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Readers: Public Transit Takes Too Long, Doesn’t Go Where They Go

December 11, 2013 Public Transit 23 Comments

For years I had many reasons for not using public transit. In hindsight some were valid, but most weren’t. Last week’s poll asked why readers don’t use public transit, the results are interesting:

Civic Center MetroBus Center
Civic Center MetroBus Center

Q: Top 3 reasons why you don’t ride public transit as your primary mode?

  1. takes too long 93 [22.85%]
  2. Doesn’t go where I go 72 [17.69%]
  3. I have a car 69 [16.95%]
  4. I ride public transit! 50 [12.29%]
  5. Confusing routes/schedules 21 [5.16%]
  6. Other: 21 [5.16%]
  7. It’s unsafe 20 [4.91%]
  8. Having to walk to/from 19 [4.67%]
  9. I’m white 17 [4.18%]
  10. Other riders 11 [2.7%]
  11. I’m not poor 7 [1.72%]
  12. I have young children 7 [1.72%]

The top answer “takes too long” has a few variables: start and destination locations, and expectations. If you already have a car it’s hard to justify using transit except in special circumstances – like going to the airport or a Cardinals game. Depending upon locations, route, distance, etc public transit can be as fast as driving. Factoring in parking, I can get from my downtown loft to the Chase Park Plaza in about the same amount of time. For other destinations driving a car wins handily in terms of time.

Ok, it takes me 45 minutes to get to Target on Hampton, I make the time productive. At first it seemed like forever, especially when I still had a car. Over the last 20+  months  I’ve gotten used to the time — I’ve readjusted my expectations.

Here are the 21 “other” answers provided by readers:

  1. too expensive
  2. Bring a rail line S-SW and more access with mean more riders.
  3. I really enjoy riding a bike, too!
  4. I don’t live in the city.
  5. other
  6. Stop is in difficultLocation to get to – Grand Blvd. stop, terrible location!
  7. I bicycle
  8. Infrequent schedules
  9. Walking is cheaper.
  10. doesn’t run often enough
  11. More Expensive than Driving
  12. transit IS my primary mode.
  13. Vehicles/Trains feel dirty
  14. Poor frequency, operating hours
  15. Must transport tools & equipment to work sites
  16. I have a bike
  17. Trains/buses run too infrequently
  18. More expensive than driving due to opportunity cost of a longer commute.
  19. Lack of Frequency (especially at night)
  20. Having a car saves me time during the day going from one meeting to the next.
  21. I ride a bicycle and supplement with metrolink when needed.

I should’ve included biking as a reason for not using transit — a very good reason! If you’re already paying for a car, it becomes very hard to justify letting it sit to use transit. In a region where car ownership isn’t outrageously expensive, as say, NYC, then transit use is it becomes transportation for the poor and/or environmentalists.

Until the equation changes (high fuel cost, for example) public transit use won’t increases. If we see fuel costing north of $4/gallon then you’ll hear about more people trying transit.

— Steve Patterson

  • Ed

    Agree with the results and your conclusion. Public transit often does take longer and is more expensive than driving in St. Louis as traffic isn’t a huge issue and parking isn’t very expensive. Policies seem to be counter productive- subsidize the costs of parking garages and mentrolink?

  • Mark

    I believe that one of the biggest issues with using public transit is that St. Louis has an over abundance of public parking which results in very cheap parking. Unlike in most major cities it often cost less to park your car for a day then it does for tow people to take transit. I believe that things are slowly changing as I have seen event parking already creeping up from gauging levels to ‘lets see what the market will pay” and I believe that this trend will continue as the population of downtown continues to grow and there is more demand for parking. I would also like to see the city follow up with event pricing for parking meters downtown to eliminate free parking on the street during events. Taxpayers have been subsidizing car drivers for too long and its time that the full impact of driving and maintaining a car is bone by the people that use it. If you want to drive out to St. Charles fine, but you should bare the total cost of your use. I believe that eventually, public transit will become increasingly viable and having a public transit system will position St. Louis to compete in the future.

