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Readers Resist Transit As Gas Prices Rise

April 4, 2012 Economy, Environment 31 Comments

I’m not sure if its a love of cars/driving or a dislike of transit but readers in the poll last week indicated it will take a lot to get them to give up driving and use transit.

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

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

  1. I already take transit and/or bike: 39 [33.05%]
  2. I’ll never take transit: 17 [14.41%]
  3. Other: 16 [13.56%]
  4. $10+ 14 [11.86%]
  5. $6 – $6.99: 13 [11.02%]
  6. $5 – $5.99: 10 [8.47%]
  7. $7 – $9.99: 6 [5.08%]
  8. $4 – $4.99: 3 [2.54%]

Wow, really? This tells me we can jack up taxes on gasoline to fund dramatically better transit and most of you will keep driving. Missouri should raise fuel taxes to be on par with neighboring states like Illinois (41.2¢/gallon). The average for the 50 states is 30.5¢/gallon but Missouri is at 17.3¢/gallon, slightly above Oklahoma (Source).

The high number of “other” answers were mostly those feeling guilty and/or defensive about driving:

  1. I can’t take transit to work, not a choice
  2. When I can get from St. Louis County to St. Charles County
  3. I will just work from home
  4. It rarely goes where I need it to – despite proximity to multiple bus routes!
  5. I take transit and walk. 🙂
  6. I’ll be riding my scooter
  7. When it doesnt take 2 hrs to travel, the same distance I can drive in 20 minutes
  8. When it’s cleaner and safer, maybe I’ll consider transit.
  9. i live 3 miles from work, it’s still not an issue for me.
  10. Tranist is not an option in my current job.
  11. I’d take transit now if there was better coverage near my home.
  12. I don’t have convenient transit access
  13. My job requires me to have a car.
  14. transit is not an option for my commute
  15. i’ll take it when it runs 24/7b

Do people only go from home to work and back? No, we don’t. We go to events, shopping, dinner, etc. I’d imagine many of you have made changes to your routines:

Nationally, 84% of those responding to an AAA survey released earlier this month say they’ve changed their routines as a result of soaring fuel prices. Better planning — combining errands into a single trip — was the most common way cited. (USA Today)

It will be interesting to watch as prices continue to rise.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "31 comments" on this Article:

  1. Eric says:

    You ask a pushy, leading question and you’re surprised that the answers are “guilty” and/or “defensive”?

  2. Eric says:

    By the way, transit in St. Louis is nearly useless for events, shopping, and dinner. Frequency is even lower in the evening than during the day, there are few to no buses to most recreational destinations, and many purchases are too big/heavy to be carried at either end of bus ride. For travel to work, at least you have large numbers of people traveling the same direction at the same time, which often makes the level of service acceptable.

    • I’ve found transit to be very useful in St. Louis.

      • bailorg says:

        The biggest problem with the current St. Louis transit system is that it is almost entirely centered around the all too limited Metrolink.  If you don’t live near a Metrolink stop, especially in the county, then transit becomes a rather time-consuming option.

        • Depends upon where you live. Have you actually looked to see how close the nearest bus route is or are you just assuming?

          • bailorg says:

            Yes, I have one bus route near my house.  It goes to the Shrewsbury metro station and takes about 20-25 minutes to get there and it only runs once per hour. It’s about a 15 minute drive by car straight to the Shrewsbury metro station and it is about a 20-25 minute drive by car into downtown from my house.

            Quite frankly, we should turn our overbuilt highway system into a strength and switch over to a bus rapid transit model and have buses pick up passengers in small slices of the area, then get on the highway to take people straight into the city.

            I would imagine that this would be a much better system than designing things based on future Metrolink lines that seem unlikely to ever get built.

          • Fozzie says:

            When the question was posed, plenty of people cited the ridiculous commute time versus driving using Metro’s trip calculator.  You missed the reason why people avoid transit..  Many have weighed their options and chose what was best for them — driving.

