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Poll: How Expensive Must Gas Get Before You Take Transit Instead of Drive?

March 25, 2012 Featured, Public Transit, Sunday Poll 20 Comments
ABOVE: A large crowd waits to board the #70 Grand MetroBus at Union Station

The headlines are full of stories about rising gas prices & transit use:

Ridership on public transit, which is measured by number of trips taken, hit its highest level in the mid-1940s — roughly double today’s rate.

But with the widespread adoption of the automobile and America’s suburbanization in the 1950s, public transit use steadily declined until the early 1970s, when gas prices spiked following the Arab oil embargo. 2011’s ridership rate is the second highest since 1957. (CNN/Money)

The rate of transit use was double in the 1940s? Half the population used twice the transit of today!

The poll this week asks how expensive would gas have to get before you took transit. The poll is in the right sidebar, mobile users need to switch to the desktop theme to see the sidebar.

– Steve Patterson



Currently there are "20 comments" on this Article:

  1. Erik Bates says:

    Gas price is only part of the equation. Efficiency of transit is also a consideration. I stopped using it when I got a new job and it took over an hour to make a 7 mile trip.

  2. JZ71 says:

    Gotta agree with Erik.  Transit works IF it goes where and when you want to go.  I’ll ride my bike before I take transit for many local trips since it seems like it always takes at least 3 times as long to use Metro from my home in SW city.  For me, Metrolink is an option if I need to go to Clayton or downtown STL, once or twice a month, but it does not work at all commuting to work or for the vast majority of the shopping and recreational trips my wife and I make.  Our solutions, as I suspect is many others, are to both consolidate trips to reduce fuel consumption and to just suck it up and pay the added cost.  Price is not a major incentive to shift to transit, convenience is or would be!

  3. Jperkins says:

    Like the two previous comments, convenience is critical, but so is safety.

  4. Greg says:

    I can drive to work in 20 minutes vs. 90 minutes via two buses and metrolink.  Even at $10/gallon gas, I’d be paying about $5 each way to save more than two hours a day.

  5. Moe says:

    I think the above comments plainly are an indication of opinion as a whole….no matter how expensive gas gets, few will give up driving.  Instead we will 1)consolidate or 2) exchange for smaller/efficient vehicle.  But this is exactly why the Mayor of Chesterfield (now head of Metro) stepped up and lead the battle cry for the increased tax years back…..people in Chesterfield and out west where public transportation is sparse and non-existent off the main routes cannot or most like will not (in my opinion) give up driving…but the hourly help that waits on them hand and foot from the latte at Starbucks to cleaning their toilets would have no choice but to stop working out that way and they would, God forbid….actually have to clean their own houses!   Now if perhaps some of these better-off people would use their power to get those in office to work for the less well off or their fund managers to be just a little less greedy, the price of gas might come down a bit.
    But bottom line….it’s a shame that the lower income people are hit sooooo much harder by high gas prices.

    • Rencelas says:

      I’ll be relying on our one car even if gas hits $20 a gallon. At 3-4 gallons of use every 2 weeks, it’s simply not a budget factor for us. My wife takes Metro to school, and I either travel or work from home. We walk to the grocery store for most small trips, and walk to restaurants / bars in our neighborhood more often than drive, even with a baby. 
      Now, I fully agree with Moe, it’s a damn shame that lower income people are hit so much harder by gas prices. We’ve developed a society where car dependence is a virtual requirement. While some of us, and likely most readers of this blog, can ultimately afford gas no matter the price, those with lower incomes are forced to trade extensive time for the opportunity to work. It’s uncivil. I’m fully in support of any and all additional taxes to fund mass transit – though I’d love to see the state of MO kick in a few bucks once in a while.

  6. we should all buy scooters. 

  7. V says:

    The bus takes way to long to get where I am going.  My time is worth more than a gallon of gas.  If the routes were more efficient and if Metro had actually built out during the I-40 closure I would probably be on the rails.  Right now  I have to driver over 1/2 way to work to get a train.  Or I could take 60+ min to get to the train by bus or take 90+ min to take all the buses to work.  No thank you.

  8. Linseykornya says:

    I have an on-call job and have to make lots of house visits in different parts of the metro area every day.  The bus seems impossible. I have already adjusted by not taking clients more than an hour away and focusing on clients in the city.  I already walk and bike to as many house appointments as I can….my office is a block away.  I do think that if gas gets much more expensive, we will consider a scooter and will probably get more disciplines about biking the kids to school and to the grocery store.  I’ll also start adding a gas surcharge to clients farther than 5 miles or so.  

