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Metro’s New Store, Still Waiting For Smart Card Fare System

March 5, 2018 Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on Metro’s New Store, Still Waiting For Smart Card Fare System

For many years our transit agency, Metro, operated a retail store as part of the convention center, known as America’s Center. It was connected to the visitor’s center at 7th & Washington Ave, This location was a block West of the Convention Center MetroLink station.

Entry to Metro’s old store was anonymous

In a June 2013 post entitled Metro Fails At Retailing I wrote:

I’d like to see Metro make it obvious to anyone walking, or driving, past the MetroRide store to know it is a place to buy transit passes and pick up  schedules.  As a fan of gift shops, I’d also like to see St. Louis transit-related merchandise: t-shirts, postcards, magnets, calendars, etc. I still have a puzzle of the Philly transit map I bought on vacation in 2001, but I have almost nothing for St. Louis. I’d love a toy MetroBus.

Step up your retail game Metro!

They recently moved their store to the NW corner of 8th & Pine — in the Arcade building. The space was briefly occupied by Webster University’s cafe called Gorlok Grind (March 2016June 2017)

View from the SW corner of 8th & Pine, with Westbound MetroLink stairs right out front
People walking by on the sidewalk can see in and understand
Looking North inside
Looking South inside

I have no knowledge of the old or new lease terms. Perhaps this new space will better serve Metro customers and attack some new riders. Though at a MetroLink station, it isn’t near any MetroBus routes. They might have done it, but they need a vending machine on Washington Ave to purchase passes/tickets — especially downtown trolley tickets.

What Metro really needs is the smart card system, from a July 2014 post on Metro’s blog:

The smart card is part of Metro’s new fare collection system, a more convenient, secure way to pay Metro transit fares. Instead of paper tickets or passes, the Gateway Card will contain a computer chip that stores Metro passes or cash value. The fare is automatically deducted when customers tap their card on fare equipment each time they ride.

“Much of our current fare collection equipment can be replaced with new technology to improve both our efficiencies as well as the customer experience.” said John Nations, Bi-State Development Agency/Metro President & CEO. “The Gateway Card and this new system will transform the way we do business and will bring our operations up to 21st century standards.”

The smart card system is currently being tested in preparation for next year’s rollout. Hundreds of Metro customers have volunteered to test the new system before it is rolled out to the general public. Metro will gradually phase in Gateway Cards to its customer groups until all customers have moved to smart cards.

Nearly four years later and we’re still waiting for the rollout. I get their caution, the rollout of these new systems in other cities have gone poorly.

Chicago’s 2013 rollout, for example:

CTA fare options that expired this week are back in place until the company that is being paid almost a half-billion dollars to manage the implementation of the new Ventra system fixes problems that have left thousands of customers frustrated, the president of the CTA said Wednesday.

The transit agency made the abrupt, if temporary, reversal in response to angry riders who this week overwhelmed a Ventra hotline in an effort to activate their new cards and in some cases have demanded their old, time-tested fare-payment choices back.

So until further notice, sales of magnetic stripe transit cards will continue at rail stations, and Chicago Card customers will be allowed to add value to their cards. But CTA President Forrest Claypool said Wednesday he is determined to stick to a Dec. 15 deadline to stop accepting the old fare cards on trains and buses. (Chicago Tribune)

We began regular trips to Chicago a year later, the Ventra card system has worked great for us.

  • No need to worry about having a stack of dollar bills or coins.
  • No need to worry about holding onto transfers.
  • Easily add more money to cards online or via our phones.
  • In 2015 I got a reduced-fare card for Chicago.

In Chicago it’s rare to see a person using cash to pay bus fare and boarding goes so much quicker as a result.

Last September I spoke with Metro’s Executive Director Ray Friem about these cards at a ribbon-cutting event at their North Hanley Transit Center. Friem said they’ve been working on many pages of problems getting fare systems from two different vendors to play nice with each other. Metro uses one vender for MetroBus, another at MetroLink light rail fare gates.  When we spoke on September 28, 2017 he said the problems were down to just 3 pages and he expected a rollout late in the year — 2017.

