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Transit Union Seeks Input From Riders

March 10, 2012 Events/Meetings, Featured, Public Transit 30 Comments

Over the next two weeks The Transit Riders Union of St. Louis is hosting three “transit talks” to discuss with actual riders what we’d like to see done to improve local public transit. I’m on the steering committee. Here was our post:

In March we’re hosting a series of discussions focusing in the needs & issues of regular transit riders. Please come and tell us the areas you want your Transit Riders Union to work on improving.

We want everyone that uses Metro to join us so come as you are.

Monday March 12, 2012 (evening)

Tuesday March 20, 2012 (lunch hour)

Wednesday March 21, 2012 (evening)

Please plan to attend at least one of these discussions!

Everyone is welcome too attend and all are free. Again, we want to hear from actual transit riders.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "30 comments" on this Article:

  1. CRis says:

    Bring back trolley cars to connect neighborhoods and popular areas such a soulard, downtown and central west end

  2. William Kruse says:

    I have lived in quite a few cities with at least some form of public transit. I live in DC now, and don’t need to own a car. I understand that some people advocate for buses. It makes sense. They are cheap, easy to reroute, and run on roads which are already built. There is one HUGE downside. Because they aren’t permanent and are easy to reroute, infrastructure doesn’t spring up around the stops. People can’t make life choices based on them either. I couldn’t have sold my car when I moved from STL to DC based on public transit that might be rerouted at a tranist director’s whim. Laying track shows commitment and permanence. It allows for planned growth and allows for people to make communitng plans when they buy or rent.

    As a side note, some people just won’t get on a bus. It is stupid, but it’s reality. Buses also get stuck in the same traffic as cars. I take the train because it is efficient and doesn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic. If I had to ride a bus that got stcik in traffic, I’d just drive.

    • I’d love to have a complete network of streetcars again and I’m confident that would attract people, development and jobs. In the meantime people need to give the bus a chance — I finally did and it’s great. St. Louis has no traffic for a bus to get stuck in!

    • JZ71 says:

      Rail based transit falls into three major classes, streetcars, light rail and heavy rail.  Streetcars face the same challenges as buses, since their tracks share the same streets as other users.  They also aren’t as great at creating TOD opportunities since, while their rails are harder to move, their individual stops can be added or removed almost as easily as bus stops.  Heavy rail uses the same type of infrastructure as freight rail, and is used in larger metropolitan areas to run commuters over longer distances with very few stops, typically between the suburbs and the center city.  If we wanted to connect St. Charles County or Arnold with downtown, heavy rail could be a great option.  Since they typically use existing rail corridors, many of the development opportunities are known and can be used and/or reused.

      Light rail (Metrolink here) is in between.  It can have frequent stops or infrequent ones, covering longer distances.  It’s typically electric, but can also use diesel-powered equipment.  It can operate in shared corridors or in dedicated rights of way.  Denver’s light rail system operates 4-car trains both on city streets downtown and along dedicated lines parallelling major freeways.  As such, development opportunities are as varied as the surrounding environment.  And when it comes to buses, dedicated bus lanes are always an option, as well (Denver has a couple, as does Pittsburgh), negating your argument about being stuck in the same traffic.  Bottom line, there are many shades of gray, not just a black and white, bus versus rail, discussion.

      • streetcars can be outstanding at creating development all along the route, not just at stations. See Portland & Seattle.

        • JZ71 says:

          See Denver, Nashville, Kansas City, Orlando, Louisville, Miami and Salt Lake City for examples of great development being done without streetcars.  See Memphis and Tampa for examples of streetcar investments yielding very little in new development.  Streetcars are one of many tools, what’s really needed is a combination of developers willing to bet on higher-density, mixed-use developments AND buyers and renters willing to occupy them.

      • Douglas Duckworth says:

        There is no way St. Charles to downtown would support heavy rail. No place in St. Louis could have heavy rail. It is too dispersed.