  9. Msrdls says:

    I use Metro for trips to and from the airport, but my wife or oldest son has to drive me to the train station…..then pick me up days later. So it’s inconvenient. But the drive by car from my home in Clayton to the airport isn’t really convenient either. My sons drive to school on Oakland Avenue because I don’t want them riding public transportation by themselves. So I’m willing to spend more for gas and vehicle maintenance because I perceive a private vehicle to be a safer mode of transportation for them in that situation. $30.00 a gallon for gasoline wouldn’t change my mind on this issue.  Otherwise, Metro doesn’t travel anywhere close to where we routinely travel, so gas prices really don’t affect my use of Metro.

  10. Southside Towing says:

    Gas prices rising will impact all goods. Our entire economy is dependent upon oil. People who say they won’t use transit more often will change their minds when it hits 5 or 6. The cost of everything will increase and transportation will be one of the few areas where alternatives can reduce the impact.

    • JZ71 says:

      Rising fuel prices also impact Metro, especially on the bus side.  Rising fuel costs will result in either higher fares, reduced service, or both.

  11. Imran says:

    Gas prices should be higher, Stop subsidizing sprawl. People will not give up driving but, over time, will live closer to their workplaces (or work closer to home), car pool and switch to fuel efficient vehicles . I drive a hybrid and am contemplating an all electric car.  Buses are less reliable in that you can easily be delayed by traffic or an accident and miss your connection. I am more likely to take a bus trip to an entertainment venue rather than work for this reason. Also more likely to take metrolink (and I do) because of the right of way and reliability.

  12. erin says:

    Transit from my house would take about 1 hour and 45 minutes ONE WAY. Driving is approximately 30 minutes.

    I feel what really needs to be addressed is that companies that locate in poorly transit accessible office parks are really stating that they are uninterested in drawing a workforce from the city or from a population that would use transit over driving. 

    • JZ71 says:

      You’ve identified a major issue, especially with employers who have a large number of employees who come to work and stay for 8+ hours each day (instead of leaving “the office” to service customers), like hospitals and factories.  GM’s move from north city to Wentzville and the growth of major suburban hospital complexes are examples of both the challenges and opportunities that should be addressed by both the private sector and our regional planning agencies.

      Transit works best when a large number of people want to be in the same place on a regular basis, and it works even better if they want / have to be there for the same starting and ending times – human density / more potential customers = more and better service.  If freeways and parking lots are provided, the message is clear.  And if transit is the focus, as it is at the BJC complex in the CWE, then that message is clear, as well.

  13. Moe says:

    I disagree JZ with part of your issue.  I understand the factory/corporate campus, etc.  But hospitals?  No one should have to travel 10/20 miles to get health care.  At one time there were quite a few hosptials in the City and County…now there is a dessert of health care inside the 270 ring.  The hospitals expanded west due to the moving population.  But BJC is a wasteland.  Sure the Siteman building is right on the edge of West End….but the majority of workers are at Childrens and  BJC South, School for the Blind, Nursing School, and the Medical and office buildings all on the south side and east of the main buildings on Kingshighway.  There are no small stores/restaurants/etc/etc/etc within walking distance of those buildings.

    • JZ71 says:

      I think I’m missing part of your point.  I don’t disagree that basic medical care should be available, conveniently, for everybody.  But as the need for specialized care increases, so should the expectation to travel longer distances to get it.  I’m also guilty of simplifying the list of other users around that station – you did a better job of listing them.  And while the TOD component around the station (“small stores/restaurants/etc”) is lacking, there certainly is no lack of employees and transferring bus riders, making it probably the busiest station (on a daily basis) in the system.  Bottom line, for transit to be truly effective, you need a lot of regular, daily users, hopefully in one place.  The reason transit continues to seem to not to work for many potential users here is simply that we don’t have a lot of truly dense employment centers, so the only real “solution” ends up being a local (non-express) bus route that has stops every 500′-1000′.  It’s no wonder that most trips end up being 3-4 times longer (or more) than driving – 15 minutes versus 60-90 minutes is truly a tough sell, especially if there are any other options.  Density and good transit go hand-in-hand, you can’t have one without the other.

  14. Building Place says:

    Unfortunately, the buses here simply don’t go where I need them to go for most of my trips.  I live near multiple routes, and have occasionally used a bus/ZipCar combination to get where I need to go, but that option is expensive in time and money.  If ZipCar locates a few vehicles in my neighborhood, as I have encouraged them to do so for several years, then this option will likely become a regular thing for me.  Until then, I’m not going to junk my Jeep.

