Saturday, October 07, 2006

STL Transit: Highs and Lows

STL Transit: Highs and Lows

As regular readers already know all too well, I'm a public transit aficionado. Perhaps you might even call me a "bus freak."

Anyway, here's some general observations (brief, I promise, this time) on the state of transit in StL:

Frustrations

1) A few weeks ago, I missed the "northbound" (really heading east on Manchester) #30 Soulard from Maplewood-Manchester MetroLink station on a Monday evening at 7:52 PM. The "westbound" (really heading south towards Shrewsbury) MetroLink arrived simulataneously with the #30. But since the bus did not layover on Manchester, I saw it roll uphill toward the electric signal at Laclede Station. I then trudged over the walkway and downstairs to the south side of Manchester... to wait 40 minutes for the next bus, at 8:32 PM!

That was a pretty darn long wait. At least the weather was ok.

I really hope the bus loop at the Maplewood-Manchester station is finished soon!

2) Why does that same #30 route still end at Sutton Loop in Maplewood on the weekends? I mean, really, if it's gonna go as far as Sutton Loop, it may as well connect with MetroLink, either at Maplewood-Manchester or Sunnen station. I checked, and there's not a good timed transfer to either the #16 City Limits or the #57 Manchester, both of which serve the Manchester corridor west to Brentwood Blvd. on the weekend. So unless you want to wait 20-25 minutes for the next bus, you probably end up walking the nearly 3/4-mile distance from Manchester and Sutton to the Manchester station; or the roughly equivalent distance (via Flora Ave) from Sutton Loop to Sunnen station. I'd recommend the Flora route; it's much prettier than all the fast-food and car lot curb-cuts along Manchester. That stretch of Flora also happens to be part of the historic route of the Manchester streetcar to Webster Groves and Kirkwood, which ran across a trestle over Deer Creek Park that was demolished sometime in the 1970s.

I really hope the bus loop at the Maplewood-Manchester station is finished soon!

3) And, finally, why did the #10 Gravois eastbound peak-hour 15-minute service interval get quietly cut back? I had memorized that danged schedule from 8 AM to 9 AM. The bus was to arrive at Gravois and Jefferson at 8:05, 8:20, 8:35, 8:50.

Now, it still runs about every 15 minutes before 8 AM, but from 8 to 9 it's the regular midday 20-minute interval. Hence Gravois and Jefferson at 8:03 (?), 8:25 (notice that's a 22-minute gap), 8:45.

A 5-minute shift may not seem like much, but that route was not extended in length at all -- in fact, several trips that used to cover the old Watson Road Express peak-hour only corridor from Sunset Hills and Crestwood via Watson and Heege Road were truncated to start/end at Laclede Station and Heege/Watson. Hence, you'll see a handful of PM peak-hour westbound trips with the headsign "10 VIA HEEGE" which means they end at Laclede Station and Heege, no longer serving Crestwood. Most Gravois westbound headsigns say "10 TO HAMPTON," but once each hour there's a "10 TO FENTON" trip. That part has not changed, so why has the 8 AM to 9 AM weekday eastbound headway changed?

Salutations

Any time you have a major restructuring of any kind of system, you'll experience trade-offs.

1) One huge benefit to the MetroLink expansion is the extremely high frequency of service at peak hour in the central corridor of St. Louis and East St. Louis. Yes, East St. Louis is now part of the central corridor -- at least for MetroLink purposes! On weekdays, from about 6:30 AM to about 8:30 AM, and from about 3:30 PM to about 6:30 PM, anywhere between Forest Park-DeBaliviere and Emerson Park, there are trains in either direction every five (5) minutes!

2) Also, we're close to 24-hour weekday transit service, or as close as I think we'll ever get in St. Louis.

First eastbound MetroLink (departing Fairview Heights): 3:38 AM.
First westbound MetroLink (departing Grand): 3:38 AM.
Last eastbound MetroLink (arriving Grand): 1:23 AM
Last westbound MetroLink (arriving Fairview Heights): 12:49 AM.

