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Observations On Public Transit

September 14, 2013 Featured, Public Transit 27 Comments

In the past few weeks I’ve gotten a couple of 20-somethings to ride the bus system here. Both had ridden MetroLink light rail, but not MetroBus.

The #11 (Chippewa) MetroBus on 14th next to Peabody
The #11 (Chippewa) MetroBus on 14th St next to Peabody Opera House, 8:24pm

Here are some observations, in no particular order, about transit:

  1. People who say they’d ride their local transit system if it didn’t suck have probably never ridden it enough (ever?) to understand how to use it. Dissing your local transit service is an accepted narrative.
  2. Americans visit Europe and marvel at their efficient public transit and walkable cities, yet resume driving everywhere upon return.
  3. A first time transit rider is more intimidated by bus  than light rail/streetcar.
  4. Related, people willingly try rail (light rail or streetcar), but not bus.
  5. People compare bus vs car travel time, often concluding the bus takes too long. I say I can’t do enough email, social media, or casual reading while driving.
  6. Transit naysayers are the same people who drive to the gym, circling the parking lot for a spot near the door.

These are my personal observations, they’re neither right or wrong.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "27 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    You say, “they’re neither right or wrong.” I say, they’re mostly right. I’ll also add that the bus system is more complex, and thus harder to understand, for newbies, because it does offer more options and variability in fares, routing, frequency, transfers and types of stops. I’ll also say that time spent in transit (in any vehicle) is not the same as time spent at home, in my comfortable recliner, doing “email, social media or casual reading”. I don’t find the 15 or 20 minutes that I spend riding any segment of public transit to be time that I want to focus on text and/or images, it’s time that I want to spend looking out the windows at our complex city and, unfortunately, to keep an eye on my fellow passengers, plus I don’t want to miss my stop!

    • Fozzie says:


      I want to spend time at home. My 15-minute commute would be 90-minutes via bus. I’m not going to stand in the heat or cold waiting for a bus transfer. When will transit do-gooders understand these concepts?

      Transit naysayers deal in facts and don’t pretend a decaying city of 300,000 can support the transit network these do-gooders desire.

      • wimple says:

        You must live, or work somewhere that sucks for the difference in time to be that much. Probably both, considering your shitty county attitude.

        • Fozzie says:

          Boulevard Heights to the Central West End.

          Thanks for underscoring my point.

        • Erik Bates says:

          Hampton / Fyler here. Commuting home, leaving the office at 5:00 takes a minimum of 60 minutes on bus/rail compared to a 15-20 minute drive. That’s if I can make the mad dash from my office to the bus stop to catch the earlier bus or train to get me home in that 60 minutes.

          But yes, Fozzie should probably quit his job or move so that he can take the bus more. That’s really the better solution than actually improving the public transit system.

          I live and work in the city and love living and working here, so I’m not going to jump on the “decaying city” train.

      • Adam says:

        The more people use transit, the more it can expand and the more efficient it becomes. Cities with good transit attract more residents, leading to increased density, leading to more transit ridership, etc. There are people who are willing to inconvenience themselves to an extent in hopes of creating a better place to live, and there are those who can’t be bothered.

        • Fozzie says:

          Most bus riders I see seem very altruistic.

          In this city, other alternatives exist that make transit not worthwhile for large segments of the population. That’s not attitude — that is fact. Failing schools and a lack of jobs are killing this community, not because too few people are riding Metro.

          • Adam says:

            The “alternatives” you’re talking about (i.e. cars) exist in every city, yet in many places people choose transit over driving. Of course, some don’t have the luxury of choosing, but altruism is your word, not mine. It’s about going a little out of your way to support something worthwhile. Good transit is one variable in a multi-variate equation, along with schools and jobs. I would argue that attitudes like “Eh, why bother?” aren’t helping the community either.

          • JZ71 says:

            The problem, here, is that for most people, it’s not “going a little out of your way to support something worthwhile”, it’s about making a huge sacrifice in time, every day, to try a and make the current system work for their/our needs. Much like Fozzie’s “15-minute commute would be 90-minutes via bus”, mine would be even longer. It’s the classic chicken-or-egg problem – because service doesn’t work well, most of either choose or are forced not to ride, continuing the downward spiral. The best way to change this is to make the leap, increase bus service, and see what happens BEFORE we invest millions in random streetcar projects that may or may not increase ridership on one or two existing BUS routes!

          • It’s almost as if everyone goes from home to work and back home again, never going anywhere else. I have friends that drive to work but use alternates (walking, biking, scooter, transit) for other trips.

          • JZ71 says:

            I don’t disagree. My point is that, with people who work, at least half of their weekly travel usually involves commuting to and from work, pretty much using the same route over and over, at about the same time every day. These trips are the ones best suited for public transit since they’re both consistent and predictable. Yes, you can certainly use “alternates” for non-repetitive trips, but they’re much harder for a transit operation to predict and operate. There’s both a direct cost and an opportunity cost for running a transit vehicle on a fixed route – you need to pay for the vehicle, operator, fuel and maintenance and you’re gambling that enough riders will show up every time the vehicle passes by. If you know that you’ll have 20 or 30 riders every week day between 7:15 and 8:00 am, it makes sense / not a lot of risk to operate the route. If you only attract 6 or 8 riders between 9:30 and 10:30, it becomes harder to justify operating the route. Do you, then, run it less frequently, and hope “enough” riders will show up / be willing to wait longer? Or, do you run it as frequently as you do during rush hour and just “eat the loss”? I’m not saying don’t try and use alternates, I’m just saying that it costs more to operate vehicles that are less than half full just for the convenience of the occasional rider, who may or may not choose to use public transit.

