As in every major metropolitan area, the roads and rails of the greater St. Louis region comprise the arteries that carry its most vital asset — community. Looking back, you can trace how our transportation system both mirrored and propelled a burgeoning St. Louis into the future, street by street, highway by highway, rail by rail. And what was true then remains true today and for tomorrow: one of the most essential forces that will continue moving the greater St. Louis region forward is a transportation system that moves its customers efficiently and connects its passengers with opportunity.
Streetcar lines and bus routes operated by 15 autonomous private firms riddled the St. Louis region in the 1950s, and the subsequent lack of transfers and coordination discouraged ridership, raised fares and caused economic hardship for the firms. By 1960, the plight of public transit in the region was one of the top news stories of the year. The St. Louis region was being hindered, not just by its outdated transportation, but by a lack of a true transportation system. A study commissioned by the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County recommended a unified, regional approach to the public transit quagmire.
In response, St. Louis County Supervisor James McNary proposed that the Bi-State Development Agency (BSDA) acquire all transit facilities in the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the Illinois counties of St. Clair and Madison in order to operate them as a coordinated, single system. It was the bold, sweeping move that was needed to develop a bold, sweeping solution. So in 1963, BSDA officially took over the operations and assets of the various transit facilities it purchased from the region’s 15 private firms.
During the 1970s, the Bi-State Development Agency (BSDA) became one of the first transit agencies in the nation to operate wheelchair-lift equipped buses in regular service, striking a proud, accessibility-oriented position that continues to define how the agency serves its passengers today.
The energy crisis of 1979 spurred dramatic growth in bus ridership, but instead of increasing revenue, higher rider volume strained the system as rising maintenance costs and double-digit inflation actually raised the agency’s cost-per-passenger. At the same time, unfortunately, federal funding could no longer be counted on as a major source of operating funds.
BSDA continued to make progress through the 1980s. The agency established the Arts In Transit program and introduced Call-A-Ride, an ambitious demand-response service designed to ensure accessibility for passengers with disabilities.
In 1987, the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council (the region’s metropolitan planning organization) completed a study that explored several options for transit improvements and selected light-rail transit that interfaced with integrated bus service as the next step forward for the St. Louis region’s public transit system.
BSDA began construction of the MetroLink light-rail system in 1990, taking advantage of miles of available rail bed, expandable railroad right-of-ways, an unused rail deck on the Eads Bridge and tunnels under the downtown Central Business District.
Three years later, on July 31, 1993, MetroLink debuted its services with a three-day, fare-free introduction to the St. Louis region. Everyone had an opportunity to take a ride on the first light-rail system in the St. Louis region. It connected 16 stations positioned along 14 miles of track from St. Louis County in Missouri to St. Clair County in Illinois. More than 180,000 passengers rode MetroLink during the three-day introduction, and by Labor Day, only a month after beginning regular service, the one-millionth passenger boarded MetroLink.
MetroLink expanded service to Lambert Airport in 1994, as well as to the new East Riverfront MetroLink Station. MetroLink added yet another station at Lambert Airport to the East Terminal (now known as Terminal #2) in 1998.
The success of MetroLink was apparent in more than just rising ridership numbers. MetroLink’s contributions to regional economic development were made evident by a notable increase in significant private investments in areas near MetroLink service.
The popularity of the initial MetroLink alignment prompted discussions for expansion farther into Illinois, leading to the development of the St. Clair MetroLink extension and the construction of the new line, beginning in 1998.
Across the nation in 1999, the federal government stopped providing funding for transit operations, creating a financial strain for BSDA and other transit systems across the country. In response, the agency made a number of strategic cost-saving initiatives to improve internal efficiencies and also began planning what would be known as “Metro Redefined,” a complete redesigning of transit services that expanded MetroBus service and frequency, while requiring fewer buses and fewer operator hours.
Although the agency faced funding issues, the system was actually able to grow and expand throughout the decade. In 2001, the agency opened the St. Clair County MetroLink Extension, serving eight new MetroLink Stations from 5th & Missouri in East St. Louis to Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville, IL. MetroLink service grew again with the addition of service to the Shiloh-Scott MetroLink Station in Illinois in 2003, the same year the agency changed its name to Metro,
Metro grew yet again in 2006, when it opened the Cross County MetroLink Extension. The Cross County MetroLink Extension expanded MetroLink service into mid-St. Louis County from Forest Park, serving nine new stations and eight miles into the heart of the region. Metro also began serving seven new MetroBus Transfer Centers while expanding Metro Call-A-Ride service and opening parking facilities at the North Hanley and Brentwood I-64 MetroLink Stations.
