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May 17, 2011 | 12 Comments

nineVoices.org Video: Must Bus St. Louis: Riding Buses to Engage with St. Louis

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Hitomi Inoue loves riding the bus.  In fact, she even held a “bus duel” with one of her friends to see who could ride the most routes.  So it is not surprising that the young St. Louisan chose buses as her topic for her KETC nineVoices video. She interviewed me and Patrick Brown of the St. Louis City Mayoral Office about why we love riding buses, and her thoughts on how riding buses is a form of civic engagement.

People have different and creative ways of encouraging people to take the bus. Some might encourage a coworker, some of us tweet and blog, and Inoue, in addition to being an avid rider herself, makes videos. It’s a great community of people in St. Louis promoting transit use. Be sure to check out the great footage of St. Louis neighborhoods in the video.

The nineVoices project encourages contributors to create videos on their thoughts on community-related issues from transportation to education to healthcare and jobs.

In her nineVoices description, Inoue writes: “Riding the bus is an easy way to be more engaged in your community and to learn about St. Louis. Court Sloger from Metro and Patrick Brown from the Mayor’s Office talk about how riding the bus opens their eyes to the world outside of their bubble.”

Must Bus St. Louis

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Categories:
Metro Lifestyle, Transit Benefits

12 thoughts on “nineVoices.org Video: Must Bus St. Louis: Riding Buses to Engage with St. Louis”

  1. RTBones says:

    I can’t let this one go, Courtney. You know me. 🙂

    In the interest of full disclosure, Metro has let me down no less than three times in the past week and a half or so (missing, late or non-existent buses), so I am not exactly thrilled with your service right now. I don’t mean the tone of this to be harsh or antagonizing, and apologize in advance if it comes off that way – but there are some things that need to be pointed out. Also remember – this comes from someone who has the means to choose and holds monthly pass. I use the system.

    “Riding the bus is an easy way….” Really? In St. Louis? There is nothing “easy” about riding the bus in St. Louis unless you know where you are going. Your signs are horrid, your headways are too long, your transfer stations (Civic Center, CWE, Clayton) are disorganized messes. Good luck finding your appropriate bus stop if you have never used the system. If you don’t have mobile access, you’re stuffed. There are no maps and few timetables available. In short, unless you’ve done your homework ahead of time or are riding with someone who knows the system, forget it.

    From the video:

    “Riding the bus is an easy step almost anybody can take.” The question I have is how long has the author lived in St. Louis – because the system only functions if you live close in. If you live within the 270 loop, there is a _chance_ you can get a bus if you plan for it – but you really need to be inside 170 for it to work. The vast majority of the people who live in the St. Louis area live OUT. Of the folks the live out – most won’t catch a regular bus because it takes too long and is seen as unsafe. Very few people who can choose will put up with being hit up for bus/train fare more than once.

    Pat Brown: “…you see all walks of life. You see the business person, the homeless person, the single parent…” Again, I’d ask Pat what buses he’s riding and when. Metro caters to low income riders, not people who can choose. On the train, yes – you will see a cross section of demographics. On the bus, you predominantly see people who can’t drive for one reason or another. If you need to be someplace on time, find another way to get there. Nobody rides the buses because you can’t count on them and there are so few of them. As the Post Dispatch article pointed out yesterday, only one in four commuters can get to their job in 90 minutes – which is three times what it takes to drive it here. On my commute _this morning_ (by Metro), several regular riders were complaining about buses just not showing up. Sorry, but unless I know I have margin, I’ll find another way.

    Pat Brown: “…people are afraid of getting lost…” Yes, this is true. Right, wrong, or indifferent, St. Louis has a reputation for crime. Not many people I know (across several racial and economic boundaries) would be comfortable riding the buses at night without being with someone who knew where they were going.

    Pat Brown (along the same lines as the previous quote, discussing getting lost) “…I don’t know what bus I’m supposed to take, I don’t know where I need to go…” This is squarely Metro’s fault. Metro doesn’t provide maps or schedules at stops. Again, if you don’t have mobile access, you’re stuffed. You want me to take the bus? Then make the system easy to use when and where I need it.