  3. Will Fru says:

    It has nothing to do with liking or disliking transit; it has everything to do with the capability of transit as it exists to replace the practicality of a car.

  4. JZ71 says:

    It’s not about a choice between “a love of cars/driving or a dislike of transit”, it’s about choosing the best tool to accomplish a specific task, i.e., getting from point A to point B.  Transit works better for daily commuting than it does for weekend shopping.  Transit works better for getting to large-scale events (Cards, Rams, Blues) than it does for intimate dinners.  Instead of trying to convince drivers that transit is a better option for every trip, why not focus on incremental growth for those trips where transit is a viable or better option? 

    • Transit may be better for weekend trips vs going to work for some. I’d like people just to give it a try to actually see if and when it might work for them.

  5. Tom Shrout says:

     I think this is more of an indictment of land use policy over the last several decades. I use transit for many trips and can walk to many nice restaurants, grocery store, (just got back from the dry cleaner. Most places don’t have that advantage.

  6. Moe says:

    Why Steve?  Just because it works for some doesn’t mean it’s going to work for all.  Take me for instance.  I live in South City,  I could take the bus downtown to Busch,  but would have to transfer multiple times…my time is more valuble and I do not like the constant stop and go…the people? They don’t bother me so much as I like to people watch.  To get to the Metro, I would have to take at least 2 busses on top, not to mention the time.  And I live in the City!  In most places in the county, it’s much much worse.  And what if I want to get out to St. Charles Center? or Riverport?  It’s rediculous to not value my time and peace of mind and just plain convienence more.  Now I’m using that just as an example.  But we all have been raised with the independence of the auto.  To try and reverse that would be as difficult as tell everyone that they can’t use computers anymore….you have to revert back to the typewriter.

    Oh let the bashing begin.  But I’m not saying it’s impossible.  If some calamity arose, yeah, everyone would start looking at other ways.  Gas prices aren’t going to to that.  And we’re just talking single people here…what about the family with 3 tots? or worse?  a baby?  lugging and unlugging and watching every move so they don’t get hurt, and on and on….parents aren’t going to do that.  It’s easier to throw them into the car, give them a ipad and ignore them and pay the extra for gas. Its a societal problem.

    But people should be coordinating their trips already..it’s just logical.  People should walk or bike more…it’s just logical.   But the majority of people aren’t logical.

    • Ruby says:

      Ever bus in south city goes to a metro station, you would not need to take two buses to get to the link.

  7. Moe says:

    Thats true if I wanted to meander through the City….but direct, I would need to transfer.

  8. gmichaud says:

    I have to agree with with various comments, its about land use, about ease of use, about using transit if it goes where you need it to go quickly. St. Louis has a poorly designed transit system, this is coupled with poor physical planning, or land use. The Pevely Building is coming down now, preservation aside, it offers a perfect example of why transit fails in the city. SLU is building a suburban style medical center set way back from the corner (with green space supposely compensating for poor planning).
    Since this site is adjacent to a major light rail station on Grand Avenue (yeah that Grand Avenue) you would expect a new building to be adjacent to sidewalks, mixed use, including commercial and apartments along with the new medical center, maybe similar to the Loop or South Grand. (Thereby serving students, medical workers and the public).
    That is a transit friendly design. I have ridden numerous systems in other cities that are convenient to use, many citizens go without cars since those systems are so convenient. It doesn’t have to be the way it is in St. Louis.
    The small example above is why. And actually that is not a small example, the Grand site is one of the primer transit locations in the region.
    While some transit routes are adequate, it is clear no one in city government or in the transit bureaucracy understands how to build cities.
    The total silence of the supposed transit advocates over the St Louis University Grand Avenue site; East West Gateway Council of Governments, Metro and the non profit Citizens for Modern Transit, have been stunningly evident. This only adds to the appearance of corruption and insider influence.
    We all kidding ourselves if we think anything is going to change for the better. Please understand the power structure with their attitudes and policies that has given St. Louis 50 years of decline is still in place and functioning, today, that is now, today.
    Transit should be an economic tool, a social tool, a tool for city building and for creating a walking city. Transit is a tool for building a high quality city with connected public spaces.
    Lame decision making seriously impacts the quality of the transit experience in St. Louis, hence its use is not what should be.