First northbound #70 Grand (departing Jefferson and Chippewa): 4:15 AM.
First southbound #70 Grand (departing Water Tower): 4:32 AM.
Last northbound #70 Grand (arriving Water Tower): 1:54 AM.
Last southbound #70 Grand (arriving Grand and Iron): 2:04 AM.

While I can and do express my frustrations with our transit system, given the size and relatively low density of the St. Louis area, and extreme funding limitations, it's actually pretty decent.

However, I am worried what might happen in the next 18-to-24 months, if additional operating funds cannot be obtained. I would like to see St. Louis County and the State of Missouri kick in some more; I'd rather not see yet another additional sales tax levy.

And I sure wouldn't want to see another 25-cent or 50-cent fare increase! While I ride free for right now thanks to the benevolence of WashU, it ain't always gonna be that way.

6 comments:

Todd Plesko said...

Joe...you have asked some good questions.

Why does the weekend 16 City Limits end at the Sutton Loop?

There is insufficient time in the cycle to get the route to the Brentwood Garage which is the weekday terminus. We are required to have a restroom for our operators. I would had to add an additional bus to the cycle all day on Saturday to have sufficient time to get to the Brentwood Garage. While it could get to the Manchester Station, there is no layover location and accessible restroom at this location yet.

Why spread the headways on the 10 Gravois at midday? It saved one bus in the cycle and the demand does not justify 15 minute service. Midday service on 95 Kingshighway is every 20 minutes and this route carries nearly twice as many people at the 10 Gravois. (6600 daily passengers versus 3,800 daily riders.)

What is the reason for the 10 to Heege Rd? This is the result of the public meetings. This area had some disabled customers who were unable to walk to the 10 Gravois or 17 Oakville. These trips are basically created by using the pullout time from the Brentwood Garage. In otherwords, the bus was going past Heege Rd anyway, so their is no reason not to open up the doors. Extendiing the route to crestwood or providing all day service would have been quite costly.

We added service in many areas including South City (8 Bates), South County (17 Oakville), Fenton area (expanded 210 I-44 Shuttle which will expand slightly in November to serve the I141 Park Ride lot), weekend service on the 56 Kirkwood-Webster, etc. There are other areas. To add this service, I had to balance it with reduced service elsewhere.

Manchester Metrobus Center construction seems to be lagging. When it is complete, the 16 City Limits the 16 City Limits will not serve the Sutton Loop but will terminate at the Manchester Station.

Finally, Metro will absolutely reduce Metrolink and Metrobus service by January 2008 if the region does not choose to provide some type of major new revenue source to support Metro services. We will likely conduct public hearings in August or September 2007 to see how the community wants to meet the revenue sources available.

To be fully honest, Metro would have to implement cuts of around $50 million to offset all of the shortfalls that will occur between 2007 and 2011. (The cuts could be $17 million less but we would not be able to reallocate the FTA 5307 Capital replacement funds needed to buy replacement buses and repair Metrolink infrastructure. Eventually the use of these funds will begin to have a seriously negative impacton Metro's service.)We could perhaps cut less for a few years, but cutting less will just insure a series of cuts over a three year period.

We are using temporary CMAC funds to prop up the operating costs for the new Metrolink alignment to Shrewsbury. This can not continue beyond three years.

The State of Missouri is not likely to be much of a source of major new money in the short run. The primary source of funds for Metro comes from St.Louis City and St.Louis County in Missouri. Metro may be able to prevent cuts in July of 2007, but if there is no community commitment for some major new sources to keep our existing infrastructure intact, the cuts will be massive and will take place by January 2008.

Anonymous said...

As it stands, Metro is at the mercy of St. Louis County for its financial future. If wanting to prevent a vicious cycle of cuts in the very near-future, the County has three options, each with major trade-offs:

1) Give all of the 1970s half-cent sales tax to transit. If necessary, pass a new roadway tax that will raise more than what's now "stolen" from transit. As a result, County voters would not need to consider any new taxes for transit, but a new tax for roadways could be passed instead.

