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Readers: Metro’s Decision to Buy 15 Reconditioned Articulated Buses Green & Frugal

In the poll last week readers were supportive of Metro’s decision to buy used articulated buses and have them completely reconditioned. Starting in June five will replace five of the twelve regular 40 foot buses on the #70 (Grand) MetroBus route, by the end of summer all 12 will be these 60 foot articulated buses. These offer more seats, more standing room, and two exit doors.

The first of 15 articulated buses, basically a 30ft bus with a 30ft trailer.
The first of 15 articulated buses, basically a 30ft bus with a 30ft trailer.

Here are the poll results:

Q: Metro’s 60ft articulated buses are completely rebuilt 2004 New Flyer models from Ottawa, costing $430k/ea vs $825k/ea new, reaction?

  1. Excellent, very green & frugal decision. 43 [55.13%]
  2. June can’t come soon enough! 12 [15.38%]
  3. Other: 7 [8.97%]
    1. Cool, Canadian hand-me-downs
    2. Focus on revenue making deals to increase discretionary funds for the city
    3. Should have scheduled 2x as many busses on the route
    4. Can’t imagine how it can make our turns.
    5. Streetcar would be ideal
    6. Depends on whether it’s a complete rebuild or just cosmetics
    7. Try it out
  4. Really, Canadian hand-me-downs? 5 [6.41%]
  5. Rebuilt or new, too big to run on Grand 4 [5.13%]
  6. Unsure/No Answer 4 [5.13%]
  7. St. Louis will need to do a better job clearing snow along the route. 3 [3.85%]

Let me address some of the “other” responses. Metro got a federal grant to buy buses, running 24 rather than 12 on the route would double the operating costs (labor, fuel, maintenance) which isn’t something the grant covered. If Missouri had higher fuel taxes with part going toward transit agencies then increasing the frequency might be an option. The articulated buses are actually easier to turn than the regular 40 foot buses. Why? These are 30 foot buses with a 30 foot trailer. Drivers will get new training but I don’t think we’ll see any major issues since the #70 route is mostly a straight line up and down Grand. That said, in snow they might experience issues. I love streetcars but Grand doesn’t have the density at the ends to justify the capital expense.

I agree with the readers — this was an excellent decision and June can’t come soon enough.

Now I’d like to highlight a couple of other recent procurement decisions that appear to also be wise choices. Wheels & side glass.

Our buses have had painted steel wheels for years, but they are labor intensive to maintain
Our buses have had painted steel wheels for years, but they are labor intensive to maintain
The newest order of 40ft Gillig buses and the 15 rebuilt articulated buses all have aluminum wheels. More expensive upfront but cheaper in the long run because of reduced maintenance costs.
The newest order of 40ft Gillig buses and the 15 rebuilt articulated buses all have aluminum wheels. More expensive upfront but cheaper in the long run because of reduced maintenance costs.
Our buses have always had exposed metal frames, the articulated buses still do because they are rebuilt. New 2014 Gillig buses have flush side glass which looks so much nicer.
Our buses have always had exposed metal frames, the articulated buses still do because they are rebuilt. New 2014 Gillig buses have flush side glass which looks so much nicer.
Aesthetics aside, a flush glass window can quickly be replaced by one person. The exposed frame glass we have had requires two people, costing more.
Aesthetics aside, a flush glass window can quickly be replaced by one person. The exposed frame glass we have had requires two people, costing more.

It looks like Metro is making very wise decisions, always looking to reduce maintenance costs. These efforts have been noticed by the industry:

The results of the program have been significant. In 2002, Metro’s bus group achieved 10,124 miles between breakdowns compared with 21,827 miles between breakdowns in 2009 – a 115-percent improvement. (Source: Top-Notch Vehicle Maintenance Programs Help Transit Agencies Excel

So thank you to the staff at Metro for sweating the details on maintenance schedules, fretting over specifications for purchasing buses.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Mixed-Use Building with a Trader Joe’s Coming to Grand & Lindell Corner

NOTE: this was an April Fool’s joke, enjoy…

A proposed 6-story apartment building with a ground-floor Trader Joe’s grocery store will be announced today for the northeast corner of Grand & Lindell, temporarily the site of the Ellen Clark Sculpture Park.