  9. Tpekren says:

    In the bigger picture, it comes painfully clear that fixed transit works much better if you got land use/zoning to go with it with areas that want it.  In other words, metrolink would be much better served if there could be dense residential development promoted along with the multiple institutions/small employment centers to go with it.   In this case, Richmond Heights/Brentwood/Maplewood/Shrewsbury leadership has failed miserably to deliver on the Cross County line nor do I think anyone was prepared to make that committment.  Even now, Richmond Heights is pursuing more big box stores across Hanley Ave near the Brentwood Station.  At the same time, those communities population are decreasing.  If anything these communities should be gaining population for those who want a pretty good transit option at their doorstep.  Talk about a blown opportunity with no visionary thinking coming anytime soon.

    Overall, the biggest failing for transit for St. Louis is not building a web of fixed transit lines but the development and improvement of what you got along with select Bus Express Service into Downtown/CBD & some well planned feeder streetcar lines Downtown & Grand Ave.  I believe METRO is working on an Express Bus commuter service for downtown.  You can accomplish a lot for the region without having to build Daniel Boone line for the county (Will Olivette promote a TOD over another Big Box Store?) or North-South line for the city at a fraction of the costs. In my opinion you got a pretty good fixed transit system for the region just by extending the current Missouri
    lines a few more stations and adding the SIUE/Edwardsville line in Illinois (Creating an x that ties the most of the regions employment centers/institutions together with the airport/inter city rail). 

    After that, quite dreaming of transit for everybody or the hope that high gas prices will send a lot of people to transit.  Like everybody makes clear just as the survey does, transit can’t serve everyone and I really don’t think it should.  Even in the era of high gasoline prices you will see alternatives as an hybrid and electric vehicles become much more viable.  Those options will continue to serve those people who have decided on a lifestyle they prefer.     

  10. Moe says:

    I agree Tpekren.  Transit isn’t for everyone.  And the ones that it isn’t for are usually the ones complaining about either not enough roads or some excuse for not taking transit, etc.  I also agree that Richmond Heights and that corridor sacrificed the entire region when they refused to put in the extra lanes for the rebuild.  Regardless of whether you were for or against it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that if everyone else along that corridor went with widening, they should have too.  All that money wasted to create another bottleneck.  It should have been everyone or no one.
    As for other cities, I don’t think many cities have been built with ‘a plan’ in place.  It’s always piece meal because the whims of the politicians AND the developers is always fluid.  City planners are great, but don’t think that a group of councilmen couldn’t terminate them and find someone that would impose what they want.  I think of Phx….a perfectly laid out city where 90% of streets are square and equally spaced..a perfect layout…yet they have been struggling for 10 years to put in a metro like lilne.  I was just there again last month and spent a week downtown…true, I was very busy running to and fro, but never in my time there did I see their great metro.  I saw the tracks, but that was it.  Stop thinking St. Louis does everything bad.  They are no worse, no better than most of the cities in this country.  But I digress.
    I also read today that the Loop’s trolly car has raised most of the money and building will soon start.  Sounds great?  Sure, I guess.  Don’t get me wrong, it will do a lot for tourist and such, but will it eleviate traffic problems?  Only for that itsy bitsy section of town.  At 45 Million, I think that a pathetic waste of money.  And most of that is from the Federal Goverment.  I’m sorry, but I just think that at dollar per square mile, that is just too expensive.  And going forward…only 50% of the costs are expected to be covered by fares.  That is not cost effective in my book.

