NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Tuesday July 25th 2017

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Blue Line Changes & Driver “Picks” Plus “Peeing” PUBLIC TRANSIT

BY JOHN CHARLES WILSON

Well, last month I promised my next column on public transit would be more Phillips-specific. My original plan was to write about the June 17, 2017 schedule changes. Fortunately for Phillips but unfortunately for me, there are very few changes this time around that affect Phillips. One morning and one evening trip daily on the Blue Line is being cancelled, an early morning trip on Route 5 is moving three minutes later, and minor adjustments to better reflect real travel times are being instituted on Route 21. The most significant change will affect weekend Night Owl service on the Blue Line. Since last Fall, the Mall of America station has been closed from 2:10 to 3:45 AM, Monday to Friday, probably to discourage the homeless from making it an unofficial shelter. Now the Mall has extended the closure to seven days a week. There are two Blue Line trains which arrive at MOA between those hours on weekends only. As I understand it, they still will operate, but no one will be allowed to leave the train at the Mall. In addition, the last weekend train, which arrives at 3:39 AM, will remain in service back as far as Franklin Avenue instead of going off duty.

That said, I shall digress into a little history and Metro Transit operations lesson. Nowadays, schedule changes are coordinated with driver “picks” and happen four times a year. There was a time when they happened at more or less unpredictable intervals. What is a “pick”? Essentially, a pick is when the drivers get to pick their assigned pieces of work for the next season. This is done in order of seniority, so the drivers who have been there the longest get first choice. New drivers usually get hectic routes like the 5 or the 21, or ones with little time at the end of the line or nowhere to use the bathroom. Drivers got away with peeing in the back stairwells of their buses in the 1970s but that wouldn’t fly today. Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas usually end up with the newest drivers too. It takes about ten years to be able to get a low-stress suburban route with a safe, legal, place to pee and ten minutes at each end. Then there’s the “extra board”, transit’s equivalent of substitute teachers, on-call drivers waiting for someone to not show up for their shift.

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