Lakeville commuters can try something new on Monday.
After years without any public transit, there will be an abundance of options this week as Metro Transit and the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority start new commuter bus routes from the southern suburb, eager to woo new riders.
Six buses operated by Metro Transit will shuttle commuters from the new 750-space Kenrick Avenue park-and-ride to downtown Minneapolis each morning and back each evening.
A few miles to the east, five MVTA buses will run along Cedar Avenue from Lakeville to the Apple Valley Transit Station and then continue to downtown Minneapolis in the morning. During the evening commute, the route will reverse.
"It's going to be very popular," said Wendy Wulff, a Lakeville resident and south-metro representative on the Metropolitan Council. "There are a lot of people driving from Lakeville or through Lakeville to get to other park-and-rides."
The excitement over new routes and potential new riders comes amid a contest between the two transit providers, and marks the more urban Metro Transit's first foray into south-metro MVTA's home turf.
MVTA was formed in the 1980s when some suburbs opted out of Metro Transit and formed their own bus services, reclaiming local taxes to build service tailored to their commuters.
Since then, transit funding has changed to rely less on geography, but the suburban "opt-out" providers are increasingly alert to moves by Metro Transit and its parent agency, the Met Council.
Lakeville joined the transit taxing district in 2008, setting up construction of two park-and-rides in the city. When an influx of federal funding sped up the construction plans, MVTA wanted to provide service to both park-and rides.
The Met Council offered MVTA the contract for the service on Cedar Avenue as an extension of the service it already provides along the thoroughfare. But it sought bids for the new route on I-35W, and Metro Transit won over MVTA and First Transit. Metro Transit's proposal was about $22,000 cheaper than MVTA's over five years.
That riled MVTA board members enough that they grilled a representative of the Met Council staff at a recent meeting. But Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said other transit providers aren't viewed as competitors.
"The enemy, in the nicest sense of the word, is the single-occupant vehicle," Gibbons said. "We're all in this to get people to think about making a choice that involves something other than driving alone in a car."
The new routes
Metro Transit's new Route 467 will run from the new 750-space park-and-ride on Kenrick Avenue. In October, that facility will add bus-only entrance and exit ramps to 35W.
For now, the service on Cedar Avenue will originate in the Crossroad United Methodist Church parking lot. It will move to a new 190-space park-and-ride facility at 181st Street when construction there is completed in late October. It was delayed because land acquisition took longer than expected.
MVTA buses will go from Lakeville to the Apple Valley Transit Station for a three-minute stop. Riders will be able to transfer there to buses to downtown St. Paul or continue on to Minneapolis, with a total trip time of 57 minutes.
The buses on both routes are basically the same but with different paint jobs -- comfortable coaches with high-backed cloth seats, reading lights and overhead storage. But Robin Selvig, customer service manager for MVTA, said maintenance staff made one extra adjustment to MVTA's two new buses: "Our seats recline and theirs don't."
Lakeville City Administrator Steve Mielke said the routes may serve slightly different purposes, especially as Cedar Avenue offers more station-to-station bus rapid transit a few years down the road.
"Demand on [Interstate] 35 is going to ramp up very quickly. The one on Cedar will probably take a little longer because they're not direct trips to downtown," Mielke said.
But he noted that for both routes, "We've heard a lot of good buzz."
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056