On Aug. 1, 2007 the main spans of the bridge crossing the Mississippi River on I-35 fell into the river during evening rush hour. Thirteen people died and 100 more were injured in the disaster. One of the leading first responders on the scene was Metro Transit personnel and over the days following the aftermath, the agency proved how it was as much a part of the relief effort as any city agency.
“In this region at least I think that there’s a great awareness that transit is a part and parcel of our fabric and our emergency response,” Lamb says.
“And in fact, the day of the response we had not only our police deployed immediately, but we had buses that were dispatched within the hour down to provide Red Cross immediate staging support.
“We had set up a shuttle operation between Minneapolis City Hall and the site to bring emergency workers and ultimately public officials to and from the site. And all that was coordinated beforehand.
“So this integration in terms of emergency response and that kind of thing doesn’t happen by accident.”
Lamb said he sat back in admiration watching his people volunteer to help others in need during this crisis, “Automatically by the next day we had a commitment that we could expand our peak operation by another 25 vehicles.
“That meant that our maintenance staff that normally had these number of vehicles out on a daily basis had to commit to this many vehicles starting the next day. Our operators staff, which is you know obviously geared toward what you were expecting yesterday, stepped up and did a remarkable job in committing to that many more hours on the street.
“And over the course of the next few days what we did was create a plan that said what can we do to help mitigate the fact that 140,000 vehicles on a daily basis cross this span. And so first of all what we did was we scanned what we had up in the north and the east metro and identified park-and-ride areas, lots, that we still had capacity. We was put together a plan that promoted free rides out of those park-and-rides for the first week following the bridge collapse,” says Lamb.
“[I saw] a really tremendous response. And in fact, not only did we get a response that initial week, but then in subsequent weeks we saw a very strong retention level and so those targeted park-and-rides that we had, we still are seeing 25 to 35 percent increase in utilization out of there, those park-and-rides, over what we had prior to the bridge collapse.”
Lamb pounds his fist on the table and smiles, “But we’re not done.”
Lamb says thanks to $5 million in emergency expenditures authorized by the President and Congress, they can institute a multi-month plan to increase service even more.
“We will be ramping up and serving not only our suburban park-and-ride commuters but also providing more limited stop service, faster point-to-point service within our north urban area as well,” says Lamb, who admits he couldn’t be happier where the planning process is going.
Even before the I-35 bridge collapse Metro Transit had its share of troubles in 2007 with a series of high-profile incidents on its buses. Bus incidents aren’t unheard of, but before 2007, Metro Transit had a safety record nearly five times better than the national average.
“It starts at the very beginning in terms of the people that you hire, but also starts with your training process and your retraining process,” says Lamb.
“We have, I think, a very aggressive and multi-level safety training focus here at Metro Transit that extends beyond the light rail operation that really is part and parcel as part of our bus operations.
“And I’m very pleased with the fact. Now having said that, you still have hundreds of accidents on an annual basis, so there’s always room for improvement. But I think that our safety record really is … I think would rank up there right on the top for big transit systems in the country.
“That to me is the art of any business is being able to know when and how to respond to things that weren’t planned. And this last beginning of the year where we really hadn’t had a significant act of violence — a shooting or whatever — on one of our buses in six years I think prior to that time. Then all of the sudden we had three within a month and a half. And it was like wait a minute!”