    • Fozzie

      Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

      The issue isn’t about cheap parking. It’s the fact the Metro cannot get people to their destination more quickly or more comfortably than a car. The car remains the more viable option for the vast majority of the population.

      I’ve been subsidizing inefficient public transit for too long, so we’re even.

      • mark

        It goes beyond subsidizing your car habit. The trend has become longer and longer car loans and/or lease arrangements in an attempt to bring the cost of a car down to where someone can drive one. Now we have six year car loans, people who drive but can not afford insurance, and when the price of a gallon of gas get near $4 can’t afford to drive to work. If the majority of people who are driving can not afford to actually drive their car it makes me believe that they are not saving for other things such as retirement and will end up being a burden on society. So if you complain about the cost of driving than you can’t afford it and we need to look at better ideas to move people around.

        • Fozzie

          Lighten up, Francis. Life is about choices — good and bad. Don’t worry about car loans, gasoline prices, and other things you cannot control.

          • Mark

            But that is my point, these are things that we can control if we can get past the attitude that everyone should be able to do what they want, live where they want and not have to pay the costs associated with their lifestyle choices. Should you or I have to subsidize someone’s home insurance if they choose to build right on the ocean, or should their costs rise to reflect the true value associated with their risk, even if it becomes unaffordable? Low gas prices carry hidden cost to health and future growth that should be accounted for rather than be kept artificially low. The time to start making good life choices is already past, the least we can do now is start recognizing that we need to make long term changes and living in a suburb just because some developer purchased a large plot of land and build a lot of houses with out regard as to how sustainable such living arrangements are should be a thing of the past.

          • JZ71

            Should we subsidize someone’s flood insurance if they choose to rebuild, multiple times, on one of the floodplains around here? Spend billions on Corps of Engineers projects and building sandbag dikes every spring? Not much different than what happens on the coasts! Many people who live in the suburbs also work in the suburbs, rarely venturing into “the city” – should they subsidize your choice to live in an aging area with crumbling infrastructure? (Even if it’s “denser”, it’s still way less dense than it was 50 years ago.) We all pay many, but not all, of “the costs associated with [our] lifestyle choices” – the cost of owning a vehicle ain’t cheap, much like the cost of paying a trained professional to operate a large, expensive, heavy passenger vehicle in urban traffic. St. Louis has a larger fire department and a larger police force, on a per capita basis, than most suburban areas. St. Louis gets way better transit service than most suburban areas, even though the suburbs generate way more of the sales taxes used to support Metro. Your assumption that “the attitude that everyone should be able to do what they want, live where they want and not have to pay the costs associated with their lifestyle choices” only applies to others is truly disingenuous! No one is questioning your choices, while you apparently feel free to question and/or disrespect those made by many others!

          • Mark

            My answer is no, we should not be subsidizing anyone’s insurance. When I pay my utilities they include a portion to cover maintenance and repair. This portion is the same for me as for someone living in the suburbs, but if you were to look at the cost of providing water, electric, or sewer service to someone in a subdivision it is way higher than it is to provide the same service to someone in the city. So if for instance Ameren keep 200 service trucks and crews on the payroll to respond to outages, 95% of which occurs outside of the city should not the suburb dwellers cover this extra cost. Everyone needs roads and highways to transport goods and services, but once basic transport needs are met why should city dwellers pay for the extra eight lanes of highway going out to the suburbs to accommodate all of the traffic? I assume that the police and fires services in the city are tailored to meet the projected needs of its residents and visitors. I also assume since the city is more densely populated that these services can do with less infrastructure than what would be required in the country to serve a more spread-out and less dense population. I feel free to question anything, you can feel free to agree or disagree as you wish, but I don’t understand the defensiveness, must be something to do with the new generation where everyone is special and were not allowed to criticize or hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t believe that you area bad person JZ71 but if you live in the suburbs I don’t believe that you are making a sustainable lifestyle choice.