    Courtney: “…a neighborhood level service…” In general, I’d agree with you. The problem is finding out when the buses actually run. Trip Finder regularly drops routes and connections I know I can take. I know the routes and connections are there because I use the system – I shouldn’t HAVE to do that. People that can choose will honestly not be bothered because it takes too much time and effort to figure out. Many times, I find myself cross-referencing the bus timetables with what Trip Finder will tell me because I don’t trust it. Metro has absolutely no concept of “turn up and go.”

    Pat Brown: “…you’re in your car alone. You take your same path every single day….” OK, how is that different riding a bus? The answer is, it isn’t. Yes, you have more people on the bus, but other than perhaps changing bus times (which is just like driving into work a little earlier or later) you will likely be on the same bus route every single day.

    Narrator: “…St. Louis need to embrace buses as a viable transit option….” True, but the narrator misses the point. We’d be happy to take buses – provided Metro would actually MAKE IT A VIABLE OPTION. For buses to be an option, they need to go where I need to go, when I need to go (within reason), in a timely fashion, and be reliable. The sad thing is in St. Louis, they really aren’t any of those things unless you are of a certain demographic.

    Metro does itself no favors by advertising the way it does. Yes, there is a market for your “cute” 99/FP bus ads on TV. Guess what? It isn’t transit riders, because nobody that rides transit takes either of those services seriously. You want people to ride? Then show us you actually have a working, useable system – not an attraction for the kids to ride. Give me a map of routes, connections, and a timetable – not a sideshow.

  2. RTBones says:

    I feel a follow-up is in order:

    http://www.stltoday.com/suburban-journals/metro/news/article_c9d016a0-95a4-5216-a0f4-847131b9ca2e.html

    This article in the Post highlights some of the benefits of transit – including the social aspects pointed out in this post. But what I’d like to point out to Metro is a _key_ point, approximately two thirds the way through the article:

    “Scott said the trip takes about an hour by bus each way, as opposed to 45 minutes by car.”

    This is huge. The difference in commute time is 15 minutes, not double or triple the time, but 15 minutes. You find a way to make THAT happen across the system (not just one route), and you’ll have more riders than you know what to do with.

    1. Courtney says:

      RT, I agree, that is definitely the ideal. With unlimited resources, it would be great to increase frequency and routes to insure such a comparable headway to driving a car. And many routes do have similar times, especially in denser corridors. Nearly all of my bus commute options are within that 15 minute window. But many suburban or less dense or frequent routes may have an increase in time because they typically don’t get on the highways. But it is important to note that bus transit is, unlike roads, a dynamic transportation system and has the opportunity to change or alter its course, reflecting the needs of the community with the resources available.

  3. RTBones says:

    Courtney –
    Oh, I fully realize that it just isn’t feasible to have EVERY commute within that 15 minute window. But a commute that is between double and triple drive time should at least be looked at. If you have the time, fair enough. But many don’t have that luxury.

    My own commute, when I take Metro, is about double. If I drive, its 24-30 minutes. Taking Metro, its 54-60 minutes. Here’s the thing though – I have a very limited window. I try to allow enough time that I can take at least the next service and not be hampered too much. If I absolutely have to be there, though, I’ll drive. I can’t take the chance of a missed connection because of the wait time involved.

    My point is – this is a serious issue when it comes to attracting ridership.

  4. RTBones says:

    Courtney –

    Yes, a follow-up to my follow-up. Your post today mentions that it is an eye opener to ride the bus, and it connects you with your community.

    Here is my challenge for you: For a week, have several members of Metro live out (stay in a hotel, or with friends out there if you have them). You dont have to go far. Do it in, say, Kirkwood, Manchester/Ballwin, somewhere South County, or maybe Westport. Then, for that week, take transit in to work and as much as you can when doing things not work-related. If you really want a challenge, stay out by the airport in Chesterfield. Then ask yourself why more people don’t ride the buses.

    1. Courtney says:

      I realize that the areas that you mention have less frequency of service than other areas in the region, which is a function of employment and population density and community need. Some routes are more coverage routes with less frequency, I realize this and it can be very frustrating. But we do the best we can with the resources available. And we do have members of Metro that take buses home, myself included, though I chose to live in an area with heavier transit service.

  5. RTBones says:

    G’morning, Courtney –

    To continue yesterday’s discussion – I know you have Metro members that take buses home, I’ve actually ridden with some of them. There is also no doubt that you are funding limited. Anything and everything you do will cost money, which has to come from somewhere.

    I just think you could invest your money more wisely.

    A common theme I hear is that Metro is difficult to take. The video in this post even mentions it. Signs and maps would help with this. I realize doing the entire system at once could be prohibitively expensive, but why not try it with one of your transfer centers – say CWE. A simple map (like a Google map) with the route highlighted, and colored dots with connecting bus numbers where connections are – and Metro’s M logo for Metrolink connections. A simple timetable (much like what you have on your website) could be placed alongside or underneath the map. On the top, you would have a colored dot with the bus number, and whatever name the bus has (like 1 Gold) These could be attached to a pole where each bus parks. In a broader perspective, you could have a larger map with each route (color coded, naturally) that leaves CWE station on it (basically, combining all the maps for CWE into one) on a wall or freestanding. The map would show the neighborhood, with a few landmarks (cathedral, hospital, etc) Have them professionally done (don’t make it look like I could have printed these myself at home.)

    To another point – obviously, we all have choices on where we live. Like you, I chose to live somewhere that I could get around, at least nominally, without a car if I needed or wanted to. Public transport is important to me. Others prefer to live out. The frustration you mention, though, is palpable. What bothers me (in close competition with lack of service) is that the system is difficult to use. There have been countless times where I have taken Metro to a destination, and found another mode of transport back because making the return was just flat hard. It shouldn’t be that way.

    Finally, there is Metro’s image – which isn’t good. Most people I know don’t mind Metrolink (in fact, many actually want the train system to expand), but they make a distinction between the train and bus service. The buses are seen as transport for poor people, unsafe (everything from the bus itself to your transfer stations), and generally not well run. While I have my own issues with the 99/3, most folks I know see your decorated buses as a childish waste of money (even though you’ve said in previous posts that the funding for both services came from different sources – that isn’t common knowledge). They are seen as yet another misstep by an organization that filed a lawsuit and lost badly – even though most of the people who were involved in that have now moved on. That is what people remember. Perception is sometimes 90% of reality, even when its wrong.

    Metro has a captive audience in the lower income crowd. Unless Metro does something to address the ease of use and actually take itself seriously, your ridership won’t grow much past it. The video in this blog post ended with a statement that said St. Louis needs to embrace buses as a viable transport option. If Metro ever makes buses viable for the St. Louis community as a whole, that might happen. But it won’t with the way the system is set up now.

  6. mike says:

    RTBones,

    You are right on point as usual. Your revue of Metro is consistent with the findings based on the studys conducted by the Brookings Institute. Their findings, which has given Metro a black-eye, have now gone public nationwide. Nevertheless Metro feels, for some strange reason, that their level of service is still on point. For some reason, they just don’t seem to grasp what people in our region want in satisfying their transit needs, or more so they are just being ignored.

    The Brookings Report mentioned that inspite of reliable funding for Metro, bus service is only back to the level that previously existed before the 2009 service cuts (actually, service has only been restored back to 97 percent of the previous level according to Metro’s own report. Where’s the other 3 percent?). This is in stark contrast to Metro’s original campaign of enhancing bus service beyond the level that existed prior to the service cuts, if they ever received reliable funding. (What happened to that pledge?).

    I think that Metro is content with its image of being a small-time system, and I’m convinced they are not about to change their way of operating its lackluster bus system anytime soon. They are constantly campaigning for increased ridership; however, if their level of service remains the same, so will their level of ridership. Metro offers no benefits or incentives in luring potential riders who would
    ride buses only as a viable option.

    Metro will need to make some dynamic changes of improving the mechanics of operating their buses to better serve our community, if they want to have a shot at attracting more riders, and I don’t mean dressing up or painting buses to make them look pretty. Come on, please, that doesn’t attract riders. Personally, I would feel embarrassed taking a date on the #99 or that FP trolleymobile. She’ll drop me like a hot potato if I tried that.

    Yes, we want our transit vehicles to look attractive, but it can be done in a dignified tone. However, people will be more attracted to, and more prone to riding buses if the system functions efficiently vs. how it looks.

    In the meantime, I’ll stick it out with my car and the high gas prices. Sometimes you have to pay out a little extra for convenience,

  7. RTBones says:

    Mike,

    Have a look at this: http://www.metrostlouis.org/Libraries/MTF_documents/Moving_Transit_Forward_plan_document.pdf

    From Metro’s own long-term plan, you can tell that planners are stuck in commuter-only mentality. Everything past I-270 is a straight line in, typically down current highways. There is next to nothing to connect communities past I-270 to one another. If I had to guess, the BRT they are talking about will go to park-and-ride lots, likely near highways, which you’ll need a car to get to – which is not only short sighted, but actually discourages use because you can’t walk or bike to them. Hours will be limited to commute times or sporting events. Then they’ll wonder why the system won’t be used as much as they’d like.

    You’ll also note early in the report that the best performing routes are from I-64 (inside I-170) and north. Part of this is demographics. Part of this is rider density. But the part that gets over-looked is that routes in that area are not just straight lines. You can get all over the central zone and north city by bus if you know what you’re doing because routes crisscross one another. There is actual service up there. I’m not a transit planner, but I suspect if you did a modest survey of folks out west, one of the things you’d find is that they would tell you the bus doesn’t go where they need it to go – besides being generally not available. Everything is on the spoke system.

    In fact, examine Metro’s own Missouri route map: http://www.metrostlouis.org/Libraries/System_Map_PDFs/MO_System_Map.pdf

    What you’ll see is that the spoke trend actually starts at the “I-170 arc” (meaning I-170, south down the Metrolink line, and down River Des Peres to the Catalan loop).

    So, have a think on this: we have talked at length about headways, lack of signs and maps, service hours that end too early. Metro’s response is almost universally that they have to work within their budget. OK. So let’s help them do that.

    1) Define a “keep zone” : Catalan Loop, up River Des Peres to Metrolink, up I-170 to I-70, across to the just west of the airport, and up to I-270 (include the portions of the #66 and #44 to Village Square). The eastern boarder is the Mississippi. These services, you use as routes that will stay and get enhanced.

    In addition to that, keep the following:
    #57 Manchester terminates at West County Center
    #2, #56, #21 keep close to current routing (some changes possible to serve more of that area). This will service Kirkwood and the businesses on Watson.
    #58, #98, as they serve the medical center corridor, and connect north to Westport.
    #91 all the way to Chesterfield Mall, as it serves businesses on Olive.
    #33 for connections to Westport and to the medical centers via #98
    On the north side, keep #75 and #36. Make #36 go no further north than Christian Hospital NE – and tie it in to itself at Bellafontaine Road to go south.

    Get rid of everything else.

    Yes, _everything_ else.

    Use the money saved and the buses freed up to make the core system more usable. Metro’s own numbers will tell you that you’re covering areas the buses are used. You still keep a modicum of service to Chesterfield. A modest reroute/extension of the 91 to Clayton station would keep service to Chesterfield Mall from Clayton to a point where you didn’t need to change buses.

  8. RTBones says:

    For clarification –

    #66 – keep its routing up woodson
    #59 – you _could_ keep this down brentwood to the rock hill loop, but that area would already be served by the #56, so I’d terminate the #59 at Brentwood Metrolink.
    #73 would end at Catalan Loop
    #40X goes away entirely
    #58X goes away entirely
    #410X goes away entirely
    #49 goes away entirely
    #35 goes away entirely

  9. RTBones says:

    Further

    #45 north goes across up to St. Francois, across to St. Ferdinand, and down the current #47 Graham/Hanley route.
    #47 terminates at North Hanley Metrolink, and keeps its southern portion.

  10. RTBones says:

    Having just read the report again – I would amend my changes to keep everything north of I-270.

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