared entirely between 2000 and 2010 in the Twin Cities region.”

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that transit may now be better able to hold on to market share as its millennial users mature and start families, especially in urban areas where walk-and-ride trips are most common. In order to attract and accommodate these transit users, researchers believe ensuring an adequate supply of family housing and family-oriented community features such as high-quality schools and playgrounds in transit-served areas will be critical.

The research this paper was based on was part of a larger project funded by the Metropolitan Council and MnDOT. The paper was recently published in the Transportation Research Record.

Access Across America: University of Minnesota ranks accessibility to jobs by transit

New research from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota ranks 46 of the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States for accessibility to jobs by transit.

The new rankings, part of the Access Across America study begun last year, focus on accessibility, a measure that examines both land use and transportation systems. Accessibility measures how many destinations, such as jobs, can be reached in a given time.

“This project provides the most detailed evaluation to date of access to jobs by transit,” says Andrew Owen, director of the Observatory. “We directly compare the transit accessibility performance of America’s largest metropolitan areas.”

The findings have a range of uses and implications. State departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit agencies can apply the evaluations to performance goals related to congestion, reliability, and sustainability. In addition, detailed accessibility evaluation can help in selecting between project alternatives and prioritizing investments.

“It can help reveal how the costs and benefits of transportation investments are distributed,” Owen says.

Top 10 metro areas: job accessibility by transit (January 2014)

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Washington
  5. Chicago
  6. Boston
  7. Philadelphia
  8. Seattle
  9. Denver
  10. San Jose

The report—Access Across America: Transit 2014—presents detailed accessibility values for each of the 46 metropolitan areas, as well as detailed block-level color maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area. In addition, time-lapse map videos for each area are forthcoming and new analysis of the data from the accessibility to jobs by transit rankings will be published periodically. Upcoming reports in the Access Across America series will explore more detailed aspects of transit accessibility to jobs, including accessibility to jobs of different wage levels and a comparison with accessibility by car.

In the study, rankings were determined by a weighted average of accessibility, giving a higher weight to closer jobs. Jobs reachable within 10 minutes were weighted most heavily; jobs were given decreasing weight as travel time increases up to 60 minutes. Travel times were calculated using full transit schedules for the 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. period. The calculations include all components of a transit journey, including “last mile” access and egress walking segments and transfers.

“Accessibility is the single most important measure in explaining the effectiveness of the urban transportation system,” says David Levinson, University of Minnesota civil engineering professor and principal investigator on the project.

According to Owen, accessibility can be measured for various transportation modes, to different types of destinations, and at different times of day. “There are a variety of ways to define accessibility,” Owen explains, “but the number of destinations reachable within a given travel time is the most directly comparable across cities.”

The research is sponsored by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota. Accessibility Observatory reports, including the analysis of job accessibility by auto published last year and interactive maps, are available on the Access Across America: Transit 2014 web page.

Do streetcars support commercial development? New Orleans results say yes

New streetcar lines are in the planning stages in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Proponents cite not only the lines’ ability to strengthen the transit system, but also their potential as catalysts for development. Estimating the impacts of streetcars is challenging, however, as most U.S. lines operate in downtown areas with many interrelated factors at play. A recent U of M research project examined the issue through the prism of one city’s experience: post-Katrina New Orleans.

The team—research fellow Andrew Guthrie and Assistant Professor Yingling Fan of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs—analyzed building permits near streetcar stops in the downtown business district and in several urban neighborhoods.

“Hurricane Katrina allowed—or required—more redevelopment to occur at a faster pace than 
normal, potentially allowing existing streetcar lines’ latent development impacts to appear,” Guthrie says. “This created an unfortunate yet rare opportunity for study.”

streetcars

The researchers estimated how the frequency of commercial and residential permits changed with distance from streetcar stops, controlling for hurricane damage, proximity to existing commercial areas, and pre-Katrina demographics.

They found that throughout the system, building permits strongly reflect the distance to stops—and that commercial and residential permits move
 in opposite directions within the first 750 feet.

Commercial permits declined the further away the location was from a stop. In residential areas, commercial permits show variation depending on neighborhood characteristics. The number of neighborhood residential permits rose about 24 percent with every 100 feet from a stop.

Based on their results, Guthrie and Fan conclude that traditional streetcar lines can help increase commercial development not just in downtown business districts, but in other urban areas as well. The findings also indicate that streetcars
 shape development in urban neighborhoods in
 a fundamentally different fashion than light rail.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.

Transitways spurring economic growth and development, improving mobility, and supporting equity

Landmark regional investments such as the transit expansion underway in the greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area have the potential to significantly change long-term land-use patterns and travel behavior. They also raise important questions for policymakers and elected officials regarding the potential return on investment.

ImageA new synthesis report from the Transitway Impacts Research Program (TIRP) pulls together seven years of research conducted by University of Minnesota researchers to help answer these questions. The report summarizes the actual and projected impacts of transitways on the Twin Cities region, offering lessons learned to help guide the build-out of the rest of the network most effectively. It concludes with a set of implications for policymakers.

The Twin Cities metro region is in the midst of a transit build-out. The Metro Blue Line (formerly known as Hiawatha), Red Line (Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transit), and Northstar Commuter Rail are in operation, and the Green Line (Central Corridor) opens next year. All are part of an expanding regional transit network.

Under the TIRP program, which was launched in 2006, University of Minnesota researchers provide an objective analysis of data, public perceptions, and complex impacts resulting from transitway investments. Their research is unique in its breadth, scope, and ability to provide real-time analysis of the changes experienced when a region introduces high-quality transit service.