Unfortunately, Metro’s ability to provide more service with less funding was curtailed in March 2009, and the agency was forced to temporarily reduce service until the State of Missouri was able to provide a one-time emergency appropriation.
Following the temporary restoration of service, Metro began a public engagement effort with the East-West Gateway Council of Governments to develop Moving Transit Forward, a regional, 30-year transit plan for the St. Louis region based on extensive public input, market research and consideration of existing and future transit technologies.
In April 2010, St. Louis County passed a tax initiative to provide new funding for Metro transit, allowing it to implement the Moving Transit Forward long-range plan, beginning first with the restoration of MetroBus, MetroLink and Metro Call-A-Ride services to their pre-reduction levels of March 2009.
Today, Metro continues to bring the region’s long-range plan to life with projects like the new North County Transit Center (completed in March 2016), which allowed Metro to introduce a more frequent and efficient MetroBus service plan for North St. Louis County, as well as projects in the works like the Civic Center Transit Center expansion and construction of a new MetroLink station to serve the Cortex Innovation Community.
As Metro continues to move the greater St. Louis region into the future, its goal remains the same as it was when it first began transit service in 1963: to operate with transparency, fiscal integrity and efficiency, while ensuring that everyone in the region can reach the important destinations in their lives.
Bi-State Development Agency (BSDA) hires its first female bus operators and establishes its “outstanding record as an equal opportunity employer” by hiring many more women and African-Americans in positions throughout the agency.
BSDA acquires the region’s 15 struggling private transit companies and operates them as a coordinated, single system.
Bus fare in 1963: 25 cents.
The last remaining streetcar line, the Hodiamont line, is retired and its right-of-way is paved over and replaced with bus service.
Bus fare in 1966: 30 cents.
Bus fare in 1969: 40 cents.
The downtown “Scooter” route shuttles customers around downtown for 10 cents. The Six Flags Express introduces service.
Bus fare in 1970: 45 cents.
Bus fare in 1973: Back down to 25 cents after a sales tax was passed.
BSDA purchases 171 new buses that feature new “kneeling” steps to make boarding easier for the elderly and people with disabilities. The agency also becomes one of the first in the nation to use wheelchair lift-equipped buses.
BSDA mechanics go on a six-day strike, marking the last time a strike occurred at the agency.
Bus fare in 1979: Still 25 cents (half the national average).
BSDA begins a garage-replacement-and-expansion program to modernize its transit facilities.
St. Clair County forms its own transit district.
Bus fare in 1980: 50 cents.
BSDA headquarters is moved from 39th and Park to Laclede’s Landing.
Bus fare in 1982: 75 cents.
Madison County forms its own transit district.
Bus fare in 1990: 85 cents.
The pint-sized Forest Park “Shuttle Bug” begins shuttle service in the park.
Bus fare in 1994: $1.
The Clayton-Galleria Shuttle Bee begins service.
The American Public Transit Association recognizes Bi-State Development Agency as the best large transit system in North America.
In a major fleet modernization effort, 61 new buses are ordered.
Bus fare in 1998: $1.25.
BSDA begins serving seven new Bus Transfer Centers and transitions into a “spoke-and-hub” system, creating more-efficient bus connections.
BSDA introduces Automatic Passenger Counters and Automatic Vehicle Locators on buses.
BSDA introduces buses featuring lower floors for easier rider access.
The Bi-State Development Agency begins operating as the “Metro transit system.”
Metro provides transportation and mechanic assistance to Hurricane Katrina victims.
24 Missouri MetroBus routes are eliminated after the region does not establish a new funding source to support transit operations and replace funds discontinued by the federal government.
Full bus service restoration is completed after a new funding source is provided through a tax initiative passed by St. Louis County.
The Downtown Trolley begins service.
Metro’s award-winning bus-maintenance operation is designated as one of the top five in the world.
The Forest Park Trolley begins service in Forest Park.
New fareboxes begin being installed system-wide.
System-wide bus Automatic Vehicle Location tracking project moves forward, allowing riders to track when their buses will arrive.
Bus Fare in 2013: $2.
Metro opens the North County Transit Center in Ferguson, Missouri.Metro breaks ground on the Civic Center Transit Center expansion project, which will expand the center and add new amenities.
Metro Transit completely redesigns its website for more efficient functionality and improved customer appeal, with greater emphasis on customer service and establishing a more personal conversation with its customers.
For more information about the history of the Bi-State Development Agency, itself, click here.