  3. JZ71 says:

    I’d thought about attending last night, but it turned out to be too nice, weatherwise, for another meeting – how’d it go?

    You also say that you all “want to hear from actual transit riders”.  Define “actual”.  Just daily commuters, the transit dependent and transit geeks?  Or people like me, who may ride transit, and mostly just Metrolink, once or twice a month?

    • My personal opinion is we are looking for the views of the former, not the latter. The input of the occasional MetroLink rider is already overly represented.

      • JZ71 says:

        OK, then, and not trying to be snarky, who will y’all be presenting your arguments to?  Metro, itself, is constrained by limited financial resources and is already focusing the bulk of its service on the transit-dependent rider, with proportionally less being dedicated to choice daily commuters and very little to special services for the occassional user.  Citizens for Modern Transit seems to be the de facto advocate for increased funding, and EWGCOG is the entity that controls where spending will occur to build new rail lines.

        More service, more-frequent service, later or earlier service and/or better amenities will require either “robbing Peter to pay Paul” (reducing service on one route to increase it on another) or a bigger budget (higher taxes and/or higher fares).  The only way to get more service on any specific route or to/from any specific point is to either use real numbers, that prove that it’s truly needed, or to find an advocate on the Metro board that will push to put an unproven route in place.

        The reality is that EVERY ride on Metro is subsidized by the taxpayer.  Voters recently approved a doubling of our local sales taxes, so I doubt that any more increases will be requested or approved anytime soon.  Metro has a finite budget, so they are limited in what they can do “to improve local public transit”, especially for a group that already receives the bulk of Metro’s budget.  It’ll be interesting to see what specific initiatives come out of these three meetings . . .

        • Myself and others feel the bus user gets overlooked too often with resources going to support rail. Monday’s post will expand on ridership.

          • JZ71 says:

            And that is the crux of the “problem”.  Metro is a transit SYSTEM, it’s not a light rail system AND a bus system, it is (or should be) an integrated way to get from Point A to Point B.  You have multiple bus lines close to your condo, I have one that runs, hourly, near my house.  Is that “fair”?  Probably not, but it reflects the realities of actual ridership.  I’ll wait for Monday’s post, but I’m also anticipating that it may be one of those “be careful what you ask for ones” – it could easily just illustrate that buses are the most cost-effective way to move the largest number of riders in the city . . . .

          • Buses are the most cost-effective mode without a doubt yet we continue to see resources & energy poured into marketing light rail that serves far fewer in the region. It’s here and we shoud continue to use it but we can’t ignore the bus part of the total system.

          • Eric says:

            Actually, buses are more highly subsidized that rail in St Louis. In 2011, 27.8% percent of rail operating expenses were paid for by fares, as opposed to 19.9% of bus operating expenses. See page “viii” of

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            Bus riders take more trips though and shorter ones. They use it more often yet receive second class service. They are also poorer, paying a greater proportion of their income with the fare. The same goes for sales tax which funds the system. This is not unique to saint louis and a problem in most places where socioeconomics vary between rail and bus.

          • JZ71 says:

            I’ll repeat.  Metro is a transit SYSTEM!  Riders can and do use both light rail and buses to reach their destinations.  And yes, the transit-dependent poor pay a greater proportion of their incomes than people with cars.  They also pay less over the long run, since they don’t have to pay for a car!

          • Douglas Duckworth says:

            Yes and, though you claim rail can be cut,  during the last time of austerity we saw bus service take a major hit.  I have never been on a metrolink train where the PA system does not work, where drivers yell at passengers for asking directions, nor have I waited at a link station where a schedule was not provided nor announcements made if a delay occurs.  Bus riders get shafted constantly.  Ride the bus every day and you will agree. 

            Your argument that streetcars are not good becasue stops can be cut makes no sense.  Come to Toronto and see how much people love their streetcars.  Once these systems get built stops are not cut because people use them — and users are typically politically active.  Which is what we’re arguing about really and this Union is an attempt to make that apply for bus riders.  It’s about time too because bus riders shouldn’t be only thought of when Chesterfield shoppers and  retailers realize they need poor people to work at their stores. 