My followup email from a month ago is still unanswered. You can see the draft Gateway Card website here.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Elevator Problems Again Ruin Arrival At Gateway Transportation Center

February 26, 2018 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Elevator Problems Again Ruin Arrival At Gateway Transportation Center

In August 2017 I called The Gateway Transportation Center (Amtrak/Greyhound) Amshack #3, writing:

For at least 5 years the opener to the outside door leading from Civic Center MetroLink station hasn’t worked. Same with a urinal in the main men’s room. Our train from Chicago arrived about 15 minutes early on Sunday July 30th . The up escalator from the platform wasn’t working so everyone had to use the elevator up. Once over the tracks we needed to get down to the main station. The down escalators and elevator weren’t working — stairs were the only option. There were families with small children and I’m in my wheelchair. My husband goes down the stairs to see if anyone can help.

Earlier this month we took the train to Chicago — our first since last July. Upon arrival on Wednesday February 7th I was pleased the outside door opener had finally been fixed! I didn’t use the restroom so I’m not sure out the urinal. Both elevators worked fine  — the first up to the walkway over the tracks and the one to the 1st platform.

The door opener finally worked

My renewed optimism for the station was shattered upon our return. Our train arrived about 30 minutes late — about 1am on Sunday February 11th. We’d just missed the last bus out of the adjacent Civic Center MetroBus Transit Center. We just wanted to get out to 14th Street so we could roll/walk home.

The elevator for platform 2 was out of service

But like our return in July 2017 — an elevator wasn’t working. This time it was the elevator up from the platform. I knew the way to the end of the platform, through the employee parking lot, to the employee entrance — that elevator, not working last time, worked this time.

A building less than a decade old shouldn’t continually have problems. St. Louis has low standards.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Seeking a Variety of Vehicle Types

February 7, 2018 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Readers Seeking a Variety of Vehicle Types
This 1974 photo shows my 2 brothers with my oldest niece in my dad’s 1964 Ford Econoline van on vacation at Saint Augustine FL

Vehicles have changed dramatically since first invented. The preferred family vehicle continues to change too. Currently Crossovers are on the rise as sales of passenger cars drop.

The SUV is officially king.

Three full-size pickups were still the best-selling vehicles in the United States last year. But the fourth-place spot was claimed for the first time by an SUV, not a sedan.

In 2017 the Toyota RAV4 sport ute outsold the Toyota Camry sedan, reigning car-sales champ for the last 15 years.

The compact, five-door RAV4 crossover sold 407,594 units last year — a gain of 15.7 percent — eclipsing Camry by 20,513 in sales. The midsize sedan saw an annual sales decline of 0.4 percent. Camry wasn’t even runner-up as another SUV, the Nissan Rogue, gained 22.3 percent to 403,465 units sold.

Most of the vehicles labeled as SUVs aren’t, they’re technically crossovers. What’s the difference?

For many car experts, the difference between the two is simple: A crossover is based on a car’s platform, while an SUV uses the chassis of a truck. The result is that crossovers use “unibody” architecture, meaning the body and frame are one piece, while SUVs use a “body on frame” design. In that case, the body is built separately from the frame and placed together later. 

While that definition is strictly true, it doesn’t always work in practice. For example, many shoppers refer to car-based, unibody vehicles as SUVs even though they’re crossovers by our definition. How often, for example, do you hear the Ford Explorer called an SUV? Or the Toyota Highlander? Or the Jeep Grand Cherokee? All use a car-based unibody design, despite their appearance and marketing. 

The result is that the term “SUV” is often applied to both crossovers and SUVs. In the past, that was even more common. Before, “SUV” brought up negative associations with large size and poor gas mileage. That’s when many automakers started using the term “crossover” to describe a vehicle that was “crossing over” from the practicality of an SUV to the drivability and fuel efficiency of a car. (Auto Trader)

Regardless of the tern you use, every auto manufacturer is rushing to add more models to their lineups. Sports car maker Porsche was early to capitalize on the trend to SUVs/crossovers with the 2003 Cayenne. BMW subsidiary Rolls Royce won’t call their upcoming Cullinan an SUV or Crossover — it’s a “high-sided vehicle.

The Ferrari sedan won’t happen, as sales of conventional three-box four-doors—even ones with glamorous badge—are in a slow death spiral. That leaves the Ferrari SUV, an idea no longer as outlandish as a few short years ago, what with Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, and Lamborghini now following Bentley and Porsche into the segment.

“Ferrari will not produce an SUV competing with Porsche, Bentley, or Lamborghini,” insists Ferrari marketing boss Enrico Galliera. “An SUV can be a very fast car. But it’s not a sports car. We will remain consistent with our strategy, which is producing sports cars.”

