Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Riding the #17 Oakville Bus @ Rush Hour

Riding the #17 Oakville Bus @ Rush Hour

Last week I had the opportunity to ride the #17 Oakville, one of several new MetroBus routes opened in August along with Cross County MetroLink.

Back when I lived in South County, the area where I lived was served by numerous routes during the weekday rush hour. The #17x Oakville Express and #140x Broadway-Barracks Express provided direct peak hour service via I-55 to downtown St. Louis from Telegraph Road.

The #17 Clayton-Oakville provided direct, albeit very slow, peak hour service to downtown Clayton from Telegraph Road; and for a time, midday service to downtown Clayton via South County Mall and some backroads. The new #17 route reinstates service on portions of that route, as well as portions of the former #03 Morganford-Arsenal route.

Also, the #40 Broadway provided daily service along Telegraph; the #49 Lindbergh provided Mon-Sat service via Kinswood Lane; the #73x Lemay Express came pretty close to home, ending at Sylvan Springs Park-Ride Lot; and the Mehlville-St. Louis Express (forgot the route number), earlier the Forder-Union Rd Express, and for a while recently covered by the Tesson Ferry Express, provided service on Forder Road from Telegraph west.

Today, there is no direct express service to downtown from Telegraph Road in Oakville nor from Sylvan Springs Park-Ride lot. Instead, you can board the #40 Broadway on Telegraph north of I-255, or on Kinswood Lane, or on Forder Road, but not on Telegraph south of I-255. Or, you can take the #17 Oakville, then transfer to an express bus or to MetroLink.

I boarded the southbound #17 bus at 4:35 PM Wednesday at Shrewsbury MetroLink stop. This was a 30-seat bus. Total passengers boarding there = 7 (including me).

The bus headed south on River des Peres, and slowly down the Weil Ave ramp onto to Chippewa in rush-hour traffic, then west on Watson to turn into Mackenzie Pointe strip mall. Two passengers boarded in that shopping center. Total = 9.

The bus exited Mackenzie Pointe heading east on Watston, then south on Mackenzie. Nobody got on or off on Mackenzie until Reavis Road, several miles south. I don't recall historical service on Mackenzie north of Weber Road at all, which makes sense since this corridor is lined with cemeteries and fairly low-density subdivisions.

Traffic was heavy approaching the intersection with Gravois Road. Reavis Road is an activity center because there's a community center nearby and a few employment locations. So we gained one passenger there. Total = 10.

We continued south on Mackenzie, around the sharp curve into Reavis Barracks, and lost one passenger at Huntingdon Lane in the village of St. George. Total = 9.

Traffic got heavy again approaching the I-55 exit on Reavis Barracks, where there's also a park-ride lot off Spokane Drive that's also an ad hoc bus transfer location. When we got to the park-ride at 4:55 PM, also arriving or leaving were the #17 northbound to Shrewsbury; the #40x I-55 Express; the #10x South Grand Express; and the Harrah's Casino shuttle bus! There we lost one passenger, and gained another. Total = (still) 9.

It took a few minutes to get through the I-55 interchange, then we headed south on Union Road toward Lindbergh pretty quickly. Again we met massive congestion along Lindbergh, but eventually made it to Lemay Ferry, then South County Centerway to pull into the bus stop next to JC Penney at 5:12 PM. There we lost 5 passengers, and gained 1. Total = 5.

Coming around the back of the JC Penney catalog store, we then headed out of the mall property, back onto Lemay Ferry briefly, then east on Lindbergh. Another passenger disembarked in front of Dave Sinclair Ford, across from Home Depot. Total = 4.

We continued east on Barracksview and Sappington Barracks into Sheridan Drive to enter the Sylvan Springs Park-Ride Lot. One passenger exited there at 5:20 PM. Total remaining = 3.

Then I got off about 5:25 PM on Telegraph Road south of I-255. The two remaining passengers couldn't go much further south, since the route ends at Baumgartner Road. The old #17 at peak hour did run as far south as Fine Road for a few years, anyway.

This is the challenge of transit service in the suburbs: very low ridership, mostly heading to major activity centers. So, you need to serve those activity centers directly, resulting in a lot of turning movements that slows service considerably.

However, the old #17 route did operate with a smaller, Call-a-Ride sized bus most of the time. With 10 or fewer passengers, this makes sense. Those van-style vehicles are more capable of making the tight turns.

If there's only 9 people riding during evening rush hour during holiday shopping time, though, I can't imagine there's more ridership during the mid-day or on Saturday.

It's hard to comprehend how these kinds of services can be maintained long-term, given Metro's current fiscal crisis. I suspect this route will, unfortunately, be one of the first proposed for cutback.

However, it does pass by Jeffleigh Lane in Reavis Gardens subdivision, where St. Louis County Councilman John Campisi resides. Do you suppose he's aware of its existence? Do you suppose he would ever ride it?


Anonymous said...

It would seem fair to cut those routes that most directly serve areas of the County that end up voting against a quarter-cent sales tax or have the lowest fare recovery. But there are several problems with such logic.

For one, this penalizes reverse commuters who work in areas populated by anti-transit voters. Similarly, it also hurts routes (like Joe's #17) that serve dispersed destinations, or routes with indeed popular stops (like suburban shopping centers) but great distances between such stops. But worst of all, such policy further alienates the County Council, upon whom Metro depends each year for appropriations from the 1970s half-cent sales tax partially retained by the County for roadway projects.

I imagine cuts will be three-fold following another failure at the polls. One, Metro will indeed cut those routes with the poorest fare recovery, especially where in the City or near other routes. Two, Metro will make across the board cuts in reduced frequency of Missouri bus service. Three, Metro will reduce the Shrewsbury branch of MetroLink to mostly just shuttle service to Forest Park, except limited peak-hour runs to Emerson Park.

stmdqmw said...

Metro is requsting 17 million from the state to avoid service cuts next year but there having trouble getting the council to put on the ballot which i can see why. There is no way you get enought people to vote to double the tax for the exact same service. Keeping the oakville route would actually cost metro the few votes do you have in south county because hardly anyone use it. Metro does four differnet plans for cutting bus servie already. There would be no significt cuts on primary routes at least during day or metro would lose their federal funds.