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April 14, 2011 | 20 Comments

Tired of Paying Through the Hose, Are You or Someone You Know Using Public Transit to Save Money?

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By now, if you drive in St. Louis, you have noticed that gas prices are escalating. At the time of writing, the average price of gasoline is $3.67 in St. Louis and higher in our surrounding Illinois counties.  Now is a great time to use transit, and Metro is getting the word out with a new ad campaign on buses, billboards and radio called “Paying Through The Hose?”

It is no secret that Americans love to drive. Nine out of ten , as we spent approximately $42 billion in gasoline last month alone. A study by American Public Transit Association (APTA) estimates if regular gas prices reach $4 a gallon across the nation, an additional 670 million passenger trips on public transit could be expected, resulting in more than 10.8 billion trips per year. If pump prices jump to $5 a gallon, the report predicts an additional 1.5 billion passenger trips on public transit can be expected, resulting in more than 11.6 billion trips per year.

APTA has a comprehensive fuel savings calculator to determine how much you save on your commute by taking transit.

Have you changed your driving habits in response to higher gas prices? Do you know friends, family or colleagues who are or thinking about trying public transit to save money on gas?  What do you think about the ad campaign? Let us know.

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20 thoughts on “Tired of Paying Through the Hose, Are You or Someone You Know Using Public Transit to Save Money?”

  1. RTBones says:

    No, not at all. The folks I know that are thinking of modifying habits (note: these are people with the ability to choose how they get around, and none of them live within the actual bounds of the city) because of fuel costs are talking about different vehicles, not transit. None of them will get on a bus. Buses are considered unsafe, and when they actually have access to a bus, everybody says they just take too long. Two transfers? Not a chance. Several have said if there were a Metrolink train they could take, they might consider it once or twice a week – but they will not ride a bus (other than to get from the train station to work, MAYBE), particularly as their commute times triple (or more) because of connections required.

    I do have a colleague that lives over in Illinois. He has a Metrolink station 4 miles from his home, and could ride the train and connect with a bus. His problem? It takes too long for him. He has teenage kids with after school activities.
    Transit adds approximately 48 minutes to his commute. Getting to work is not the issue. Getting to activities after work is. The first time the 44 didn’t show up when it was supposed to and he had to take a later train, he’s done. As it is, he has to get back to Illinois, get his car, then go to whatever activity he has. If he drives, he just goes VFR direct from work, saving him loads of time.

    1. Courtney says:

      I can understand dealing with after school activities, but do you ever talking to people about your experiences riding the bus? I have ridden the bus literally thousands of times and find it safe, even as a women. I try to explain that to people who are less familiar and are basing their judgments on assumptions or what they imagine it to be like.

  2. RTBones says:

    Yes, actually I have. Like you, I have ridden the bus quite a bit. None of them want to hang around at North Hanley for more than about 10 minutes to make a connection, something that isn’t possible for some bus connections. We’ve already beaten the headway question to death in previous conversations – when they see how long a bus might potentially take them, and the fact that they might have to switch twice AND hang out at a station for longer than 10 minutes, they turn away. North Hanley is not seen as safe, period. They worry about finding the correct bus. They worry about inclement weather (there isn’t a shelter next to the 44 stop at North Hanley). They worry about missing a connection because the next bus is a half hour later (as has happened to me) – the first meeting they miss because of a bus or late train and they’ll quit riding. They worry about getting home for much the same reason – nearly all have some sort of family obligations in the evening. They worry about being accosted at North Hanley (as I have been multiple times). They worry about the occasional “antics” that go on in the back of the 44 – usually just college students just being loud and obnoxious. They worry about missing the bus because it didn’t come when it was supposed to (like as happened to me multiple times) – or the bus not showing up at all (again, as has happened to me). They worry about where the bus is going because they can’t figure out where they need to be and when. They worry about not being able to have their morning coffee/soft drink on the way in to work.

    In short, riding the bus is not seen as a pleasant experience – particularly given how long it can take. If you had a train, they would be fine, though still skeptical about the connection at North Hanley.