  15. Moe says:

    On that JZ, you and I agree.  There does need to be mass for transportation to work, and we just don’t have it here in St. Louis (I will just stay focused on St. Louis area).  But  is it the peoples fault for moving away from population centers?  Is it the corporations faults for moving to where the workers are?  Is it Metro’s fault for not offering solutions effective solutions that appeal to everyone?  There just isn’t a clear answer.  And I think short of everyone’s car suddenly going dead, nothing is going to change….we’ll just get slight shifts based on market supply/demand/gas price/time constrants.
    But my other point was…that BJC for all it’s ‘clout’ as the busiest metro station….does little to support the surrounding area….not BJC itself mind you, but the employees….when they get off work, only what? 5% MAYBE stay around and dine/live in the West End or the other neighborhoods.  When I’ve had the unfortunate expereince to visit BJC in the past, the nurses and such would complain about taking people to the north (Siteman building) tests and such, I can’t see them willingly walking to the West End.

    • JZ71 says:

      I know Denver’s Regional Transportation District very well (having served on their board for 5 years), and I’m continuing to learn more about St. Louis’ transit systems (having lived here, now, for 6+ years).  In that context, I’ll try to address your various points.  One, neither city has much in the way of high-density residential infrastructure, especially that which is transit oriented.  Denver has focused on gathering choice riders at multiple suburban park-and-ride lots, then providing express service to various employment centers.  St. Louis seems to be more focused on meeting the needs of transit-dependent riders, partly out of more-limited resources and partly because fewer local residents (who have the choice) find Metro to be a viable option.

      Metro will never appeal to everyone and neither will RTD.  RTD accomodates less than 5% of the trips made in the Denver area, and their goal is incremental growth focused primarily on the needs of daily commuters.  These consistent, repetetive trips are what make any transit system successful.  In economic terms, there’s an opportunity cost associated with running any route – the cost of running a bus or train every 10, 15 or 30 minutes remains fairly constant; it’s the number of riders that you can attract for each trip that determines success or failure, profit or loss.

      “Is it the corporations fault for moving to where the workers are?”  I would have to say yes.  People will choose to live in multiple locations.  Employers are in a much better position to set up shop in denser areas, areas that are better suited to support transit, yet many choose to locate in low-density suburban areas.  This could be changed by peer pressure in the private sector, better regional planning, and/or consolidating the number of smaller governmental units.

      The disconnect between the medical complex and the businesses in the CWE could be addressed by operating a circulator bus between the two locations.  You’re right, walking is a challenge because of distance, yet infrequent bus service is an equally large hurdle.  If a bus ran every 5 minutes between the two areas, even if it’s just between 11:30 am and 2:30 pm, my guess is that you’d see some significant ridership numbers.  The hurdle is the same one that bedevils every transit decision, it’s going to take spending money on an unproven route to see if it can attract enough riders to justify its existence.  Around Denver, local jurisdictions have helped underwrite several local circulators, with varying degrees of success.  The 99 downtown circulator here is one example of the right idea but with too little frequency.

      A big challenge here is that Metro really has little control over its destiny.  On the rail side, the routes are decided on by EWGCOG, then it’s left up to Metro to figure out how to build and operate them.  On the bus side, various counties provide various levels of funding, then expect comparable service levels, based more on funding than on documented service needs.  In contrast, RTD is a quasi-governmental agency, with the ability to collect a consistent level of taxes over an 8-county region, and is better able to deploy service based on regional needs, not local revenue generation or political agendas.

      Finally, there’s a significant difference in how transit is viewed in Colorado by many choice riders.  Compared to here, there are far fewer concerns about safety, bringing in the “wrong element”, “transit is just for ‘those’ people” and “it takes forever” to get someplace.  Denver has also chosen over the past 30+ years to focus on making their downtown more transit-friendly, first with their 16th Street transit mall (with its free shuttle buses), then with the incremental addition of multiple light rail lines, and now with its FasTracks initiative, creating a true multi-modal hub with a half-dozen new, additional rail corridors.

      Is Denver perfect?  Absolutely not.  Is it better?  I think so.  And it’s not just one thing, it a whole lot of smaller things.  But the biggest difference I see is one of attitude or perception.  Denver does a much better job of attracting choice riders, which, in turn, informs investments in everything from TOD to freeways, where development happens and the choices available to potential riders.  The most telling statistic is that the metropolitan areas have roughly equal populations (approx. 2.5 million), yet Denver deploys 3 times as many buses over a service area that’s probably twice as large as Metro’s.  On the rail side, surprisingly, the two systems currently have similar investments; the difference is that Denver is well on their way to doubling their rail mileage, while we have nothing in the pipeline.


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