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Metro’s Blue Color Scheme A Welcomed Change

December 24, 2020 Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on Metro’s Blue Color Scheme A Welcomed Change

A year ago Metro announced that a new color scheme was being phased in.

You will continue to see the red-white-and-blue trains and buses for a long time. There are currently three MetroLink trains featuring the new look, as well as 26 new MetroBus vehicles. These new 30-foot Gillig buses have improved emissions and a much smaller turning radius than other buses in the fleet, making them more flexible in the types of service they can provide and in the locations where they can better operate.

The new paint scheme will only be applied to new vehicles being added to the Metro fleet as they replace older trains, buses and vans that are being retired out of service. All of these updates are part of the normal maintenance and replacement cycle for transit vehicles, signs and materials, and no additional funds are being used or needed to make these changes.

It took a while but I think most vehicles have now received the new design. Train vehicles haven’t actually been replaced, but individual cars gets updated and the livery changes from the standard to advertising, etc. Buses also get a change of livery based on advertising wraps.

The new blue design in July 2020
New blue design last month

MetroLink trains & buses have been white for decades.

The old blue & red design on a white background, 2014.
The old blue & red on a white background on August 26, 2006 — the opening of the Shrewsbury line.

I’ve been here 30 years and I couldn’t think of a different color scheme, but a friend reminded me prior to the 2003 Bi-State to Metro change to blue & red on white they had a red/orange/yellow scheme.

Red, orange, & yellow strip on white background. 1996 photo by Ron Walker.

I personally love the new design. The bold blue design stands out, at least for now. In time it’ll get old and tired. It’s refreshing to no longer have the white background. I’ve seen the new blue design on buses, but haven’t gotten a photo yet.

— Steve Patterson

 

More Changes Coming To Central West End Light Rail Station

December 23, 2019 Central West End, Featured, Public Transit Comments Off on More Changes Coming To Central West End Light Rail Station

When our light rail line, MetroLink, opened in July 1993 the Central West End (CWE) station was one of the original.  This was prior to the city vacating Euclid Ave. for vehicular travel. For the next 13 years the station operated with two separate platforms — one for eastbound and one for westbound — with the tracks in the center,

In August 2006 the new Blue Line opened further west.  But the CWE station had been rebuilt from two platforms to one center platform. This reduced elevators from two to one.

July 2010 looking down on the station from what used to be Euclid Ave on the west.
Looking east toward Taylor from the CWE MetroLink platform, 2014

The station, the busiest in the system, remain largely unchanged until last year when the platform was extended in length. The trains aren’t any longer, but the eastbound trains now stop further east from the stair/elevator. This was done to reduce pedestrian congestion.

Construction on the platform extension, November 2018.

So what’s changing? From Metro’s December 20th press release:

Station Redesign Details:

  • New, monitored entrance/exit at the street level from Euclid Avenue on the west end of the station featuring a welcome center at the top of the stairs that lead down to the MetroLink platform
  • A new, wider staircase with a center handrail connecting the new Euclid Avenue entrance/exit to the platform to better accommodate passengers
  • Relocating the elevator on the station platform to relieve congestion
  • New, upgraded platform lighting
  • An expanded canopy to cover 70% of the MetroLink platform. The current canopy covers 30% of the MetroLink platform.
  • Safety improvements including a speed bump, stop sign, and new lighting at the entry to the MetroBus area of the garage which connects to the east entrance/exit of the platform.

Construction begins today, the elevator will be closed starting Thursday (12/26/19). When the station was reconfigured in 2006 they should’ve made the platform wider. Hopefully the new station will have a substantially larger elevator — and that a wheelchair user waiting for the elevator won’t block others.

Obviously during the construction those of us that need the elevator will have to use the east end of the platform and enter/exit via the CWE MetroBus Transit Center. Metro’s release indicates other closures may happen throughout the project but that advance notice will be given.  Unfortunately, they did not indicate how long this project will last.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Opposed To Loop Trolley Bailout

October 16, 2019 Featured, Public Transit, St. Louis County, STL Region, Transportation Comments Off on Readers Opposed To Loop Trolley Bailout

I’m a huge fan of modern streetcars, like the line in Kansas City, but I’m indifferent to “heritage” trollies that use vintage or reproduction of early 20th century equipment. They’re great for nostalgia buffs, Instagram-worth photos, etc. Actual transportation?  Sorta, mostly for tourists.

Loop Trolley 001

Many comments I read online said the Loop Trolley was a bad idea from the start. Yes and no. Most of the established businesses in the Delmar Loop are further than a quarter-mile walk from the Delmar MetroLink (light rail) station — that’s the maximum distance most people are wiling to walk.  The #97 MetroBus runs on the Delmar portion of the Loop Trolley, but it only runs every 30 minutes. Plus, many in our region view the bus as poor people transit. And the bus doesn’t encourage millions in new dense infill construction the way expensive fixed-rail projects do.