    Again, the types of people I am talking about have the means to choose how they get around. When the average bus (at least in my experience) is 4 – 12 minutes late regularly (unless it is at the beginning of its run) they’ll pass. They have means to choose because they are in positions that require tight schedules, something you don’t have on buses here.

    I should also mention, these guys also won’t be “caught dead” (to use a phrase that I heard when I tried talking about the new Forest Park bus to them) riding either the 99 or Forest Park bus. Most of them are male, but even the females I have talked to don’t want to be anywhere near either bus unless it was an experience for their children/nieces/nephews/grandchildren.

  3. mike says:

    You may be saving on fuel costs at the pump by switching to public transit, but that could be out-weighed by lost money/lost wages resulting from the extra time required riding public transit, particularly when riding the buses in our area.

    For example: Because of poor connectivity, it takes someone, who may be shopping or going to work at the St. Louis Mills Mall, over an hour to ride a bus from the N. Hanley and Frost Av. intersection to the mall, becasue a person making that trip has to ride the southbound #47 bus and backtrack three miles to the N. Hanley Rd. Station, in order to connect to the northbound #35 bus to complete the trip to the mall. It takes me 15 minutes, tops, to drive to that mall from that location. The kicker to this episode is, while someone is waiting for the southbound #47 bus at the stated intersection heading to the H. R. Station, they can often see the northbound #35 bus, which has already left the H. R. Station, traveling over the I-170 overpass, going to the mall. That I-170 overpass is located less than a block from the N. Hanley Rd. and Frost intersection.

    I have on several occasions suggested that some of the #35 buses could actually run over a stretch of Hanley Rd. between Airport Rd. and I-270 to service, the bus stops along that stretch of N. Hanley Rd., even if it’s just only limited service. That would greatly improve accessibility to the mall, making it more convenient for people along that substantially populated stretch of the Hanley Rd. corridor, who would choose to ride the bus to the mall. Also, that would give people long that stretch of Hanley Rd. extra bus service to the H. R. Station at no extra cost, and minimal time and route adjustments because that particular stretch of N. Hanley Rd, runs less than one block parallel to I-170 for just about a mile. The same senario exists for the # 75 bus that travels the same route on I-170 as the #35 bus, which serves the I-270/Dunn Rd. corridor including FVCC and the future Records Center.

    These types of adjustments in making bus service more convenient by improving connectivity and accessibility, and to an extent enhancing service along that stretch of N. Hanley Rd., is an example of how Metro could potentially attract and generate new bus riders. It goes without saying the old cliche “time is money” and most of us can’t afford to waste either one.

    1. Courtney says:

      Thanks for the comment Mike. I sent your feedback to our planning department, and I’ll let you know any sort of feedback I receive.

  4. mike says:

    Thanks Courtney.

    1. Courtney says:

      Mike,

      According to Lance in our Planning Department, there is not enough time unfortunately to go down Hanley Road on the #35 bus.

  5. mike says:

    Thanks Courtney for your response.

    The Planning Dept. alleges there’s not enough time for buses to run down Hanley Rd. as I suggested in my previous posts. And that was the extent of their reply. What kind of reply is that? Was their conclusion based on studies conducted by their department? Was a trial run conducted to determine to see how much of a time adjustment would be required to make that change? They could have provided some basis to support their decision. Bus schedules can be adjusted; they do so when they need to, or that they deemed necessary. I can’t imagine they even gave it any serious thought, because of their short reply (probably less than the amount of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee). Their response indicates that not even a half-hearted effort was made in determining whether the change could work. What does Metro have to lose in implementing that minor change to their routing and possibly their scheduled? The #47 bus primarily runs on an irregular schedule, so they can’t justify using the excuse that the route change for the #35 bus would cause an irregularity with it’s schedule. They may actually gain something if this change was implemented, like more passengers.

