Minnesota Puts the Masses in Mass Transportation

Posted August 5, 2008 at 1:13pm

When the Straight Talk Express rolls into the Twin Cities for the Republican National Convention, it will be bringing with it 45,000 people scrambling to move between downtown Minneapolis, a hot spot for nighttime activities; Bloomington, a southwest suburb and hotel hub; and St. Paul, home to the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is being held.

With limited parking near the convention center, the Host Committee drew up a plan early on to encourage convention- goers to use public transportation for travel throughout the Twin Cities. Because the convention falls on Labor Day weekend, organizers expect many locals will head north to lake-house getaways, alleviating some of the congestion.

Landlocked delegates, meanwhile, will be shuffling between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and convention planners are pushing them to ride public transportation and take advantage of the GOP’s bus service. The Host Committee is even working with local cab drivers, giving etiquette classes and offering free car washes, to make sure the city is prepared for the Beltway boom.

The Basics

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area, flanked by the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, is home to about 3 million people, a Big Ten university and some of the Midwest’s most notorious winters. In the summertime, locals take to the outdoors, enjoying the area’s waterfront features and rooting for the Minnesota Twins.

Most of St. Paul’s 273,000 locals drive throughout the state capital. Metro Transit operates nearly 735 buses throughout the Twin Cities, though service in St. Paul will be rerouted because of convention security at the Xcel Energy Center.

Some of Minneapolis’ 373,000 residents use Metro Transit’s light-rail system, which launched in 2004. Bus and rail fares range from $1.50 to $2. The 12-mile-long light rail has 17 stops, including downtown Minneapolis, the Metrodome, the University of Minnesota, 11 city neighborhoods, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America. Unlike the Metro in Washington, D.C., the light rail is on a single line track. Cabs in both cities charge $1.90 per mile.

From the Airport

Nearly 300 convention volunteers will be stationed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to help convention- goers find their way. Downtown Minneapolis is 16 miles from the airport, and taking a cab will cost $35 to $40. A cab ride to Bloomington, where some of the 100 hotels are located, costs about $15 to $18. Many of the hotel chains also have airport shuttles running every half-hour from outside the baggage claim area.

The Hiawatha Line, the city’s light-rail system that serves around 35,000 riders daily, is a cheaper option. Travelers can hop on the line at the Humphrey Terminal or the Lindbergh Terminal, the airport’s main terminal, and travel south toward the Mall of America and Bloomington, or north for downtown Minneapolis. Trains run about every seven minutes between 4 a.m. and 1 a.m., and more frequently during rush hour. Metro Transit has a trip planner on its Web site, metrotransit.org.

From Hotels to Convention Center

Nearly all the Republican delegates will travel from their hotels to the Xcel Energy Center via the GOP Express, a line of more than 300 buses hired during convention week, said Mike Vallante, chief of staff for the convention Host Committee. Credentialed press and guests will also be able to ride free on the buses, which will travel between the 100 convention hotels and the Xcel Energy Center. “We’re really telling folks to use the GOP Express to get around,” Vallante said.

The GOP Express will move people only between the convention hall and hotels. Traveling elsewhere will require taking public transportation, renting a car or hailing a cab.

From Hotels to Hot Spots

The Hiawatha Line has stops in most of Minneapolis’ popular neighborhoods, with many of those turning into nighttime hot spots where there are likely to be hospitality parties. On the northwest side of town just off the Warehouse District is the Target Center, the arena that will host a handful of convention parties, and the theater district. The Guthrie Theater in the Riverfront District is off the Downtown East/Metrodome stop and will serve as a convention party site during the week. For those staying out late, cabs cost about $15 from downtown Minneapolis to Bloomington cost and about $20 to St. Paul.