          • JZ71

            I don’t question either your right to question other people’s choices nor your right to make your own choices. My only point / “issue” is in how you frame your statements – if anyone is defensive, it would be you: You state that “if you were to look at the cost of providing water, electric, or sewer service to someone in a subdivision it is way higher than it is to provide the same service to someone in the city.” While I’m no fan of sprawl, your statement is incorrect. The infrastructure in new subdivisions – the water lines, the sewers, the power lines and the roads – are all paid for by the developer, NOT by the taxpayers, and the costs are passed on to the first-time buyers of each lot. And while the infrastructure in the city was installed many years ago, it’s neither there forever nor was it ever “free” – someone paid for it. Why do you think MSD is trying to find billions of dollars to rebuild the existing system in the city? Because it’s failing and the current users don’t want to see their rates go up by two or three times current levels. Much of the infrastructure in the suburbs is much newer (less than fifty years old) – should those ratepayers subsidize city residents simply because the city system is 100-150 years old? The same applies to transit service – out past 270, it sucks, whether you’re working or living there. Should the city continue to receive relatively better service, focused on downtown, simply because “that’s the way it’s always been”? Or, should Metro take a hard look at the regional needs, including where the employment centers really are, today, and create more hubs outside of downtown? It really is a chicken-or-egg problem – if it takes too long and doesn’t go where you want to go, what good is it?

          • Mark

            I don’t buy your argument what so ever. When the city of St. Louis was established the infrastructure that we see today did not exist but came about through gains in technology. You can not compare this to a developer building a hundred homes on a piece of former farmland and than expecting the public to figure out how to tie the infrastructure into the grid or sewer system. There is no excuse in this day and age for proper urban planning and the idea that the taxpayer or rate payer is adequately compensated for extending power lines or sewers system to these isolated community sis simply false. High density city’s are future whether you like it or not as we can not afford as a society to continue to build where ever we feel like and expect the same level of service everywhere. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be able too, but I am saying that we need to determine the full cost of what this means and you should be charged for it. To use my example, I believe that we will always need a system of roads to move goods and service, but do we need to keep extending this system to accommodate everyone’s lifestyle choice? You want to keep failing back on the argument that this is the way that we have always done it or this is the way that it was done in the past, but what you fail to take into account is that circumstances, technology and ideas change overtime. While was once considered viable to build a coal plant without emission controls, later as the concept of clean air came about, we started to see controls put on power plant stacks to control emissions. These controls continue to evolve and it wouldn’t make sense to build a plant today without taking all of these changes and implication in policy into consideration. Yet, we continue to allow developers t build without a viable plan and we continue to extend services without consideration for there actual cost. Pubic Transit should have always been part of the plan and to ignore it if foolish. I am not advocating unreasonable projects such as the Delmar Trolley, but we do need to extend the system to include as many of the high density areas in the city as possible.

        • moe

          Oh please….people have been saying that about gas ever since it hit $1.00 a gallon, then I’ll use the bus. Then it was $2.00, then $3.00. Your $4.00 or hell, even $5.00 a gallon will do little to curtail driving. If tomorrow it shot up to $20.00, then you might have a leg to stand on, but a nickel here and a dime there…people shift their spending habits.
          And retirement??? Be serious. as long as there are casinos and pay-day loan places, people could care less about their retirement. Want proof….just look at the number of middle-class americans that don’t carry health insurance, yet complain that the ER’s are too full and that the cost of medical care is too high. And they will continue to do both….until they need it. People will continue to complain about subsidizing public transportation as they take their car. People on busses will complain about subsidizing cars. People are only interested about what is right in front of them. If their neighbor is getting something they aren’t, they’ll complain that it’s wasteful to every politician that will listen….until they need that service. Then it’s ‘don’t you dare touch my service, it’s socialism,’ and the rest of the bull.