2) Pass the quarter-cent sales tax in the County that passed in the City in 1997 but never went into effect. This is the minimum new tax needed by Metro if funding from the County or Missouri doesn't otherwise increase. Although only a quarter-cent increase, such tax might not be popular to pass now, when previously being sold as buying more MetroLink.

3.) Go for a new half-cent tax (thus the City as well) to fund both system preservation and continued MetroLink expansion. It's a larger tax entirely for transit, but it's also the only option to buys more MetroLink, which may be the only option to pass a transit tax among largely car-bound voters.

Personally, I think you go aggressively for #3 first with a transparent plan of expansion priorities and realistic timeline. Then, if that fails, you talk desperately with the County about #1 or drastic service cuts. Although the most cost-effective, sadly #2 would be seen as a bus-only tax and thus D.O.A. among County voters. In the meantime, maybe County residents will get so fed up with 40-construction headaches that they'll demand more state funding for transit.

Anonymous said...

MY PERSONAL TRANSIT LOW:

Yesterday, I wanted to go from roughly the Old Courthouse to Soulard Market (or from Gateway Tower to the Transit Union). Should be easy, I thought, since three routes (#30, #40, #93) provide direct service on Broadway.

However, I made the mistake waiting for the #93, St. Louis' most circuitous route, and as such, has among the worst on-time performance. I ended up power-walking there in 15 minutes. The 93-bus finally passed me just blocks shy to my destination, or 10 minutes late.

But the other sad thing is that I saw the futility of my return trip pass me by on my walk down. A parade of three buses heading to downtown, #40, #93 and #30 in that order, passed me, all within feet of each other. So then, what's the point of having multiple routes cover the same stretch of street, if they all are passing by at the same time?

Anonymous said...

The No. 93 "tourist" line is incredibly unreliable. It's never on-time, and Metro needs to seriously reconsider the schedules for this line.

Perhaps Metro should forget about the tourists and create a realistic run that local St. Louisans can depend on. Maybe break the line in two, cut off slices of the line where nobody actually stops (like Forest Park) and actually ask the drivers about what the timetables should look like.

Because this unreliable line serves many parts of St. Louis not served by other mass transit options, it's going to discourage those on the fence about using public transport from doing so.

And by Rerouting this line to serve "All Things Wash U," it's made transit service less convenient and less reliable for those of us who are not connected with Wash U.

stmdqmw said...

I take the 93 quite often and its usally 15 mintues late or more most the time and the other night on the way back it was 30 minutes late so they really need to adjust the schedules to allow more time if there not going to change the route right now.

Joe said...

Thanks for your thorough response, Todd! I understand there's a challenge with building in restroom breaks at approved locations.

Still, I'm not sure I agree there was insufficient demand during the 8 AM to 9 AM hour on the #10 to justify the service; after all, this is still commuter hour, and the 8:30 AM #11x Shrewsbury Express run I used to be able to catch was also eliminated. True, that #11x run was almost empty. But the #10 is a pretty busy line at that timeframe.

I'm fine with the #10 service on Heege, as that's a corridor with no other service period. Indeed, now if you do happen to need to get to Crestwood from the Hampton Loop area, you can take the #08 Bates to Shrewsbury MetroLink station, then catch the #11 Chippewa westbound.

I just remembered a few years ago the promise the then-new #10 route (which replaced parts of the old #20 Cherokee and #05 Gravois) would operate every 15 minutes weekdays. But if the numbers don't justify it, there you go.

As to the #93 route: I agree it is rather inefficient and circuitous. The "all things Wash U." piece actually applies not to the #93, which no longer goes anywhere near the "Danforth" campus, but to the #1 and #2 routes which overlap a good deal on the western end around the Galleria and in Brentwood.

Then again, I rode the #93 Monday night all the way from CWE MetroLink station to California and Cherokee. It was only 5-10 minutes behind schedule, best I could tell. Granted, this was around 8 PM.

But last Monday I waited almost 30 minutes for it to arrive downtown, under the creepy St. Louis Centre bridge over Washington Ave. That's why I decided to catch it so far west -- it runs infrequently enough that it made sense at the time. And I sure did get some grading and reading done!