Met Council’s Metro Mobility and Transit Link teams pull through tough times

Dec. 16, 2020
The council says its staff as gone the extra mile over the past nine months in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Metropolitan Council (Met Council) says staff at Metro Mobility and Transit Link have made extraordinary efforts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

When COVID-19 first surfaced and the stay-at-home orders went into place, traditional rides on Metro Mobility and Transit Link immediately dropped as customers complied with the order.

“This presented both a problem and an opportunity for these essential services,” said Metro Mobility Senior Manager Christine Kuennen. “The problem was that we had vehicles and bus operators who are crucial to serving our customers who were suddenly idle. The opportunity that staff found, in partnership with our contractors and county mobility management coordinators, was to set in motion new services that would serve the community.”

Metro Mobility staff and vehicles were redeployed this year to deliver groceries to customers and food shelves and provide rides to essential health care workers.

Pivoting to broaden essential services

Regular riders started to come back in July, but both Transit Link and Metro Mobility continue to provide grocery and goods delivery for customers, food shelf delivery, as well as deliver essential health workers to their jobs. In 2020, more than 33,000 food deliveries and nearly 158,000 essential health care worker trips occurred.

To be able to execute these new service lines between Met Council staff and contractors, it meant that all hands were on deck. While staff’s “normal” work may have subsided, new responsibilities and extra hours came into play to provide these critical services. For example, Metro Mobility Service Center staff have taken on the role as key contact tracers.

“Through the first few weeks of launching new services, customer service specialists agreed to work nights and weekends to care for customers and their questions in a time of crisis,” said Metro Mobility Customer Service Manager Andy Streasick. “And, while our call volumes initially dropped in March by more than 65 percent, they’ve rebounded and are now down only about eight percent.”

No one contacted through contact tracing has been symptomatic, speaking to the safety protocols and service adjustments made in the early weeks, as well as the messaging to customers about essential trips and the face-mask requirement, says Met Council.

Contractors, counties and staff working together

These shifts have also enriched the relationship among staff, contractors and counties. Communication and cooperation are fundamental as everyone shares resources and information and supports each other through the changes.

“Early on, food shelf deliveries were done by Metro Mobility providers,” said Contracted Transit Services Manager John Harper. “Those deliveries were transitioned to several Transit Link providers over time to ensure we balanced contractors’ work as Metro Mobility demand increased. This required the coordination of contractors, internal staff and county mobility managers to ensure no food shelves were left behind.”

Metro Mobility and fixed-route contractors also coordinated closely during the response to the civil unrest.

“Since the beginning of the outbreak, we’ve been able to put in place a compensation structure that pays contractors for COVID-related work,” said Kuennen. “This is all while the First Transit East Garage moved facilities from Roseville to Saint Paul and the South Zone transitioned to a new provider.”

Metro Mobility and Transit Link regular ridership has returned to about 50 percent of pre-COVID ridership. Metro Mobility customers are still encouraged to use Metro Mobility for essential trips only.