“This body of research and objective analysis confirm the many positive ways that expanding our transit network supports economic competitiveness, greater accessibility to jobs, opportunities for populations with low incomes, and enhanced livability for our whole region,” says Kate Wolford, president of The McKnight Foundation, the synthesis sponsor. “This report undergirds why the accelerated build-out of our transit system is so important for the future prosperity of our region and its residents.”

More information about the synthesis and key findings

New report: NEMT Coordinators in Minnesota

Under Minnesota’s fee-for-service Medical Assistance (MA) program, Minnesota counties are responsible for providing transportation assistance to MA recipients so they can obtain health-care services. This assistance is commonly referred to as non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT).

NEMT_cover_screenshot.jpgA new report, NEMT Coordinators in Minnesota: A Survey of How Minnesota Counties Use Coordinators to Deliver Non-Emergency Medical Transportation, published by the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access based on research conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs documents how select Minnesota counties use transportation coordinators in providing and administering NEMT under the state’s fee-for-service MA program.

In the surveyed counties, the use of a coordinator generally made the delivery of NEMT more efficient and streamlined than it had been with previous approaches. Coordinators have increased efficiency principally by centralizing both transportation expertise and the ride arrangement processes, either internally within the county government or externally with an outside coordinator.

About the Council

The Minnesota Council on Transportation Access (MCOTA) serves as a clearinghouse to address transportation coordination topics from a statewide perspective. The Minnesota State Legislature established the group in 2010 (MN Statute 2010 174.285). The group includes member representatives from thirteen agencies.

MCOTA’s work focuses on increasing capacity to serve unmet transportation needs, improving quality of transit service, improving understanding and access to these services by the public, and achieving more cost-effective service delivery. In addition, fostering communication and cooperation between transportation agencies and social service organizations leads to the creation of new ideas and innovative strategies for transportation coordination and funding.

Learn more at www.CoordinateMNTransit.org.

Congestion-reduction measures on I-35W: How well do they work?

In an effort to combat congestion in our country’s urban areas, the United States Department of Transportation launched the Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) program in 2007. The program infused nearly $900 million into transportation-related projects in four cities nationwide, including the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Minnesota’s projects—which include the installation of MnPASS dynamic toll lanes and variable message signs—focused on improving traffic flow in the I-35W corridor between Minneapolis and the city’s southern suburbs.

To understand the effectiveness of measures implemented under the UPA program, a team of University of Minnesota researchers examined three separate but related areas: the effects of a new variable speed limit (VSL) system, the impact of severe weather conditions on road safety, and the behavior and traffic impacts of bus rapid transit operations. Their work was funded by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute, a part of CTS.

Key findings included:

  • Drivers don’t typically comply with advisory speed limits posted on VSL signs along the I-35W corridor during congested conditions, but they may use them to help gauge and prepare for downstream congestion—resulting in a smoother and possibly safer traffic flow
  • Some parts of the corridor’s shoulder lanes—which are opened to traffic during specific times of the day as part of the UPA program—contain low areas that can flood during heavy rains
  • Buses traveling on the corridor underuse the MnPASS lane. In addition, bus lane changes (from stations located in the median to those located on the right side of the highway) can generate visible disturbances during moderate and heavy congestion, but they don’t seem to contribute to the breakdown of traffic flow

For more information, read the full article in the September issue of Catalyst.

U of M Research: Spurring private-sector development along transit corridors

developmentA new research study is recommending ways to make it easier for developers and employers to select sites that encourage living-wage jobs and mixed-income housing near transit.

A key finding of the study, which was based on interviews with developers and business leaders, revealed a pent-up demand for transit access in the Twin Cities metropolitan region.

A team led by University of Minnesota researchers Yingling Fan and Andrew Guthrie found that providing a great work location is critical for employers in recruiting highly skilled young professionals who are likely to desire—or demand—urban living and access to transit.

They also found that multifamily residential developers, redevelopment specialists, and large corporate office tenants have a strong interest in transit-accessible sites, but regulatory barriers, cost issues, and uncertainty surrounding future development of transit often discourage both developers and businesses from selecting such sites.

More details about the study and key recommendations

What happens when you incentivize transit use during construction projects

In 2010, MnDOT began a three-year long, $67 million repair and upgrade project on I-35 in Duluth. Dubbed the “Mega Project,” it created a serious disruption for Duluth-area commuters. To help mitigate the impact, the Duluth Transit Authority stepped up its bus services, offering free rides in newly established bus-only express lanes as well as access to new park-and-ride lots and various other enticements. Perhaps not surprisingly, many area residents took advantage of their new transit options to avoid construction-related travel delays. But what’s really interesting is what happened after the construction ended.

As described in a recently published MnDOT/University of Minnesota study, commuters who started taking the bus to avoid traffic caused by the construction ended up continuing to ride the bus even after the construction ended. Researchers surveyed riders during and after the 2010 and 2011 construction seasons and found that, even after bus fares went back to normal levels, only 15 percent of the new bus users switched back to driving. Researchers concluded that once riders developed a habit of using transit, the habit tended to stick.

The report author sums up the phenomenon quite nicely in her executive summary:

Human beings are creatures of habit. Most of us travel the same route every day to the same destination. Sometimes, however, something comes along to push us to examine our habits and possibly change them. A major highway construction project can be such an event. (…) This provides a very good opportunity to examine our travel patterns and possibly change our habitual modes.

Of course, this change didn’t just happen on its own. As the technical summary notes, the DTA marketed its services aggressively during this period. (The above photo is just one example.) The study also noted that the elimination of expanded bus services in the winter had a negative impact on ridership.

Read more: