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June 5, 2009 | 9 Comments

Where do you want restored public transit service?

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Flickr Photo by St. Louis Photoblogger

Flickr Photo by St. Louis Photoblogger

At the end of their spring session, the Missouri legislation voted to approve a one-time emergency appropriation from the Federal Stabilization Fund. This money will allow Metro to restore 1/3 of the $35 million in service that was discontinued on March 30. It won’t bring back all the bus routes or Call-A-Ride service, and it doesn’t permanently fix our funding problems, but it will allow us to restore a portion of what was lost. When Governor Nixon signs the bill into law, restored service may begin as early as August.

What will the new service be like? Where is Metro now?

Details of the proposed partial service restoration plan are on Metro’s website. Under the proposed plan, more people will have access to Call-A-Ride.  Some buses will run more frequently, some buses that were discontinued will come back, and several new routes will be introduced, including a bus line that will circle downtown St. Louis.

Planning transit service is a dynamic process: some parts science and some parts art. The Planning Department considers a number of variables, like: How many people along this route ride public transit? What job centers are located in this area? Which buses are now overcrowded? How much does the average passenger trip cost the Agency? How many more people are eligible for Call-A-Ride paratransit service if a bus route is restored? The planning process is very heavy on statistics and marketing research. The very thought of the depth of information makes my forehead sweat, and makes me grateful that it is not part of MY job description.

But we also rely on input from riders. There are always stories, thoughts that won’t be picked up from a spreadsheet. We need feedback to build the type of public transportation system that St. Louis wants and needs. Where do you want to go? What aspects of your bus route do you miss? Do you know someone who has problems getting to work or the doctor since the service cuts?

If you could create your ideal bus route, what would it be?

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9 thoughts on “Where do you want restored public transit service?”

  1. Jimmy Z says:

    While I’ve already submitted my comments through the official channels, and have received a thoughtful reply from Jessica, I’m going to restate one major concern here. I strongly oppose the restoration of both the 40x (I-55 Mehlville Express) and the 410x (Eureka Express), as described, since both originate in areas that are (as I understand it) outside the area where Bi-State/Metro receives sales tax support. There are plenty of areas within your boundaries that have lost service; there is absolutely no logical reason (and an available park-n-ride that primarily serves non-residents ain’t one) to extend to or beyond your defined borders! (I have no objections to having them originate at Butler Hill Road and Eureka, respectively, or some similar location that’s actually in St. Louis County.)

    Jessica’s response was “When the time came to plan the service restoration, we included service to these lots for a couple of reasons. First, there’s the parking capacity issue (though I suspect for some time we will carry much lower passenger volumes than we did a year ago). Then, there’s the more political issue of trying to build a successful state coalition to lobby for greater transit funding from the State of Missouri. I think we can agree that this needs to happen. We are hoping that these small extensions of service, which will be funded for the next year with state resources, not local sales tax, will help us accomplish this. We’ll see how this works out.”

    I understand the desire to build consensus, but I’m also a big believer in giving service to the people who actually are paying for it. Coming from Colorado, where the urban-rural funding fights are similar, I have little confidence that the legislators in Jeff. City will see the “wisdom” of providing more state funding for transit in urban areas. If Metro is going to grow, IMHO, it’s going to require a much-stronger local funding commitment, and providing “free” service to residents outside our boundaries will likely come back to bite the agency when it comes time to ask the taxpayers for anaother tax increase.

    $12 million sounds like a lot of money, but it really isn’t. If you all are actually looking at alternatives, like new routes (as opposed to just restoring ones that were eliminated), I would strongly encourage you to investigate rolling out demand-responsive services, instead, in the less-urban parts of St. Louis County. RTD in Denver has had significant success doing this in similar suburban areas, since it provides a more-appropriate type of service than fixed-route service does to the inherently-smaller number of riders. Plus, besides providing better service, it gives suburban voters more of a reason to support any future tax-increase requests.

    Check out http://www.rtd-denver.com/callNRide.shtml and http://www.metro-magazine.com/Article/Story/2009/05/Specialized-Services-Expand-Mobility-to-Communities.aspx

    1. Courtney says:

      Jimmy,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. As you mentioned, you’ve heard from Jessica in our Planning Department about why the restoration plan includes two stops, the Gray’s Summit Park-n-Ride in Franklin County and the Richardson Road Park-n-Ride in Jefferson County. I don’t necessarily need to repeat all that Jessica told you (she knows the territory much better than me), but the rationale is that it extends coverage to more people (and the exurban counties are definitely part of our overall region) who work and spend money in St. Louis. It’s reflective of regional transportation patterns…many people live in other counties but work or play in St. Louis City and County. We want people to be able to get to their jobs and services here. We are going for a “do the most good for the most people” approach.

      I think also good to keep in mind that while these routes originate outside St. Louis County, because Metro is locally funded through sales tax, it matters less where people live in the region as where they spend their money. I talked with a nice guy from Anheuser Busch-In Bev last Friday who was looking forward to the return of the 410X so he could take the bus to work again. Since he works in St. Louis City, we hope that he is purchasing lunch, Cardinals tickets, etc., thus creating sales tax revenue and increasing our local tax base.

      The Planning Department has to make very tough choices about the service we’re restoring. Only 1/3 of the service coming back, so some areas still won’t have adequate service. And you are absolutely right…we need strong local funding. But we also need state support. From what I’ve read, the most fiscally stable transit agencies depend on a balance of state and local funding, formulated among operating and capital expenses. It really is a balance.

      Regarding the demand-responsive service – the answer seems to be that the subsidies are just too high to justify at this moment. That doesn’t mean these aren’t possible options in the future. The Infrastructurist had a great piece on the 11 Most Innovative Transit Programs in America…really interesting. I would love to see buses zipping down the shoulder of the new I-64/40.

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    One, the most fiscally stable transit agencies are the ones with a dedicated funding source. It doesn’t matter where it comes from (state, region and/or locally) as long as its predicatable and its use under the control of the transit agency. Denver’s RTD doesn’t get much from the state (much like Metro in MO), but it does have a dedicated, full 1% sales tax (unlike Metro’s alleged ¼% sales tax) that its board has full control over how and where to spend it. I know it gets old asking the local voters for more money, only to be told no, but they’re going to be easier to convince than a farmer/legislator from the Ozarks. I know, I know, the T in MODoT stands for transportation, but the reality is that it’s still the Highway Dept. in the way it acts.

    And two, yes, demand-responsive service is much more expensive to operate on a per-rider basis. Where it gets to be competetive is when it can replace multiple, little-used, fixed routes in low-density areas. (One big reason St. Louis County took such a big hit when routes were cut back is that many of the routes that were serving the county simply weren’t heavily used, especially on the outer reaches of their runs.) The other big advantage of DR service is that it can actually replace some even-more-expensive ADA Call-A-Ride runs. All it takes is thinking a bit more outside the box, and realizing that most riders are more concerned about having service, of some sort, not just the traditional bus or train. For a regional system to be truly effective, the focus needs to be on the interaction of all components, not just focusing on traditional delivery methods . . .

    1. Courtney says:

      Do you think that demand would be high enough to merit the increased infrastructure costs of purchasing and maintaining a smaller fleet of say, shuttle buses, on less dense routes? Do you think you and your neighbors (or maybe someone you know) would be interested in that type of service? Would it help increase ridership as opposed to maintain previous levels? Where would you put such a service?

      Helps us to have eyes and ears out there…

  3. Matt C says:

    I was surprised that the 95 Kingshighway will not seet 15 minute AM & PM headways restored. That Bus can get really crowded now during rush hour.

  4. Jessica Mefford-Miller says:

    Metro is working now to develop a revised service restoration plan. In one alternative, we would spend down the state-appropriated $12M more quickly (9-10 months as opposed to 12 months). At this time I am not certain what the final decision will be. The 9-10 month plan would involve restoring more service, including filling in a couple of gaps in the system, as well as improving some of the existing routes that would not be enhanced under the 12-month plan. Adding rush hour service to the #95 Kingshighway is in the 9-10 month plan. This is a very busy route, though we’re seeing loads exceeding capacity (where we are actually passing up customers on the street) on other routes which demand resources more urgently.

    This is a difficult plan to develop, every place we add resources means that’s one route or neighborhood that doesn’t receive additional service.

    We’re winding down the public comment period on the service restoration plan, however thoughts and suggestions from our customers and the community are always welcome.

  5. Jimmy Z says:

    Demand-responsive service is a non-issue where I live (less than mile from the Shrewsbury station) – I’m just glad that frquencies on the 11 will be increased. Still, I’m one of those luddites, who usually just drives to the Metrolink station, instead of taking my chances and waiting on a bus.

    1. Courtney says:

      I usually just drive to Wellston as well, though I used to bike often. The bad weather has made me lazy. Have you tried biking every once in while? I’m not familiar with how hilly that area is…it might be a bear to bike.

      Have you also seen the CTA’s Bus Tracker? Would you use an application like this?

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