Study: St. Louis Succeeds With Transit

St. Louis' network of buses and MetroLink does a relatively good job of helping people get to work, according to a new report out today.

Yeah, that's the exact opposite opening sentence used by the Post-Dispatch in describing the same Brookings report. By the numbers, St. Louis ranked 68 of 100 metropolitan regions scored. Not good right? Maybe, maybe not. That number alone fails to provide any information allowing us to make a judgment. Shouldn't we at very least ask where some of our peer cities rank?

Detroit: 73. Cincinnati: 71. Atlanta: 91. Dallas: 89. Houston: 72. Jacksonville: 70. Kansas City: 90. Memphis: 69. Nashville: 88. Oklahoma City: 84. Orlando: 83. Tampa: 77.

All of these cities suffer in transit rankings due to suburban sprawl. In this case, meaning that a large number of jobs aren't accessible by transit. As the Post-Dispatch item notes, 10% of all metro area jobs are in St. Charles County, which lacks any transit system at all. This is by choice. Neither Metro or the region should be labeled as doing a poor job as a result.

Does St. Louis do a "relatively poor job of helping people get to work" via transit? No. Aren't the cities above more analogous to St. Louis than Honolulu (1), New York (13), San Francisco (16) and Tuscon (4)? Yes. St. Louis doesn't win the rankings game. Our city is too average to top "best" lists. The resulting letdown of which is repeatedly and predictably self-aggrandized by our inability to understand who our peer cities are and to set realistic, even if ambitious, expectations.

Can transit in St. Louis be better? Can it serve more people? Yes. Is it a joke, a failure, a waste? No. Yet this is the immediate commentary produced when an article in the region's dominant news source claims that somehow St. Louis is failing. There is more than one narrative to be told about St. Louis.

It's not blind boosterism or youthful ignorance to put our city in context. St. Louis is succeeding on many levels and transit is one of them.

Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America