ABOVE: The once vibrant urban street corner is now a passive hole in the city
This sculpture park was just a way to hold the land until the right project came along

The announcement will be made today at 4pm; speakers will include William R. Kauffman, J.D., Interim President of Saint Louis University, incoming President Fred P. Pestello, Trader Joe’s VP of real estate Brandt Sharrock, Vince Schoemehl of Grand Center, and Steve Smith of the Lawrence Group, the architects & developers of the project.

Artist rendering of proposed mixed-use building
Artist rendering of proposed mixed-use building

Excellent public transit is said to be a factor for this project moving forward now, citing the busiest MetoBus line on Grand, the #70, and the proposed St. Louis Streetcar on Lindell. Other factors include the new Whole Foods going into the ground floor of an apartment building at Euclid and Pine. Like that building, this new building will have underground parking, including some for Trader Joe’s customers.

It’ll be so nice having a Trader Joe’s so close to downtown!

— Steve Patterson

 

Poll: Metro’s 60ft articulated buses are completely rebuilt 2004 New Flyer models from Ottawa, costing $430k/ea vs $825k/ea new, reaction?

Friday Metro showed off the first of (15) 60-foot articulated buses that’ll be here by the end of summer, 5 will go into service on the busy #70 (Grand) MetroBus route on June 9th. St. Louis isn’t the only city that bought some of Ottawa’s 226 old articulated bus fleet. From March 2012:

Last week, Winnipeg Transit announced it wants to spend $1.1 million to purchase articulated buses at a discounted rate from New Flyer Industries, after Ottawa traded them in for new buses. The buses will cost $53,000 each, instead of the $625,000 they would cost brand-new.

In total, it will cost Winnipeg $2.2 million to buy and fix up the buses. (City committee in favour of buying articulated buses)

For years Metro has purchased new buses from Califiornia-based Gillig, but they still don’t offer an articulated bus. New Flyer, out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, has been offering articulated buses for years.

The first of 15 articulated buses, basically a 30ft bus with a 30ft trailer.
The first of 15 articulated buses, basically a 30ft bus with a 30ft trailer.
Interior of the rebuilt bus looks like a brand-new bus.
Interior of the rebuilt bus looks like a brand-new bus.

For more information, see Metro’s articulated bus fact sheet (PDF). These new buses are the subject for the poll this week, I’d like to get your thoughts. I’ve provided a range of answers, plus I’ve also set the poll so you can enter your own if you don’t like the ones provided. The poll is in the right sidebar.  Results and my views will be posted on Wednesday April 2nd.

— Steve Patterson

 

#97 MetroBus on Locust…Temporarily

Metro’s #97 MetroBus route is commonly known as the “Delmar”, and it does go down Delmar west of Vandeventer. It also runs on McKnight, Ladue, Maryland, Central, Shaw Park, Meramec, Old Bonhomme, Vandeventer, Enright, Spring, Washington, and 14th. The route doesn’t include Locust St., but utility construction on Washington Ave meant the #94 & #97 buses had to be rerouted.  The #94 got pushed a block north to Delmar and the #97 got pushed a block south to Locust.

A #97 MetroBus heading eastbound on Locust at 16th
A #97 MetroBus heading eastbound on Locust at 16th

I took the image above right after I exited my building. I love seeing buses going up and down my street! What I haven’t seen during the last couple of month of the reroute is temporary bus stops. Bus routes have flexility that streetcar routes don’t, but that flexility comes with the responsibility to mark stops. The current alert doesn’t mention stops:

#97 Construction at Washington and 20th Street – Revision #4

DETAILS: Due to construction at Washington and 20th Street, the following reroutes will be in effect for approximately a month.

REROUTE DETAILS: #97 DELMAR

EASTBOUND: Regular route to Washington and 21st, right on 21st, left on Locust, Right on 14th to regular route.

WESTBOUND: Regular route to 14th and Locust, left on Locust, right on 21st, left on Washington to regular route.