        • The rub, though, is that public transit should not be “an inconvenience.” Noble as it may be to strive/suffer for a better city, it doesn’t make a better city. For the vast majority, transit is still an oddity.

          Basically, it sucks that we live in a City where utilizing public transit is considered “a statement” rather than just, you know, a thing to do.

          • Adam says:

            Okay, well then everybody should just continue driving everywhere and we can have this conversation in perpetuity. Not trying to be snarky or anything, but it’s not going to change without effort. There’s always an excuse.

          • JZ71 says:

            No, we need to define a limited area where service frequency can be increased, unilaterally, with some expectation that riders would embrace the more-frequent service. Two obvious options are downtown St. Louis city and downtown Clayton – figure out where to run a circulator bus route, make it free or a nominal charge (a quarter a trip?), then schedule it to run every 3 minutes during the morning and evening rush hours and at lunch. Schedule it to run every 9-10 minutes during off-peak times. See what happens – I’d expect at least a 20% increase in ridership, and possibly 30%. KISS – once the need to know the schedule goes away, then transit becomes a much more attractive option to many more riders.

  2. Larry says:

    The psychology of riding the bus is overshadowed by the appearance of the bus stops and the people seen there. Everyone always looks miserable.

  3. Joseph Frank says:

    I sort of get it, but I’m 34 and I’ve been riding the bus in St. Louis for 20 years. Anytime I travel in the US, I try to use local transit, even in places like Detroit and Ft. Lauderdale which basically only have buses. Every major transit system and most small ones have websites to download and print schedules, and apps like HopStop make transit trip planning very easy. Yes, I have a car too, because our system is not 24/7. But our bus system really is not that complicated to navigate. And buses are on time a lot more than they used to be, perhaps because the number of routes has been cut over the years.

  4. Wimple says:

    Its called laziness.

  5. JAE says:

    Your observations ring true to me. I’d add that St Louis seems to have a “buses are for poor people only” attitude, that it somehow lowers the status of well-off people to be seen on a bus.

    Relative commuting time varies drastically with destinations; mine is a bit quicker on the bus since it stops directly in front of my workplace, while I need to park some distance away. I nearly always ride the bus to work, but check the schedule on google for other destinations to figure out whether bus/metrolink or driving is more sensible; hard to imagine circumstances that would make me pick a 90-minute bus trip over a 15-minute drive.

  6. bc says:

    I personally think effective public transit is a great idea, but in my view the bus system here in STL is lacking. Of course, i understand that buses must deal with traffic, other drivers etc, so some flexibility in the schedule is to be expected. Not showing up at all? Nope. Having the driver pull out of the parking spot at the transit center and then pulling back in to use the restroom for 12 minutes with no explanation? Nope. Having a driver ask the passengers for directions? Nope. Being late to work more than once because of this type of thing? No thanks. this all occurred in 1 year of bus travel within the city from my home to my place of employment. I actually saved my pennies and bought a car (first time in 10 years, time obviously not spent here in the Lou.) Ah well.

  7. Moe says:

    One way to increase bus usage is to make it more attractive with the little things. For instance, some cities utilize attractive bike racks, comfortable benches, and I think it’s Toronto actually has swings in place so people can exercise while waiting. Even little things like emptying the trash more frequently helps.
    On another note, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on this site that people with who seem to think this is FB or the like and can degrade/insult/etc. comments made by others. Seems to be the past 6 months or so that we are slowly sinking. One of the things I enjoy about this blog is that we, minus the occasional sarcastic remark, respect other’s opinions even in the heat of disagreement. Or am I the only one to sense this?

  8. Erik Bates says:

    I’d like to respectfully respond to your observations. No snark intended, though that’s how debating on the internet often sounds.

    1. I spent an entire year riding bus and rail as my own personal experiment. I feel I understand the ins and outs of the system here in St. Louis. However, I still don’t like riding it, and feel it is a bit of a waste of my time. At the end of the day, I want to go home, sit in my comfortable chair and relax. Not start-and-stop my way, standing on an over-crowded bus for another hour trying to make it home. This was especially true when I was working retail and already spent 8 hours of my day on my feet.

    2. Americans visit Europe and marvel at their efficient public transit and walkable cities and then return to their inefficient and un-walkable cities. Simply seeing how great it is on the other side of the pond doesn’t magically change things at home upon your return.

    3. I agree.

    4. I agree.

    5. My bus commute vs car commute time from my job in the city to my home in the city is a minimum of 60 minutes (usually closer to 75-80 minutes) compared to 15-20 minutes in my car. Sure, I can read or tweet or send emails. I can do that at home and be more comfortable doing so.

    6. I dunno… I don’t go to the gym. That may be true.

    • JZ71 says:

      That doesn’t look very safe . . . . but combine that with the promise of self-driving cars and the future might be a bunch of small pods swarming the urban landscape.

      And speaking of self-driving cars, how many will be “shared” and how many will be individually owned and operated (like most “dumb” cars are today)? Much like using bike sharing and public transit, one big impediment for many people is the whole idea of sharing and not knowing who (or what) might have been in/on that seat before them. Your “own”, known cocoon carries a lot of attraction, if you can afford it!


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