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I’m Car-Free…Again!

ABOVE: Steve Patterson in his vehicle of choice

On July 5th 2007 I was so excited that I was car-free (First Time in 25 Years, I Don’t Own A Car!), having only a 49cc Honda Metropolitan scooter and a bicycle. A year later I bought a car again — I could no longer ride the scooter & bike due to a stroke (I Drove My Car Today). I had to have a car in St. Louis, right?

I felt guilty though:

So now my trick will be to see how seldom I can drive the car. I feel like a failed environmentalist selling the scooter and getting a car. As I start to buy gas I know I will quickly be reminded of just how efficient the scooter was. 

The scooter was very efficient (90+ mpg) and I did a good job of not driving my car often (5k/year).  In July 2010 I bought a monthly transit pass and began to use and learn our public transit system. After nearly two years as a regular rider I knew I was ready to ditch the car. Why you ask? To improve my standard of living!

You’re probably confused how NOT having a car will improve my standard of living, most view car ownership as increasing one’s standard of living. As a low-income person the cost of insurance, maintenance, taxes, and fuel were too much even though my car was paid for. In addition to the expenses the car’s value was dropping. The car was a burden rather than the key to freedom.

I’ll save money by not having to pay for auto insurance every six months as well as annual personal properly taxes. Based on my annual driving and MPG I’ll save about $750 a year in gas.  I’ll also be able to rent my parking space to a neighbor. I’ll be able to increase my available cash by 15%!

After the couple test drove my car they made an offer and I accepted, then it hit me — this will very likely be the last time I own a car. Ever. I’ve been driving for 29 years and all but one year I’ve owned a car, sometimes 2-3. Before when I went car-free I had the scooter and thought that yes I might have a car again but with my income and my inability to work in a paying job the only way I’d ever have a car again is if I won the lottery.

In addition to taking MetroBus I’ll be getting rides from friends and taking cabs. I’ve downloaded the Taxi Magic app to my phone and set up account with debit card. Two St. Louis taxi firms, St. Louis County & Yellow Cab and Laclede Cab Co. use this service. This will allow me to schedule and pay for a cab from my phone without having to call someone. It stores my home address and I can easily type in the other address. Even if I spend $20/month average on cab fare  I’ll still be way ahead of where I’ve been.

I’ve also, reluctantly, gotten a credit card so I can rent a car on occasion, mostly when traveling. I can’t use car sharing services like WeCar because I require a spinner knob to steer the wheel and a crossover bar to operate turn signals with only my right hand.

I understand that my situation is rather unique, I don’t have to drive 15 miles to a job five days per week. It will be a challenge to not have the convenience of a car but I’m looking forward to facing  and overcoming them.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Concealed Weapons Allowed On Public Transit

The National Riffle Association is in St. Louis and outstate Missouri legislators are trying to change Missouri law to force concealed guns onto public transit. House Bill 1483 was introduced in January but it had it’s first hearing last week in the “General Laws” House committee.  The bill summary:

This bill specifies that a political subdivision in the state cannot prohibit a person with a valid concealed carry endorsement from carrying a concealed firearm onto a train or public bus.

This isn’t about preventing the City of St. Louis, Kansas City, St. Louis County, Richmond Heights or any over “political subdivision” from prohibiting concealed weapons on public transit vehicles. No, this is about preventing the Bi-State Development Corporation, the political subdivision that operates as Metro St. Louis, from prohibiting concealed guns.

ABOVE: Sign on MetroLink train, no such sign exists inside MetroBus vehicles

Metro St. Louis is the Bi-State Development Corporation is joint political subdivision of Missouri & Illinois. I personally don’t have fear using public transit but some seem so struck with fear they feel the need to carry deadly force on their person. The only guns I think should be on public  transit would be those of law enforcement:

Law enforcement officers (including reserve officers, police cadets and turnkeys) may ride whether in or out of uniform. These individuals must present an appropriate badge and identification card to the bus operator or fare inspector when boarding out of uniform. Firefighters may ride free of charge when in uniform and wearing appropriate insignia. These individuals are permitted to ride free of charge because of their ability to assist an operator with dealing with emergency situations that might occur while on the bus. Any of these individuals identified “above”, who accept free transportation are in fact, expected to assist in emergencies in return for their free transportation. (Metro FAQ)

What do you think about concealed guns on public transit? The weekly poll is in the right sidebar. Vote there and share your thoughts below.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Thoughts On The Loop Trolley Project

The project to build a short streetcar line on DeBalivere & Delmar is moving forward:

The Loop Trolley project, having amassed almost all the $43 million it needs, is ready to move into high gear.

Construction is expected to begin late this year, with the trolleys in operation about a year later. (STLtoday.com)

A couple of open houses were held evenly to review the project.

ABOVE: A recent Loop Trolley open house, click image for official website

Not everyone is impressed:

The proposed initial service plan is still less than stellar. It’s still proposed to run 11am to 6pm Sunday to Thursday and 11am to midnight Friday to Saturday. Trains will arrive only every 20 minutes and take 20 minutes to travel end to end. Its fares will not be integrated with Metro, separate tickets will be required. (Gateway Streets)

Initial vehicles will be restored “heritage” streetcars, at a cost of about $150,000 each, per the consultant I spoke with. The good news is now the line and maintenance facility are being designed to handle the modern Škoda streetcar in use in cities like Portland OR and Tacoma WA.  These new vehicles cost several million dollars each so the significantly cheaper old vehicles are the only in the initial budget.

