Study: St. Louis Succeeds With Transit

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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

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  • Anonymous

    I also have to disagree. Having grown up in Houston, there are whole swaths of the city that are transportation dead zones, and the suburbs are even worse. Public transit and walkability in Houston is a complete afterthought, with nearly all focus on cars. The fact that we’re comparable to places like Houston is not something to be proud of. Saint Louis should strive to be like cities with excellent public transit, such as San Francisco, Washington DC, and New York.

  • Zun1026

    Also, why leave out so many peers that are higher than us? If we are going to be objective in our analysis of this report, we can’t cherry pick comparables.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Because I’m making the point that by picking and choosing who we compare ourselves too, we can look good or bad. Immediately claiming we have a failed or poor system because we rank no. 68 isn’t informative and doesn’t tell us much at all. I believe that this article is just as honest as the next.

      • Zun1026

        My list of comparable MSAs based on those most close in population size to the US…
        Phoenix #43Seattle #18Minneapolis #39St. Louis #68Tampa #77San Diego #25Baltimore #36Denver #6Pittsburgh #60Portland #12Sacramento #54San Antonio #23STL is only ahead of Tampa.

  • HG

    I would argue that Milwaukee (14), Buffalo (21), Syracuse (30), Cleveland (41), New Orleans (26), and Pittsburgh (60) are more accurately ‘peer’ cities of St. Louis. The status of St. Charles is critical to our position, but there is no amount of spin that can reframe the gaps in our transit service. This list, coupled with the news of an auto dealer opening at Sunnen Station, should be a wake-call to the region. I will give us points for performing better than Youngstown and Kansas City.

  • Zun1026

    I have to disagree. I have been to many other cities and when I come back to St. Louis I always feel are mass transit is inferior.