  11. gmichaud says:

    I ran across a piece on channel nine last night on the Atlanta Beltline. It is a comprehensive, transit orientated project circling the city of Atlanta, very ambitious and it already has improved the quality of life in Atlanta (They have a website http://www.beltline.org/BeltLineBasics/BeltLineBasicsOverview/tabid/1691/Default.aspx)
    Moe, there goes your theory that development is always piecemeal. Of course there are many other examples around the world, for instance refer to a book by David Pass on the building of Vallingby and Farsta, suburbs of Stockholm. In fact you should brush up on your history, I think you’ll find many planned cities going back to ancient Greece and beyond.
    In any case other cities in the US are moving forward, St. Louis, despite its natural advantages of layout and fine historic communities lags far behind.
    The Atlanta beltline will increase transit use along with quality of life, in other words, design matters.

    • Eric says:

      Underwhelming. The Beltline seems to mostly run through low-density subdivisions and decaying industrial areas. You could put a streetcar there but who is going to take a streetcar from nowhere to nowhere? And if you are promoting TOD then why not start with the neighborhoods that are already dense and have job centers and existing transit connections to other areas? I’m sure the new bike lanes and parks will be enjoyed by a few people, but they do not justify the project’s hype.

      • GMichaud says:

         What is really underwhelming the is that the discussion in St. Louis is
        on such a remedial level that it makes real progress out of the
        question, at least Atlanta has a concept to get the debate started,
        The Beltline in Atlanta is an organizing concept. Urban planning requires other actions to take place, so if Atlanta doesn’t follow through by encouraging density and connectivity, then yeah it could fail, although urban planning concepts can take years and decades to develop.
         And if Atlanta is lackadaisical like St. Louis, not requiring walking and transit orientated development around major transit stations, then they will get the same half ass results that St. Louis gets. (The proposed SLU medical center on Grand is a case in point, it represents all that is wrong with St. Louis)
        Again,  St. Louis has no creative vision. Where are similar organizing concepts around transit in the St. Louis region?  Even the most basic and fundamental planning principles are ignored in St. Louis. If Atlanta does the same, then yes, the Beltline probably will fail. On the other hand if Atlanta makes planning decisions to complement the Beltline, then it could become a roaring success.
        I also agree that concepts should be applied first to areas of density and existing transit, I have argued for some time that East West Gateway, Metro and other transit related agencies should focus on getting the city right. If you can’t get the city transit operating like it should, it is difficult, if not impossible to attempt efficiencies in the larger region.

  12. Ruby says:

    atlanta is the most sprawling suburban wasteland I have ever seen, atleast we have a city

    • gmichaud says:

       The point is that Atlanta is trying to do something to change their situation, in a comprehensive manner, and it involves transit and a walking city.
      I have already said St. Louis already has natural advantages of layout and fine historic communities, but my view is that these very advantages are being squandered. The current suburban design of the SLU site at Grand and Chouteau is a case in point. The major presence of a light rail station on Grand Ave inviting a walking, transit orientated environment is ignored.
      In contrast the Ctiy of Atlanta is already implementing  and envisioning a broad city/region wide concept. Where is the comparison in St. Louis?
      There is no real debate, even the numerous urban blogs in St. Louis are weak in these type of discussions. Talking about city/county mergers are absurd. Make St. Louis City work like it should first.

  13. Moe says:

    I have been to Atlanta…and even got lost on their airport terminal trains…very cool.  And their metro picks you up at the door and whisks you off….great…..but as you are being whisked off, in some areas you are going over, for lack of better words, slum after slum.  My impression (and I maybe wrong) is that they built up and over their inner city problems ….not through them and therefore renovating them.  But that is only 1 city.
    I mean…look at New York city…..Great public transportation is available, yet they have the most cabs AND they still  have thousands using their own vehicle.
    My point remains….City Planners are a great tool, but to rely on them alone is almost nonsense because, like politicians, they can be replaced too. And City planners can ONLY plan for what? At most 20/30 years down the road? When trolleys were first used, they went over the roads the cars used, the cars went over the paths the carriages used, the carriages went over the paths people used.  They didn’t think…oh in 100 years we need to allow for some mysterious transportation system that our great great great grand children will develop. Even AmTrak uses train lines first used for cargo.  The lines they use solely for them are a fraction of their total. They didn’t plan first…they said let’s see what is out there first that we can use with our system then they planned.  Does that make sense?
    AND public transportation MUST be made CHEAPER….not just for you and I to use, but to build.  I mentioned the Loop Trolley….as a rural Missourian would you want you tax dollars going for a trolley you will never use when you can’t even get a simple city bus?  Or as a Federal tax payer..say from Idaho..why would you support public transportation in St. Louis?   And for public transportation to rely on a transportation tax such as the gas tax is a self-defeating option.  As gas use deminishes, the tax dollars get less and less.

