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August 2013

Q&A With Metro Transit GM Brian Lamb

Brian Lamb was named GM of Metro Transit in 2004. Previously, he served Metro Transit for nearly 20 years, leaving in 1999 after seven years as director, service development. From 1999 through 2002 Lamb was director, driver and vehicle services, in the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and served as the state’s commissioner, administration, from 2003 until he rejoined Metro Transit.

Today, Lamb oversees a bus and rail system with nearly 2,800 employees who operate two rail lines and nearly 900 buses on 125 routes. Metro Transit, a division of the Metropolitan Council, has a $310 million operating budget.

What brought you to Metro Transit? It was just during the aftermath of the national energy crisis, and people were still very sensitive to gas lines and shortages. I had just finished my studies at the University of Minnesota and was working for a Minneapolis City Council member who happened to be a board member at Metro Transit, or MTC at the time. We got to talking about the importance and the role of public transit and it really intrigued me. I applied and got a six-month temporary job.

Did you ever imagine the agency would grow to what it is today? The short answer in 1980 would have been ‘yes,’ but the short answer in the mid-1980s would have been ‘no.’ Metro Transit, like many other transit systems in the mid-80s, had grown so fast and faced quality and cost issues, which were exacerbated by the resumption of plentiful and cheap gas, causing ridership to wane. It wasn’t really until the 1990s, when we started to focus on our rail growth plans and transitway development, that we started to rebound, ridership wise, and really start to re-engage the community about the importance of transit and how it relates to the overall growth of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region.

Discuss how important the development of rail has been to the region.
Rail has been a great lightning rod, in terms of helping the community understand how transit’s convenience, reliability and amenities can work. Blue Line ridership right out of the gate far exceeded our long-term expectations. In terms of total number of riders, we are still above what we projected for the year 2025.

What is interesting, though, is that the Blue Line also helped stimulate people to use other forms of transit, causing our bus ridership to grow. Overall since we opened the Blue Line in 2004, system ridership has grown every year, except for 2009. We have been encouraged by that growth, since the previous 10 to 15 years, we were always kind of plus/minus zero in terms of ridership growth.

What is your greatest day-to-day challenge? It is really the ability to make sure you are preserving a high-quality system while continuing to develop the system for the next generation. If you lose sight of the fact that you have those dual responsibilities, you will not succeed at either. That means if people don’t feel the current system is being well maintained, they won’t have confidence in being able to invest or make those personal choices in a new system.

By the same token, you have to find ways to invest and reinvest in your current system to support planned growth. For instance with the Green Line, we are realigning much of our current bus system so that the two systems are complimentary in nature and build on each other.


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