    Metro’s survey asked what can be done to attract more bus passengers? The answer: Make bus service more available and more accessible. How can people ride the buses if they are not available to ride. With the current level of service Metro provides, people aren’t going to go out of their way to ride them, at least those that have a choice in the mode of transportation they use. The response provided by the Planning Dept. gives me the impression that they are not willing to take serious steps in an effort to attract new passengers. They seem to make a bigger effort in not attracting new riders. If Metro expects to generate new ridership on buses among those that don’t have to ride them, they are going to have to throw a good sales pitch and convince these people that it is both feasible and convenient to ride buses, which may mean taking chances in making adjustments to bus service, even if it’s on experimental and trial basis.

    One thing for sure, Metro has a long way to go, with trying to get their mechanics right in running a more efficient bus system, before I decide to give up my wheels. I rather pay the higher gas prices and enjoy the convenience of driving my car.

    The response provided by Metro’s Planning Dept. to my comment, especially in the manner it was provided, is an example of the lack of interest that their people who work behind the scene, especially the big wheels who rarely ride buses, have for trying to re-establish its transit system as a viable system, that people would find it easy and more pleasant to use. The tone of their response shows their lack of willingness to want to work with, and for the public.

  6. RTBones says:

    Courtney – aren’t you glad you have folks like Mike and I on here to bring you a fresh challenge every day? 🙂

    I have to say, though – I don’t disagree with him. As I am sure you know, issues like what Mike is discussing with you are what frustrate riders like he and I. We really are in Metro’s corner and want to help. It does seem, though, that at times what we say falls on deaf ears. A short response with little explanation or detail like the one your Planning Department gave Mike tells us, your ridership, that you either didn’t hear what he said, don’t care what he said, or are just giving him ‘lip service’ to get him to be quiet. Mike (and I) don’t need a doctoral dissertation, but it would sure be nice to know the hows and whys in a little more detail than, “sorry, doesn’t work.” We all know Metro has limited funds and rolling stock (err…sorry, train term there….buses). I think I can speak for Mike and myself, though, when I say that I just think there are places it could be better utilized, and a little explanation at times helps guys like Mike and I understand why Metro does things that don’t always make sense to us. If we, as your riders, are going to help you make our system better, then we need to understand what drives some of Metro’s planning decisions.

    To follow up on the Mills Mall connectivity….

    I am surprised there isn’t a mall shuttle that connects Hazelwood, Florissant, and New Town with the Mills Mall. I don’t imagine it would take an awful lot, working with the owners of Mills Mall, to work out where most of their patronage came from and route a bus accordingly. Something that tied in with the 45, 47, and 44 – allowing connections from the north both access to the mall and Metrolink at North Hanley – would seem like a fairly straight forward service.

    1. Courtney says:

      Regarding the response from Planning Department, remember that I am the gatekeeper of translation and information for comments on the blog primarily, so if you have an issue with a curt or unsatisfactory response, then you should take the issue up with me, not the Planning Department. My job is communication; their job is planning the routes. As far as I took the response to mean, it was literally, there isn’t time to make the connections work and still head down Hanley Road. I can try to get a play-by-play explanation for the it, but I know its not because they don’t care or aren’t listening. Sometimes, in a complex system, hard decisions are made, and I can try to explain them as best as possible. I will try to get a more detailed explanation, though it will be later today, and will pass along the feedback on Mills Mall as well.

  7. RTBones says:

    Courtney –

    I should clarify. Please don’t misunderstand – I would never go directly to the Planning Department unless you or Jennifer specifically requested that I do (not that you ever would, but I’m just saying). Ever.

    Part of the problem is that in Mike and I, you have educated riders that the standard, “doesn’t work,” response doesn’t sit well with. If it means a longer, perhaps more technical response is required by email that will take longer to get, so be it.

    We really do just want to help.

    1. Courtney says:

      Oh I know, I just meant that if you all have a problem with the tone of a response, the problem should be blamed on me, not Planning. Ultimately, I’m the one typing the response. I will get a more fleshed out answer this afternoon.

    2. Courtney says:

      I worked with the planning department to figure out a more detailed answer re: the #35. Basically, from what I discerned, the problem is literally not enough time to make the Hanley road part of the run without adding time to the route. We need to have enough time at the end of the line for the driver to use the restroom and have recovery time in case the bus is running late. It will take no less than 5 minutes in each direction to go down Hanley, and it was decided that we do not have the time into the schedule to add 10 minutes on a round trip. However, we do appreciate all of your feedback regarding the matter, and it has been sent and tracked for community feedback on the routes, so thank you.