    • JZ71 says:

      Two observations on “public transportation MUST be made CHEAPER….not just for you and I to use, but to build.” . . . One, it’s called a bus.  It ain’t as sexy as a streetcar or light rail, but it is way cheaper.  And two, the price of admission needs to be looked at as the total trip cost, not just the fare.  Transit becomes more attractive when commuters have to pay for parking (not get it for free), when the roads are congested and transit is quicker and easier, and when monthly pass costs are subsidized by their employers.

      • Eric says:

         It is also true however that US transit projects typically cost 3 or 4 times as much as equivalent projects in Europe.

  14. Wqcuncleden says:

    CMT’s favorite saying is “Transit – Some of Us Ride It, All of Us Need It”.  I think it’s time for a new slogan:  “If You Can Use It, You SHOULD Use it!

    Lets face it people.  St. Louis is the land of BLOCKHEADS plain and simple.  People have no sense of direction here.  So to tell them they should try an alternative mode of transportation is just unthhinkable for them.  They have enough trouble navigating their way across town in their own cars when THEY are in total control.  To put them on a bus and perhaps travel a few blocks into unexplored territory with someone else at the wheel would scare the daylights out of them.  It’s just simple FEAR of the unknown.

    • Fozzie says:

      Yep, fear.

      Or the fact it would take a bus nearly 90 minutes with two transfers to travel 7 miles from my home to my office or 15-20 minutes in my own car.

  15. Moe says:

    ….not even addressing the extension fiasco or the trolly….Busses themselves are close to a million each.  And while yeah I should take into account the total trip costs….lets see:  I get in my car, I go, I can weave in and out as traffic dictates, I don’t stop every block, if I see a store I haven’t been to or want to explore I can stop, parking is relatively cheap, my car is paid for so it’s just the wear and tear, oh and I dont have an employer that subsidizes parking or passes…..It IS cheaper for me to drive….my time, my gas, my car, ….all cheaper than a bus fare. 

    And look at those call a ride vans…what a fracking waste of dollars. A cab or small mini van is cheaper and more efficient all around.  I have never seen a call a ride vehicle with more than the driver and two passengers.

    And I’m sorry…if it’s not sleeky and sexy…people will not ride it.  IE…I’m not getting into something dirty and nasty if I have my own clean car.  That not sleek and sexy look is exactly why people think busses and metro and such is unsafe in many ways.

  16. Fun Tip – I’ve found Allstate’s gas widget really handy for find
    the cheapest gas prices based on my zip code: http://www.allstate.com/gas-price-locator.aspx

    Personally, I can not believe that the price of gas is getting this
    high. It’s scary to think here in America, we are using close to 11
    billion gallons of gas per month. I’m a recent grad and was lucky enough to get a job right out of college. I commute about 70 miles per day (35 miles each way) and I can’t really do that via public transit
    here in Phoenix. If we could invest into a working public transit system, it would do so much good and reduce this gas craze. I used to live in Hong Kong and the transit system was amazing over there! I’m a strong believer that a good public transit system is possible, we just need to start working towards it.

    • JZ71 says:

      Why commute 35 milkes each way?!  Why not move closer to where you work?  As a “recent grad”, you should have that flexibility!


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