          • JZ71 says:

            (see below)

  4. Shabadoo says:

    Every time you drive your car it is subsidized, every heard of roads?

    • JZ71 says:

      Yes, and the buses drive on these subsidized roads PLUS their acquistion and operational costs are subsidized by separate, additional tax revenues (unlike the cars the rest of us drive).

      @ Doug – I never said that streetcars “are not good”.  I’ve only said that they aren’t the only or best answer.  What I find interesting here (compared to Denver) is the focus on how the various modes are different (with different funding levels) and not on how Metro can offer (or not) a cohesive transit SYSTEM.  Given the nature of modern living, with mutiple employment nodes in the region, in addition to a whole host of housing options, few people will have a single-seat trip for most trips.  Buses will always remain the backbone of any transit system, and they need to be integrated with any other modes.  I’m a big believer in mass transit and I’m also a big believer in using the right tools for any job. 

      We also seem to have two parallel discussions in play, one about the apparent disparities between bus and rail, and a second one about the role transit plays in development patterns and density.  I don’t ride Metro buses very frequently, but my experiences have always been acceptable (and not much different from riding light rail).  And the issue of amenities has a lot to do with numbers and less to do with screwing bus riders.  Metrolink has something like 40 stations, for two routes that carry probably a third of all of Metro’s riders.  I can think of only two stations that probably see less than 100 passengers on a daily basis, unlike most bus stops. And when it comes to amenities, more money will be directed to where Metro can get the best bang for their bucks.

      • Shabadoo says:

        Buses run on less than one percent of paved roads.  Most urban bus routes are not on highways, by far the most costly part of our transport infrastructure.   Your car may have been subsidized by the auto bail out.  Cash for clunkers.  Oil companies are subsidized.  I have to breathe the nasty fumes from your car.  We tear down amazing buildings to build lots for your car and my quality of life is affected.  Whole swaths of the city were destroyed for your precious highways.  The car culture of America is a huge burden on tax payers.

        • JZ71 says:

          And the vast majority of taxpayers are also motor vehicle owners and operators and “encourage” our legislators to make these expenditures!  The unfortunate reality is that public transit accounts for less than 5% of the vehicle trips made in any urban area, and less than 1% of the trips in rural areas – majority rules.

          And, fyi, all three of our vehicles predate cash for clunkers and the auto bailout.  I don’t like that “amazing buildings” are being torn down, either, but that only happens when the perceived value of a parking lot is greater than that of that “amazing building”.  In my 30 years in Colorado, I watched multiple urban parking lots be replaced by dense, mixed use construction.  And like Steve’s post on Pruitt-Igoe today, the crux of the problem is there ain’t that much happenin’ here.  We tear down buildings and don’t even bother with parking lots – Busch II/BPV, Ford in Hazelwood, Chrysler in Fenton, and many, many other smaller parcels.  Your quality of life is being negatively affected more by a crappy local economy than by the fact that many people choose to drive.

      • JZ71 says:

        @Doug – I wanted to respond to some of the specific comments you made about “Bus riders get shafted constantly.”:

        1.  You “have never been on a metrolink train where the PA system does not work”.  I have, many times, especially in the second car.

        2.  You “have never been on a metrolink train . . . where drivers yell at passengers for asking directions”.  Mostly true, but apples and oranges.  First, the train operators are isolated behind glass partitions – it’s very difficult to communicate with them, even if you want or need to.  Second, there are fewer reasons to ask a train operator for directions, since there are far fewer stops, because the stops are posted on maps in every car and because the operators already announce the available bus connections at each stop.  That said, it’s never acceptable for an employee to be yelling at customers, especially if the requests are part of their job description.  This isn’t a “bus” problem, it’s a customer service problem.