          • Mark

            I also disagree, when gas briefly got up to $4 per gallon, we did see people start to shift their driving habits and buy more efficient vehicles. People can only absorb so much additional expense and whether that point is $4 or even $5 a gallon I don’t know, but it is certainly not much more than that, and that day will come. When gas prices get to the $20 per gallon ranges is where we will start seeing fundamental changes in or society and standard of living and that day is also coming, maybe not in our lifetimes but it is coming. So my point is knowing this why are we waiting to start making sound choices? I agree that we have an everybody for themselves mentality but all that’s going to get us in the end is a world of hurt.

          • JZ71

            Back when I first started driving (in 1969), gas was as low as 23 cents a gallon (and new tires cost $25 each) and the bus cost a quarter to ride. No one could envision $1 gas, much less $3 or $4, nor could they envision $2+ bus fares. Yes, times change. But, adjusted for inflation, what we pay today ain’t much different than it was 45 years ago. The suburbs back then, out on the outer fringes, are now the inner-ring suburbs. EMPLOYMENT has shifted significantly to the suburbs over the same time frame. The commute from Soulard to Express Scripts is about the same as the commute from St. Charles, the only difference being transit service (one gets it, one doesn’t). You may not want any more sprawl, and I certainly don’t, but I’m not about to advocate for artificial barriers (high gas taxes, low, highly-subsidized transit fares) just to satisfy YOUR vision for the future. If people want to pay to drive to the suburbs, let them pay for it, with direct fees – make sprawl pay for itself.

      • JZ71

        Disagree, somewhat. The core customer base of any transit system are daily commuters. The cost of parking is one part of the equation. If your employer offers either free parking or pays for your parking, there is little incentive to use public transit. But if the cost of monthly parking begins to approach or exceed the cost of a monthly transit pass, the economic arguments change significantly. Then the only major issue IS the difference n travel times. People will make sacrifices – everyone has their own thresholds – and transit becomes a moe viable option.

        • JAE

          Yep. I work at Washington University, which provides free yearly metro passes, but charges quite a bit for parking. I could afford to buy a parking permit, but it is far more convenient to leave the car at home and take the bus – and saving money sweetens the deal even more.

    • JZ71

      Mark, you say that “Taxpayers have been subsidizing car drivers for too long and it’s time that the full impact of driving and maintaining a car is borne by the people that use it.” The very exact same thing has been said (and continues to be said) about public transit – taxpayers have been subsidizing riders for too long and it’s time that the full impact of building and maintaining a transit system is borne by the few people that use it. Are you prepared to see your transit fares go up five-fold? To pay $12 or $15 every time you get on the bus?! Be careful of what you wish for . . . .

      • Mark

        It depends on what you are trying to achieve. Are we trying to encourage low density populations by subsidizing the cost to provide utilities and encouraging people to drive personal vehicles which is bad for the environment and not sustainable long term or should we should we instead to choose our subsidies to guide people into making better long term decisions. Public transportation may have to be subsidized to be affordable, but if we were to stop encouraging subsidies for people to drive their private vehicles than ridership of public transportation would go up and the cost per person down. It goes beyond public transportation, why should I pay the same utility surcharge living in the city as someone who chooses to live out in St. Charles? The amount of money needed to maintain and provide the necessary infrastructure is disproportionate on a per person basis. Same with transportation costs, does it make sense to pay for the infrastructure necessary to support a very low outlying population density when we could spend much less if we encouraged high density living?

        • JZ71

          Which gets back to the very role of government! Should the government / is the government in the business of modifying our daily behavior? Or, is its role simply to deliver the services that the citizens want and need? Should the government simply license civil unions (to address the multiple issues associated with personal partnerships)? Or should the government go further and define marriage along traditional religious terms (one man and one woman)? Should the government outlaw all abortions? Or, should government regulate them like any other medical procedure? Driving is something the vast majority of us willingly CHOOSE to do every day, while only a small minority of us use public transit every day (for whatever reason we/they have). I support investing in public transit, but I also support investing in highways. I pay sales taxes that go to Metro and I pay gas taxes that go to MoDOT. It’s not either/or, it’s both (as it should be).