  8. RTBones says:

    Thanks for digging into the response, Courtney.

    Given our discussions recently, I find it deliciously ironic that Metro can’t run the #35 up Hanley because it takes too much time….

  9. mike says:

    I like that Mills Mall connectivity idea. A key word in that idea is connectivity. The routes buses travel, and the areas that they serve and connect to can be real factors in creating new ridership, if the level of service is reasonable.

    I have passed by the New Town development and I can see that area having real growth potential. The only obstacle that may exist is its location; I can’t recall whether or not New Town is located in St. Charles Co. and I don’t believe St. Charles Co. is included in Metro’s service area.

    I know Metro’s primary objective is to provide service to meet the demands of riders at the level that currently exist, which is more of a reactive approach if they are satisfied with the current level of ridership. Metro may somehow need to take a pro-active approach in finding better ways to creat new demands for its bus service in its quest to generate new riders, even if it means establishing test or experimental routes, or realigning existing routes, in order to gauge such demands for new riders.

  10. mike says:

    Good afternoon Courtney,

    How does the community feedback process work and could it provide a basis for reconsideration of any proposals for service changes?

    Re the #35 bus proposal: I mentioned in my proposals the possibility of operating that route on a limited-run basis down N. Hanley Rd (maybe once every 1 or 2 hours). With the acquisition of new buses arriving and being added to Metro’s fleet, could assigning one of the new buses to the #35 route compensate for the 5 minute lost time it would take for that bus to run down Hanley Rd.?

    Borrowing a bit of RTBones’s idea of Mill Mall Connectivity, the word that stands out ” is connectivity”. Metrobuses should be a convenient way as well as an alternative mode to “open doors” between our communities and points of interest by making them easily accessible. That might be a way of buying new riders.

    1. Courtney says:

      Like other forms of feedback (phone, email, letters), the comments are passed on to appropriate departments and/or customer service and departmentally tracked. The feedback received has been invaluable in working with service changes. Regarding new buses, right now the priority is retiring the aging fleet that is well beyond its typically road life. We weren’t able to purchase enough buses as part of regular cycle for years. I’m not sure what you mean by assigning one of the new buses, because they shouldn’t go any faster necessarily than newer buses. I believe the time addition was physically running up and down Hanley Road, including traffic time.

  11. mike says:

    Courtney,

    I was under the impression that the new buses were going to supplement and increase the current fleet of buses, and not intended for replacement purposes. When I mentioned assigning a new bus, it was intended to mean assigning an additional bus (new or old) to the #35 bus line, because I assumed (shame on me) Metro was going to have additional buses to operate with the arrival of the new buses. I wasn’t assuming that the new buses would have the capacity to run faster for the purpose of making up for the lost trip time. Besides, there are speed limits out there that still must be obeyed, no matter how fast these buses can move.

    1. Courtney says:

      Eventually, the buses can increase the current fleet, but right now, the priority is on at least some replacement for both ourselves and St. Clair County Transit, or shifting around bus sizes from route to route. Typically, the immediate problem of adding routes is not necessarily bus fleet, but the cost to operate extra service per mile. I think that your feedback is very valid and valuable, and that’s why we take the time to understand your point of view and vice versa. We learn quite a bit from passengers and community members who take the time to give feedback.

  12. mike says:

    Continuing my last comment ( I inadvertently hit the submit comment [post comment] button):

    Courtney-Thank you for passing along our comments and suggestions to the appropriate sources for further consideration. I feel I can speak on behalf of RTBones as well as myself, when I say that our feedbacks on Metro’s transit operations are well-grounded and carry a lot of merit with them. Our feedbacks are based on what we observe on a daily basis and are intended to identify areas that may be hindering smoother and more efficient transit operations, in order to provide an easier, more convenient system for riders to use. I feel if Metro utilize their resources to get the mechanics right, especially in operating the bus system, I feel riding Metro (trains and buses) can be a pleasent experience, which may attract new riders.

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