        3.  You have never “waited at a [metro]link station where a schedule was not provided”.  True, and you’ve never waited at a metrolink station where some form of security isn’t present, as well.  Part of the problem is that many bus stops are not located on metro property (they’re on the public right-of-way) and part of the problem is that you need a schedule, at all.  “Back in the day”, before schedule frequencies were reduced, then reduced again, schedules weren’t that important.  If the bus or streetcar came every 7 or 10 minutes, you just waited for the next one.  On Metrolink, where normal off-peak service is every 20 minutes, waiting remains an option.  But when the frequency is only once or twice an hour, then yes, knowing the schedule for that stop becomes much more important.  The question then becomes which methods(s) of distributing this information, including keeping it current, work best?  Printed schedules on each bus?  Apps for smart phones?  Posting Metro’s information number on each bus stop sign?  Printed schedules posted at each stop?  Metro’s current website, where all schedules are already available and current?

        4.  You have never “waited at a [metro]link station where . . . announcements [were not] made if a delay occurs”.  I have, and I’ve read multiple complaints about a lack of information during system failures or delays, and the same thing happens at every airport around the country.  It’s an inherent flaw in all of our transportation systems, not just local buses.

        Bottom line, unfortunately, is the bottom line, specifically a limited budget.  Every dollar spent on providing schedules in multiple formats, on providing and maintaining shelters, heaters and parking lots and on providing security is a dollar that is not being spent on actually moving people around St. Louis.  And, unfortunately, it’s mostly a matter of perception.  If it’s “your” route(s), it’s never enough, but if it’s a route “you’ll never use”, then it’s wasteful and extravagant.  My take is that Metro does a pretty good job of balancing expenditures at their various stops and facilities in proportion to the number of users at each location.  It will never be truly equal, but I think it’s much closer than you want to present.

  5. GMichaud says:

    Here is a nice summary of the streetcar in Portland, includes links, including letter to Atlanta Journal from Portland’s mayor, Atlanta is getting set to build a streetcar line.

    • JZ71 says:

      I’m well aware of Portland’s streetcar and the success of the Pearl District.  The real question remains whether the streetcar or Portland’s decades-old urban growth boundary is the real impetus for the District’s success.  The old axiom in real estate is location, location, location, and in many cities successful infil projects are using close-to-downtown brownfield sites (Channelside in Tampa, CPV in Denver, the Gulch in Nashville, Brooklyn in NYC, the rail yards in Salt Lake City), both with and without transit enhancements.

      • GMichaud says:

         I’m sure Portland’s decades old urban growth boundary has something to do with the success of streetcars, although proper urban planning and design can have the same impact, even in a city like St. Louis. It is apparent that the City government does not know how to build cities. So you are correct in a sense, I see nothing right now to indicate a grasp of the relationship between transit and the planning of the physical city. The failure of leadership on the SLU site at Grand and Chouteau should convince anyone that the Democrats in St. Louis are merely placeholders in government, collecting pay checks and pensions and that’s about it. It is laughable to say the word leadership in relation to city government.
        However I do think streetcars can add a valuable element to a successful transit system if properly implemented. In fact in a viable urban design situation, streetcars can become an economic engine as well.
        But if the transit system is as poorly integrated with the actual city plan, like the SLU site mentioned above, then you could probably install 100 new streetcar lines and it won’t make a difference.
        I think you are right about high frequency,but this also means high density routes, which again pulls city planning into the equation (along with the rest of the urban design elements) only then will high frequency transit have the impact to make transit successful.
        As I side note I posted yesterday on the Vanishing STL blog site a brief description of the Helsinki Finland process of approval for a 33 story building. (in response to more parking for the St. Louis Zoo). The Helsinki City government process is clearly more thorough, more representative of the citizens and more transparent compared to the take or leave style of city planning used in St. Louis. (Or in the case of Rev Biondi, take it or I’m leaving style of planning).
        We live in a very corrupt, dysfunctional society.


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