          And you’re only half right with your statement “Public transportation may have to be subsidized to be affordable, but if we were to stop encouraging subsidies for people to drive their private vehicles than ridership of public transportation would go up and the cost per person down.” Yes, if you make transit more attractive and better serve more areas with better service, ridership would likely go up. But no, the cost per person would NOT go down – you can pack maybe 60-70 passengers (including standees) on a standard 40′ coach. After that, you need another bus and another operator, whether it’s for 5, 10, 30 or 50 riders, and then the cycle starts all over again. Metro is putting out as much service as it can with its current taxpayer subsidies. More riders do NOT guarantee a bigger subsidy (although it would be a good argument for one), it just guarantees more-crowded vehicles and less-happy riders.

          • Mark

            That’s a good question, but lets extend it, should the government encourage the purchase of homes by extending tax credits, or having children by subsidizing education, healthcare, and other expenses? I don’t have children so why should my taxes go to send yours to school? The answer I believe is that we have decided that these things are necessary for us to exist as a civilization and that things such as education, home ownership, and yes public transportation are deserving of support. I believe that the governments role is to encourage things that contribute to long term viability of our civilization by using financial incentives or perhaps even disincentives to achieve this goal. But I would be careful about mixing moral choices in with civil choices.

          • moe

            Hey Mark…what’s “necessary” for me as a taxpayer to subsidize Walmart? Is it the government that is subsidizing at the request of the voters or is it subsidizing at the request of the corporations?
            Mixing moral and civil choices….well we’ll see how this plays out in the County now that someone has the balls to challenge the non-profit status quo.

        • moe

          I as a taxpayer have no problem at subsidizing through my taxes BOTH roads and public transit. It’s called SOCIETY. But be warned, I have NO patience for spending Millions per mile for transit that will be used by few. In many ways, it’s just a ‘bridge to nowhere’. Just as with roads, there are points where one has to say enough is enough. Trolleys, both the Loop and the whimsical SLU Loop, are ‘bridges to nowhere’ spending millions upon millions of public money for no or worse duplicate value.
          And Chesterfield and their republican base, for all their bitching about too high taxes and too much government, weren’t complaining when WE the taxpayers were dumping hundreds of millions into walls so they could build IN A flood plain. That WILL flood again. And who will come to the recuse? The taxpayers of the City, Jefferson County, Cape, Arkansas, Florida and the rest of the country. Again, it’s called SOCIETY.
          “Choose our subsidies to guide people into making better long term decisions”…yup, sure, as soon as you give up your Big Gulp.

  • louie the saint

    The folks who designed our metrolink thought about stations that worked along the tracks already in place, we need to redesign with location in mind. Run tracks to bring neighborhoods into business centers.

  • gmichaud

    The automobile is highly subsidized, far more than mass transit, and I’m not talking about with user fees. The hidden costs of the automobile to society are enormous, police, fire, ambulance and so on, not to mention the elephant in the room, pollution and global warming.
    Certainly the St. Louis transit system is poorly done and barely usable, in part this is because of poor urban planning decisions. The suburbs of St. Louis are not designed for transit, compared to say Stockholm where suburbs were designed around main train lines connected to the city. Something like 70 to 80 percent of the workers in Stockholm use transit.

    In the end it is a 2 pronged problem. The auto is costing civilization far more than is currently recognized and successful transit requires at least a remedial acknowledgement from the surrounding environment that it is available. (ie urban planning)
    The automobile lifestyle we all so revel in is not going to be able to endure for many reasons. As a people we live in a time of history that makes the auto lifestyle possible, but generations hence will curse us for being so ignorant and wonder what the hell were we thinking.

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