Stops on Washington at 14th/15th, 16th, 18th, and 20th are all closed with no visible replacements. — Steve Patterson

 

Contactless Transit Smart Cards

On my first trip to Washington D.C. in August of 1990 I rode their Metro subway system. Even back then you could buy a card you’d swipe that would deduct the appropriate fare from your balance. It was quick and convenient because riders didn’t need to buy tickets each trip.  Daily riders could buy a monthly pass, but for less frequent riders this was wonderful.

Fast forward to today and technology has come a long way. Metro Saint Louis has been installing new equipment to prepare for a smart card system here.

On our recent trip to Chicago we each bought a new “Ventra” card to ride Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses:

Introducing Ventra, a convenient new payment system for the CTA and Pace that allows customers to pay for train and bus rides with the same payment methods they use for everyday purchases. Customers can easily manage their accounts online and choose from several different contactless payment methods:

  • Ventra Card: a transit + optional Debit MasterCard® that can be used for transit and everyday purchases
  • Ventra Tickets: single-ride and One-day passes
  • Personal, contactless, bank-issued credit and debit cards can be used for transit
  • Eventually, compatible smartphones

With Ventra, travel throughout the Chicago area is more convenient and efficient than ever before.

We didn’t buy them in advance, I just went in to the CVS* two blocks from our hotel. Each card cost $5 but after registering by phone or online that becomes transit credit. When purchased I added $5 to each. Spent $10/card for $10 of transit credit per card.

My online Ventra statement
My online Ventra statement

I loved being able to check my balance online and see a history of the bus routes we rode.  Like St. Louis, a one ride trip is $2, but their transfer is just 25¢ compared to $1 here. But pricing is getting off the subject…

We didn’t see anyone paying cash or swiping older reader cards, making boardings very quick. Here many customers, myself included, pay with cash. The Ventra system launched in Chicago last year, more on that shortly.

I’ve been wanting to try a smart card system for a while now but it wasn’t until we were on our last bus ride to Union Station that I felt like I got the hang of just how to tap the card in front of the sensor to get it to register. Previous rides I thought I had it but the driver would tell me to try again. Part of my problem was trouble seeing the screen from a seated position in my wheelchair. We both had trouble at first, but imagine every rider having trouble. The Ventra launch didn’t go smoothly:

 Compared to other smart transit systems, Ventra is logging a fairly negative public review. Unlike Ventra, Boston’s contactless electronic CharlieCard system faced no huge bouts of complaints upon implementation in late 2006 and early 2007. In fact, despite minor problems, customers lauded the system. (Chicago’s New Smart Cards Make Commuting Even Harder – Mashable, December 2013)

This fall, you see, after a series of delays, the city brought online a new fare payment system called “Ventra” in which customers tap “smart cards” against electronic readers at bus entrances and train station turnstiles. Only it turns out these cards are not so smart. Half the time, tap after tap after tap, the damned things don’t work, and the bus driver just exasperatedly waves you through. Although it hasn’t been as much fun for the passengers who exited the bus through the front door and discovered that, if their purses or backpacks brushed too close to the reader, they were charged twice. (Chicago’s ‘Smart Card’ Debacle and Privatisatiom – The Nation, December 2013)

Pace, suburban Chicago’s bus system which is separate from the CTA is now online with Ventra. Metra, the commuter rail system will be next. Once Metra is accepting the Ventra card, commuters using the three separate transit systems in the greater Chicago area can finally pay using the same card, rather than manage separate forms of payment for each.

In St. Louis, Metro is working with Madison County Transit on the smart card system for our region. Hopefully they’ve learned from the mistakes made in Chicago.  I don’t know if the cards used in St. Louis can do double duty as pre-paid debit cards. In Chicago’s system you can also use a contactless credit/debit card. I’ve never been offered such a card before,  but I think they’ll become more common in a few years.

Each smart card has an embedded computer chip that can hold passes and cash value. Unlike most credit cards, smart cards are not magnetic and do not require “swiping.” Equipped with antennae, the cards allow contactless communication so customers can simply wave or tap the card on the validator or farebox. Validators at MetroLink stations will respond with a green light and fareboxes on board MetroBus will beep to indicate the fare is accepted and has been deducted from the card. (Metro)

— Steve Patterson

* Full disclosure: I’m a own a few shares of CVS

 

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