About half of SouthWest Transit’s Tail lines were cut May 20 and the other half were converted to shuttle routes, as the company continues to concentrate efforts toward its on-demand service, Prime.

The Tail lines, which were primarily concentrated in Eden Prairie, were an extension of the Express service. The lines brought riders from various neighborhoods to Park and Ride hubs, before riders would begin their trips to downtown Minneapolis.

Director of Operations Matt Fyten said the move comes after Express service numbers dropped, and demand increased for Prime. He said riders accustomed to the Tail lines will find scheduled shuttle stops and more Prime vehicles on the road.

“We’re putting a more productive service out,” he said, “and we’re suspending a less productive service with hopefully a very minimal impact.”

Eleven tails have been ended out of the 24, while the other 13 are converted to scheduled shuttle times. The Prime service was expanded by 30 driver hours, translating to an addition of two to three Prime vehicles throughout the day.

Riders who now rely on Prime service without fixed shuttle times will be scheduling rides, which have wait times of 20 minutes or less. The on-demand service will be able to offer rides across Carver County and Eden Prairie, and is comparable to services such as Uber and Lyft, he said.

“It started to be, in our eyes at least, a redundant service to have these local tail portions of our routes,” he said, “and also to provide a service which can meet the needs of the local route.”

Public hearings were held in Eden Prairie, Chaska and Chanhassen prior to the May 20 change. Attendance was higher in Eden Prairie, Fyten said, likely due to the higher overall population and the greater number of tails.

He said the company initially planned to cut 17 tails except for a few high ridership tails in Eden Prairie. When public feedback indicated 17 was too high, special Prime services were added — essentially, set times for Prime vehicles to act as a shuttle by picking up and dropping off riders at fixed times at the Park and Ride.

“We are constantly monitoring our services,” Fyten said, “and will not hesitate to make changes to improve service to our riders when it can be done so in a cost effective manner.”

Changes in demand

SouthWest Transit saw ridership of its Express lines dip by 4% over 2018, according to an annual report. Fyten said from 2016 on, ridership on the line went down more than 10%.

On the other hand, Prime services are on the up and up. Prime services had a hefty jump in 2017, when the service gave 70,000 rides and had a 40% increase from 2016. It is now servicing more than 450 rides a day.

Lara is a regional reporter for Southwest News Media.

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