Except … several sources have confirmed Ferrari is working on an all-road, all-wheel-drive, wagonlike vehicle with four doors that’s based on the architecture used for the GTC4Lusso. So what makes it more sports car than SUV? The laid-back driving position, apparently. (Motor Trend)

I’ve seen the 70s van craze, the 80s mini-van craze, the 90s body-on-frame SUV craze. I personally think the current unibody crossover craze will come to an end as we move toward fleet-owned autonomous electric vehicles. I could be wrong, of course. I do know for certain I’ll see lots of new crossovers/SUVs and fewer passenger cars at the Chicago Auto Show. Tomorrow & Friday are media-only days.  If something interesting comes up either day I’ll be posting it to Twitter & Facebook.

Here are the results from the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: I’d like my next vehicle to be a…

  • Convertible 2 [6.45%]
  • Coupe 4 [12.9%]
  • Crossover 4 [12.9%]
  • Hatchback 5 [16.13%]
  • Sedan 5 [16.13%]
  • Sports Car 0 [0%]
  • SUV 2 [6.45%]
  • Truck 1 [3.23%]
  • Van 4 [12.9%]
  • Wagon 2 [6.45%]
  • Unsure 0 [0%]
    n/a 2 [6.45%]

These results are very different than the overall auto market.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: What Type Of Car Would You Like Next?

February 4, 2018 Featured, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: What Type Of Car Would You Like Next?
Please vote below

Thursday & Friday of this will I’ll be at the media-only events at the Chicago Auto Show, it’s open to the public Saturday February 10-19, 2018. Before each show I think about what new models I want to see, what press events interest me. As fuel prices remain low, the small cars I prefer continue being pushed to the back as trucks, SUVs, and crossovers show increased sales & profitability:

Automakers posted mixed U.S. new vehicle sales data for January, with American consumers showing little sign they will stop abandoning passenger cars for the larger pickup trucks, SUVs and crossover models that manufacturers also love because they are far more profitable. (Reuters)

For today’s poll I’m curious about what type (body style) vehicle, if any, you desire. The list in the poll (below) is listed alphabetically and is based on lists from Edmunds & NADA.

This poll will close at 8pm. On Wednesday I’ll share the results and share my thoughts on the subject.

Thursday & Friday I’ll be posting to Twitter & Facebook from the Chicago Auto Show.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Transportation Investment Key To Redeveloping The North Riverfront Area

January 22, 2018 Featured, North City, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on Transportation Investment Key To Redeveloping The North Riverfront Area

St. Louis tried redeveloping the North Riverfront, the largely vacant area just North of Laclede’s Landing, by razing it and building an NFL stadium. That failed…thankfully. Next up, the area was included in our bid to win Amazon’s HQ2. Last week Amazon announced their list of 20 cities being considered — St. Louis’ bid didn’t make the cut.

Warehouses along Ashley between 2nd and Lewis.

So now what to do with the North Riverfront? I say stop dreaming about a magic pill that’ll do it in one shot. The street grid still exists, sidewalks need to be built. There’s lots of room foe new buildings and existing buildings awaiting new uses. St. Louis could invest in the area and enact a form-based code to guide future development. The investment would take the form of infrastructure — utilities, sidewalks, and transportation.

St. Louis is working on a North-South light rail plan to the West. This new line will use low-floor vehicles, not the high-floor vehicles used on our current MetroLink light rail lines. Modern streetcar & light rail lines use the same vehicles, the light rail usually just being longer and on a track where higher speeds are available. What does this have to do with the North Riverfront area?

We can use the same vehicles, maintenance facility, etc to operate lower-speed circulation streetcar route that’s connected to the proposed North-South line,

The blue line rep[resents the proposed North-South LR, the orange is a circulator route going from the Eads Bridge MetroLink station up to Mullanphy St. The purple is a connecting route along Cass — which could extend to the new NGA HQ and perhaps beyond in future expansions. After uploading the graphic I realized it would be good to have a connection in the center of the orange circulator route — at Biddle.
The orange line is just under 2 miles long. Yes, I know, a bus is a far cheaper way to move people. I also know a bus route doesn’t spur private development. This have the potential to connect The Arch, Laclede’s Landing, the upcoming North-South line, and the NGA HQ.

— Steve Patterson

 

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