New construction on a site long occupied by a gas station. Delmar & Skinker. The Loop Trolley’s power line is visible. August 2019.

So providing a rail system to get people the last mile to/from a transit station was actually a good idea. The problem was Joe Edwards, the Loop’s longtime advocate, insisted the vehicles be vintage trolley cars — not better modern streetcars. Modern low-floor streetcars are easy to board & exit — including for those of us using wheelchairs. Families pushing strollers also find modern low-floor streetcars to be very convenient. Vintage high-floor trolley vehicles, are the opposite.

Joe Edwards as Mr. Rogers, from Facebook. Original source unknown.

At one point a consultant on the project told me he was pushing to future-proof  the design so modern streetcars, known as trams elsewhere in the world, could eventually replace the vintage cars. Unfortunately, he didn’t prevail. Had the system been built for modern low-floor vehicles it would be straightforward to make the system actually serve local transit needs, with a future expansion east on Delmar. But no, we’ve got a system that’ll only work with vintage cars that Seattle no longer wanted.  Seattle does have a nice modern low-floor streetcar system.

Some project info from the Loop Trolley website:

Who owns and operates the trolley system? 
The Loop Trolley is owned by the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District (LTTDD) and will be operated by the Loop Trolley Company, a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

How much did this project cost to build?  
The construction budget for the Loop Trolley project is $51 million, or $17 million per track mile. This is on the low side in comparison to other recently constructed streetcar systems such as Cincinnati ($36.76M/track mile), Tucson ($28.26M/track mile), Kansas City ($25.35M//track mile) and Portland ($22.43M/track mile).

How is construction and operations funded:
The primary construction funding came via a $25 million FTA Urban Circulator grant. Funding also comes from other federal grants (CMAQ, STP), a TIF, New Market Tax Credits, St. Louis County Transportation Fund, Great Rivers Greenway, Washington University, and Loop Trolley Transportation Development District sales taxes and donations. A combination of fares, advertising and LTTDD sales taxes will fund operations.

Who supported the effort to restore trolley service in St. Louis?
In addition to the Federal Transit Administration and the Loop Trolley Company, other supporters include St. Louis County, Great Rivers Greenway, Washington University, the City of St. Louis, University City,  the Missouri History Museum, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, Citizens for Modern Transit, our congressional delegation, The Loop Special Business District, and many businesses, neighborhood groups and residents. 

Now the very non-profit says they need $700k to prevent becoming insolvent. The city already said no, now the St. Louis County Council doesn’t plan to take up the request. There was a time Joe Edwards could do no wrong, so he got his way on this. Too bad politicians, business executives, etc didn’t learn to say no to Edwards — at least have modern low-floor streetcars from the start or be able to add them later.

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

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis City & County should equally help the Loop Trolley Co. so it doesn’t become insolvent.

  • Strongly agree: 7 [11.86%]
  • Agree: 4 [6.78%]
  • Somewhat agree: 5 [8.47%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [1.69%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [5.08%]
  • Disagree: 11 [18.64%]
  • Strongly disagree: 28 [47.46%]

The Post-Dispatch Editorial Board agrees with the majority.

It was bad business from the beginning for the trolley’s promoters to have failed to foresee the low rider interest and economic challenges that led to the current crisis, and it’s bad business for the region’s leaders to keep throwing money at it. If this project is still as viable as its promoters claim it to be, let private sources cover these shortfalls. The taxpayers have done enough.

I’m torn.  I was hoping the trolley would spur new development in the city portion of the route, but this land may sit vacant for years to come.  Abandoning a project after tens of millions have been invested will have repercussions for decades to come. But I know money shouldn’t go to the non-profit that got us to this point.

Perhaps Metro (aka Bi-State Development) can take it all off their hands? Then your local monthly pass, 2-hour transfer, or Gateway Card will work for fare payment. Other than Metro, I don’t see a solution — not necessarily a good solution, but an effort to try something different to save face as a region.

— Steve Patterson

 

First Look At Metro’s Revised Bus Service (aka Metro Reimagined)

October 2, 2019 Featured, Public Transit, STL Region, Transportation Comments Off on First Look At Metro’s Revised Bus Service (aka Metro Reimagined)

I’ve only begun looking at the new “Metro Reimagined” bus service in St. Louis City & County, haven’t even ridden a bus yet this week. I do recall other riders discussing it last Friday at the bus stop. One woman, who also lives just north of downtown, was upset about the west end of the #97 Delmar bus getting cut in St. Louis County. It will mean more walking for her to get to work.

The #70 Grand MetroBus is the busiest bus line in the region, partly due to being the only route frequent service. August 2012

Here are the four tiers used to organize the MetroBus routes:

  • Frequent: 10 high-frequency routes offering service every 15 minutes or faster
  • Local: 35 routes offering 30-minute service
  • Community: 6 routes that provide important connections in low-ridership areas
  • Express: 6 routes providing direct connections with limited stops to key destinations

My first place to start was asking “Will I be impacted?” by this change. The short answer is yes — every bus rider will see changes to service. Some positive, some negative.

