Thursday, July 27, 2006

SLPS Transportation Plan: No More MetroBus Passes, More Yellow Buses

SLPS Transportation Plan: No More MetroBus Passes, More Yellow Buses

This article buried deep inside yesterday's South City Journal about the plans for the start of the new school year in St. Louis Public Schools was quite illuminating.

Here's the second half of that story, which references newly promoted interim assistant superintendent for operations Deanna Anderson:

Deanna Anderson, interim assistant superintendent for operations, said the district will stop using Metro passes for high school students. The district will instead transport all eligible students with school buses. It contracts with Laidlaw Education Services.

Anderson said this would give students a designated time and place to be picked up and dropped off, save costs, and enable the district to be partially reimbursed by the state for the transportation cost. She said it costs $15 per student per week for a Metro pass, while it costs an average of $11 per month to transport a pupil on a school bus.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary education reimburses district between 40 percent and 50 percent for its cost to transport students on school buses. It does not reimburse the district for Metro passes.

The district has also changed its stipulation for who is eligible to ride the bus to school. Last year, students were required to live more than two miles from school to receive transportation. This year, they must only live a mile from school.

Anderson said staff hopes to mail bus schedules the week of Aug. 14.

So, it actually costs more than four times as much to give out bus passes purchased from Metro to students, than it does to put them on yellow buses? That's crazy!

Wow. Maybe that strange school bus routing software really does work!
I wonder, though, why DESE does not reimburse any of the cost of Metro bus passes?

I think the change from two-mile to one-mile minimum distance for transportation was a result of the outcry last school year when SLPS stopped giving out Metro passes to students who live within two miles of school.

This is probably a good decision both for discipline and fiscal reasons. It allows SLPS to have a little more control over student behavior in transit, since legally while on a school bus discipline is the district's responsibility so students are supposed to follow district rules.

That's not true on public transportation. I suspect the Police Department would be quite happy about this too, since they will have fewer calls/arrests for high school kids getting into fights on MetroBuses.

It also makes life a little easier for transit planners and passengers, as there are fewer "school trips" to be figured into routes like the #70 Grand, #30 Soulard, #04 Natural Bridge, etc. There still may need to be a few to accommodate students who live within one-mile of each high school, because that's a pretty long walk. But I guess they'll have to pay their own way now.

As of August 28th, bus fares will increase to $1.75 each way; or $2.00 total for the two-hour pass that includes unlimited transfers.

This might cut into Metro's revenues somewhat, although I'm not sure how much. If they eliminate school trips, though, it probably balances out.

Of course, back in my day, Metro High School had very unfair transportation policies:

County kids (like me), because of deseg, had free yellow buses and/or taxicabs. City kids had to pay $1 for a 10-ride student ticket booklet that normally cost $5 from Bi-State. So SLPS subsidized 80% of the cost. Occasionally, if the secretary was feeling particularly charitable and you didn't have any money, she might give you the ticket booklet for free.

Sometimes city kids had sports/activity buses after practices and games, but those didn't necessarily take them all the way home - just to the nearest elementary school. And I often did ride Bi-State buses during high school -- even though it took about an hour-and-a-half to get home that way.

Honestly, there's even some places in the city where it would take that long, with transfers and wait times included. On the other hand, some county kids who live in Maplewood-Richmond Heights(as a couple dozen did) could have gotten home pretty easily on Bi-State. But they had free yellow buses.

All a consequence of an arbitrary boundary line laid down in 1876... and similarly arbitrary decisions by Federal judges from 1972 until 1999.


Travis Reems said...

A mile is a very reasonable distance for a highschool student to walk. I did it (no, not uphill both ways in the blinding snow).

This decision to stop the Metro passes shows a focus by the new administration with support from the school board majority on fiscal responsibility and a return to common sense.

We could take this a step further and bring in the company that provides on bus satelite radio and subsidizes the bus costs.

Joe said...

Hey, I can physically walk one mile without too much trouble, but the issue is personal safety. You can have high schoolers walking across different gang territories, etc. to get to the school. I've heard there are 60+ gangs at Roosevelt. Many kids, of course, already walk from Roosevelt to their homes in Benton Park West. And that after-school time is often when a lot of bad things happen, unfortunately.

I don't necessarily think providing buses to everybody would fix that, but personal safety while walking home from school is a significant concern of students, parents, and neighbors that cannot be discounted.

Mark said...

It's good to hear some positive news from the SLPS.
Nice post.

Anonymous said...

The good news: all new routes including Cross County trains will be up and running by the end of August.

The bad news: fares will increase, and it will be $2.25 for the two-hour, unlimited transfer pass.

Ideally, I don't think a transit-dependent taking multiple buses to/from work or services should have to pay more than a transit-choice commuter on MetroLink. Originally, the two-hour pass was to remain $2, equivalent to the new MetroLink single-ride ticket. But now I wonder if Cross County opening ahead of schedule (could have been as late as October 31st) is forcing Metro to squeeze even more money out of its patrons to cover increased operations.

Since fewer bus routes will soon provide single-ride trips (only ticket cheaper than MetroLink) as adopted in Metro's restructuring plan, I would instead charge a flat rate of $2 for all trips, whether single-ride or multiple transfers. That way some of the gain in $.25 more for single-ride bus trips would partly cover not charging $.25 more for the two-hour pass necessary for one or multiple transfers.

Todd Plesko said...

Metro approved the fare increase which will go into effect on August 28th in 2005 (April) as part of a two year increase in fares. (August 2005 and August 2006). The multi use transfer was approved last year to reduce the cost for three bus passengers (abound 12 % of Metro customers) who were paying a double fare plus the transfer prior to the multiuse transfer.

The multi use transfer has become very popular among transit users.

The fare increase was also designed to create a premium price for Metrolink which has more frequency, more visible security, and more park ride. Many transit dependent persons felt that the special event passengers on Metrolink should pay more.

Pricing the multi use transfer at $2.00 would have a significantly negative effect on revenue. Farebox revenue has been the only source of growing revenue this last year. What source of new revenue will pay for the higher energy costs that we are all paying?

The extra 25 cents on the two hour pass had absolutely nothing to do with the possible early start up of the Shrewsbury branch of Metrolink. Look for the public announcement of the startup date on August 4th.

Finally, the school district decision on transit passes will cut as much as $1.7 million from Metro's Fiscal 2007 budget. It will eliminate over 1 million transit trips...perhaps up to 3 % of total annual trips.

Metro was unaware of this change and will be unable to squeeze out any of the cost of the school trips already in the schedules and picked by operators until November.

There will have to be savings to hold onto a balanced budget by the end of the fiscal year.

I am suspicious of the numbers that Deanna quoted. The Metro ticket pricing is correct. The $11 per month per student is questionable, but I would have to see the details of how that is calculated to be sure.