ABOVE: Modern streetcar in Portland OR

Even though I love streetcars I haven’t been excited about the Loop Trolley, until now. I know the higher operating costs of the heritage cars will lead to them being replaced in time. Ideally modern cars will be part of an expansion of the line further east on Delmar. Wheelchair lifts on the heritage cars won’t be convenient but the low floor of the future modern streetcars will be great for quick entry/exit of passengers.

The poll this week seeks your thoughts on the project at this point, vote in the right sidebar. Results on Wednesday April 18th.

– Steve Patterson


Communicating How To Ride The Bus?

Metro’s website explaining how to ride MetroBus is very inadequate — all text — no images or video (live html or archived PDF). Let’s take a look at the all text page section by section:

Plan Your Trip

Use the online Trip Planner, check out the Schedules & Maps or contact Metro Transit Information at 314-231-2345 or 618-271-2345 to plan your trip on MetroBus.

Simple as that? Not exactly? You’ll be given a list of possible routes that you’ll need to sort through to see which is best for you. Some have more walking or transfers than others.

Catch the Bus

Arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time. As the MetroBus vehicle approaches, signal the operator that you are wish to board the bus by standing or raising your hand.

Before boarding MetroBus, verify that the lighted sign above the windshield shows your desired route number and destination.

You’ve got to know the direction your bus will be headed to entire you are at the right stop. Many stops serve more than one route, which is why you’ve got to verify the route number on the bus.

Purchase Your MetroBus Fare

If boarding the MetroBus using a valid transfer or previously purchased ticket, give it to the MetroBus operator as you board. If using a valid Metro pass, swipe it in the fare box or present it to the MetroBus operator. 

Otherwise, purchase fare upon boarding. Exact cash is required; the fare box accepts dollar bills and coins. MetroBus operators cannot make change. If you qualify for a reduced fare, present your reduced fare identification to the MetroBus operator. If you need to connect to another MetroBus route or MetroLink, notify the operator you need a transfer.

So many unanswered questions: What’s a transfer? Previous ticket from where? What does the farebox look like? What are the fares? How do I know if I might qualify for a reduced fare?

Enjoy Your Trip

Once you have boarded, take a seat, watch for your stop and enjoy the ride. MetroBus operators will announce all major intersections.

Remember, using radios without ear plugs, smoking, eating and drinking are prohibited on all Metro Transit vehicles.

If you want to be able to hear the bus operator announce intersections you’d better pick a seat very close so you can actually hear them. Even if you do hear them it might be announced as you pass it, too late to stop. Pull the cord and get off at the next stop and walk back to wear you wanted. It’s best to know the streets and area.

Choose Your Stop

MetroBus vehicles are equipped with either cords that run along the top of the windows or vertical strips positioned between the windows. Pull the cord or press the strip to signal the MetroBus operator that your stop or destination is approaching. Depart from the front or rear door.

Mostly it’s a pull cord, wheelchair users should use the strip rather than cord because it sounds a different tone so the operator knows you need to exit so they will position the bus to permit the lift/ramp. It’s best to exit the rear door as that allows new passengers to board at the same time, you might have to ask the operator to open the rear door.

Have Any Questions?

If you have any questions about using MetroBus service, contact Metro Transit Information at 314-231-2345 from Missouri or 618-271-2345 from Illinois.

I’ve got a question, why put something many find confusing and intimidating into a text only page? Even then, why not link to other pages for information on fares and such? Better yet, why not use photos and/or videos to take some of the mystery out of riding the bus for potential new riders?

Here are a few examples from other cities:

Oklahoma City (OK)


Minneapolis-St. Paul (MN)


Stevens Point (WI)


The Stevens Point website has the same video available in Hmong and Spanish.  These examples are not massive bus systems. Metro St. Louis has a YouTube channel with 19 videos but you won’t find anything helpful like the three examples above.

Years ago when I wanted to learn how to use the bike rack on the front of the bus I was frustrated by Metro’s text-only approach so I turned to YouTube for instruction. For over four years now Madison County Transit across the river in Illinois has had a bike and bus video — narrated by my friend (and MCT employee) SJ Morrison:


My only suggestion is to not board to tell the operator you plan to load your bike. Make eye contact with the operator and load your bike while others are boarding. If you are the only person boarding at that stop it’ll be obvious to the operator you’ll be loading your bike.

I’d like to see Metro St. Louis use photographs and videos to demystify the bus riding experience. I know personally it’s very easy once you learn but before then it’s very intimidating.

 – Steve Patterson


Poll: How Expensive Must Gas Get Before You Take Transit Instead of Drive?

ABOVE: A large crowd waits to board the #70 Grand MetroBus at Union Station

The headlines are full of stories about rising gas prices & transit use:

Ridership on public transit, which is measured by number of trips taken, hit its highest level in the mid-1940s — roughly double today’s rate.

But with the widespread adoption of the automobile and America’s suburbanization in the 1950s, public transit use steadily declined until the early 1970s, when gas prices spiked following the Arab oil embargo. 2011’s ridership rate is the second highest since 1957. (CNN/Money)

The rate of transit use was double in the 1940s? Half the population used twice the transit of today!

The poll this week asks how expensive would gas have to get before you took transit. The poll is in the right sidebar, mobile users need to switch to the desktop theme to see the sidebar.

– Steve Patterson