Moving from Downtown West to Columbus Square in December 2018 means I have fewer bus routes available — basically the #32, with the southbound  #40 another 1/10 of a mile further away than the southbound #32. The northbound #32 is considerably closer than the northbound #40.

Since moving I’ve rarely used the #40, the #32 is my primary bus route. Both routes are considered “local” routes, now with 30 minute frequency during weekdays. The service was every 40 minutes, so 30 minute frequency is an improvement.

The other bus I use is the #90 Hampton, when I visit my doctor 4x per year. While it’s listed as a “frequent” route with 15 minute service that only applies to the northern portion of the route from Riverview to Forest Park. From Forest Park to Gravois-Hampton service is every 30 minutes. I think service has been every 40 minutes, so another slight improvement.

Another bus I used to ride often is the #99 downtown trolley, introduced in

Me exiting the Downtown Trolley on the day it debuted in July 2010. The bright wrap ceased being used a few years ago. Photo by Jim Merkel

The recent Sunday Poll asked about this new plan:

Q: Agree or disagree: Metro’s new ‘Metro Reimagined’ with more frequent bus service will result in significant ridership increases.

  • Strongly agree: 0 [0%]
  • Agree: 2 [7.14%]
  • Somewhat agree: 4 [14.29%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 3 [10.71%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [10.71%]
  • Disagree: 5 [17.86%]
  • Strongly disagree: 9 [32.14%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 2 [7.14%]

More than 60% didn’t think this will lead to a significant increase in ridership. That’s fair, I think the primary goal was to better serve existing riders — to stop losing ridership.

Riders in some parts of the county will see less service.  My intention is for future posts to look at what’s working well, and what’s not.

— Steve Patterson

 

New Book — ‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ by Steven Higashide

September 30, 2019 Books, Featured, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on New Book — ‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ by Steven Higashide
‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ by Steven Higashide will be available October 10, 2019.

I’ve known for a while that today’s the day Metro rolls out the biggest change to bus routes in decades. I wasn’t sure how I’d evaluate the changes then last week a new book shows up: ‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ by Steven Higashide.

From publisher Island Press:

Imagine a bus system that is fast, frequent, and reliable—what would that change about your city?

Buses can and should be the cornerstone of urban transportation. They offer affordable mobility and can connect citizens with every aspect of their lives. But in the US, they have long been an afterthought in budgeting and planning. With a compelling narrative and actionable steps, Better Buses, Better Cities inspires us to fix the bus.

Transit expert Steven Higashide shows us what a successful bus system looks like with real-world stories of reform—such as Houston redrawing its bus network overnight, Boston making room on its streets to put buses first, and Indianapolis winning better bus service on Election Day. Higashide shows how to marshal the public in support of better buses and how new technologies can keep buses on time and make complex transit systems understandable.

Higashide argues that better bus systems will create better cities for all citizens. The consequences of subpar transit service fall most heavily on vulnerable members of society. Transit systems should be planned to be inclusive and provide better service for all. These are difficult tasks that require institutional culture shifts; doing all of them requires resilient organizations and transformational leadership.

Better bus service is key to making our cities better for all citizens. Better Buses, Better Cities describes how decision-makers, philanthropists, activists, and public agency leaders can work together to make the bus a win in any city.

Though I have a hard time post-stroke reading a book cover to cover, I dived into the introduction and some chapters. Here are the contents so you can see how it’s organized:

  • Preface: My Own Bus Story
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: We Need to Unleash the Bus
  • Chapter 1: What Makes People Choose the Bus?
  • Chapter 2: Make the Bus Frequent
  • Chapter 3: Make the Bus Fast and Reliable
  • Chapter 4: Make the Bus Walkable and Dignified
  • Chapter 5: Make the Bus Fair and Welcoming
  • Chapter 6: Gerrymandering the Bus
  • Chapter 7: Technology Won’t Kill the Bus—Unless We Let It
  • Chapter 8: Building a Transit Nation
  • Conclusion: Winning Mindsets and Growing Movements

The introduction agues we must reduce greenhouse emissions from transportation — public transit it how we accomplish that goal. Specifically, the bus is how we reduce greenhouse emissions by reducing car trips — including Lyft & Uber trips.  Higashide also points out that civic leaders, business leaders, and transit agency executives & board members don’t ride the bus in their regions. Non-riders think adding wifi, for example, will make a difference. Frequency and convenience is what matters. If the bus runs every 15 minutes that’s great — bus not if you need to walk 5 blocks on each end of the trip.

If you’re interested in learning about the importance of bus service is to a region, and how to improve it,  I suggest getting this book when it comes out October 10th. Read more about author Steven Higashide here.

I’ll be using this book as a guide for my first look at Metro’s new bus service on Wednesday morning.

— Steve Patterson

 

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