Missing: Local Bus Service in Downtown St. Louis

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{Transit riders connect to busses from MetroLink at the Civic Center Transit Center}
In a very short post on my Gateway Streets blog yesterday, I posed a very simple question. From just about anywhere in the St. Louis region, "will this bus take me to downtown St. Louis"? The answer, as I so emphatically illustrated below, is "NO!" For people unfamiliar with St. Louis's public transit system, that answer may seem confusing and incorrect. After all, a quick glance at the Metro system map shows many bus lines threading their way through downtown.
Regular bus riders, on the other hand, know just how misleading lines on a map can be. They know that any trip to downtown will inevitably mean a forced transfer at the Civic Center Transfer Center. They know that local buses east of 14th St are virtually nonexistent. They know that the only buses that traverse the heart of downtown are express buses that operate only at peak times in the peak direction.
To illustrate the problem, compare the two maps of downtown St. Louis below. The first map is the current Metro system map. The second map has been modified to show only the local bus routes: MetroLink, MCT buses, express buses, and the 99 Downtown Trolley have all been removed. The second map shows what the bus system looks like to bus riders most of the time.

Can you see any notable gaps in the Metro bus system?

Bus Riders: Second Class Citizens?

The importance Metro has applied to the Civic Center Transfer Center explains the sheer lack of bus service downtown. Given that most of Metro's bus routes operate at 20-minute headways or worse, the transfer center allows Metro to operate its buses on a pulse schedule. A pulse schedule is where a group of buses arrive at the transfer center generally at the same time, wait to allow riders to change buses or connect with MetroLink, then depart. Servicing this pulse forces and encourages Metro to divert buses around downtown to reach the transfer center's 14th St location.
While the pulsing of the Civic Center Transfer Center enables Metro to create a more efficient bus system, this does not excuse Metro from not properly servicing downtown. In fact, by "fencing" buses west of 14th St and forcing people to connect to another bus or train, Metro is sending a signal to bus riders that they are second class citizens of the Metro transit system.

How so? Contrast the routing of local buses down 14th St with the proposed Northside-Southside MetroLink alignment. The Northside-Southside alignment travels along 14th St both north of Delmar Blvd and south of Clark St. But between those two streets, the proposed routing takes pains to shift east to 9th and 10th streets to travel through downtown. Why is MetroLink getting routed through downtown while buses are stuck on the periphery?
Comparing Metro's lack of bus service downtown to other cities only further drives home the point. Not one other major US city, not one, has such little bus service to its downtown core as St. Louis. Only Boston comes close, but Boston has the advantage of having multiple rapid transit lines radiating in all directions out of downtown.
Downtown is the largest center of jobs in the St. Louis region. Thousands of people now live there, too. Downtown is where the people are, it where the people want to go. Not every bus needs to go downtown, but Metro could make a lot of regular bus riders happier by giving downtown the bus service it deserves. A small circulator is not enough.

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  • dempster holland

    The purpose of this bus routing was presumably to make service more efficient, since
    going through downtown with all its traffic lights and then going back out takes up
    considerable time. This would either require more buses and operators, or increased
    headways along the whole bus route. But it has the clear adverse effect of causing
    every downtown worker to transfer at the civic center station During rush hour, for
    some this would,not be too bad, if they work within a block of a downtown metro station.
    For others, it would mean a transfer and a longer walk from the metro station to their
    workplace. This is clearly an issue which Metro should take another look at

  • gmichaud

    Weird that my previous comment, even though the most recent, is buried into the middle of the comments. Is there some sort of pecking order I am not aware of?  What is the criteria? If you just want the comments of certain people, let me know so I don’t waste my time.

    • gmichaud, you should check the comment sorting order. When sorting by oldest first, your comment does show at the bottom. You may have comments sorting by best rating or most popular.

      • gmichaud

        I looked for a sorting order and I guess missed it. Sorry, I just feel like if I put time in to make a comment, as eccentric as I can be, I wanted to be treated in the same manner as everyone else.
        These blogs are not a substitute for true (and actual) public debate. which seldom occurs in any case.
         A complete shift in thinking needs to occur in my view. The blogs support that possibility. Public debate requires open forums, the question becomes what is an open forum?, The recent shut down of an unfavorable poll on smoking at Steve Patterson’s Urban Review throws into question the truth behind the blogs.
        In other words which blogs are merely play toys and which present a serious contribution to discussion and democracy?

        • The pop-up menu to change the sorting order is at the top of the comment section to the right of the comment count.

          As for the proper place for debate, yes comment sections can be quite difficult as the debate quickly becomes stale with time. But I do have a few other articles in the pipeline for the next few weeks that will offer plenty of opportunity to continue to discuss the Metro transit system. In the meantime, I can only suggest the nextSTL forums as another channel for discussion.

  • gmichaud

    Ultimately a redesign of the whole bus transit routing system is needed. It is poorly done. Cities with good transit have a system with alternates to get to the same place, good frequency, and of course a city planning process that is connected to helping transit succeed. St. Louis fails on all accounts. The thing is I don’t believe a well done system would cost any more to operate, in fact probably less since more people would use the system. I’m sure like many people making comments here, I have visited plenty of cities that I could travel around without a car easily and conveniently.
    Design matters, it is that simple.

  • Thom

    Interesting points raised in this post.  I’ve lived extensively in the city parts of both St. Louis and Boston, and funny enough, while reading the first part of the post, I kept thinking that the situation described isn’t necessarily unique to StL – it’s exactly the case here in Boston as well.

    I would step back a bit and say that it may not be useful to think of “bus riders” and “rail riders” as two distinct groups.  As one commenter above says, he/she uses a monthly pass and therefore transfers between both modes to make their trip work.  In Boston, as in most coastal US cities and cities outside the US, there is usually very little perception of class or ethnic distinction between bus and rail…they are just simply routes that get people places that happen to use different modes.

    The way I’ve always thought of it here in Boston is that it works out to and extra “surcharge” to get into the city center/CBD.  Fares here are also lower for bus than for rail ($1.25 vs $1.70).  When you transfer from bus to rail, you pay the additional $.45.  To think of another example, we don’t think it’s unfair to charge say $18 to park downtown while only charging $zero to park, say, at a park-ride lot at North Hanley.  Access to a dense downtown costs more by private vehicle as well.

    There is no rule saying that if you started your trip on a bus, you’re not allowed on rail. However, I do think that it is problematic that it costs an additional $.75, and that the fare structure could be better designed.  Metro prices single trips at one price but a trip involving a transfer significantly higher.  It might be better for everybody if the public transportation system network were viewed as one system, regardless of what mode is actually serving a particular route, and include a free transfer in all rides.

    But yes, personally, I’ve been there.  Working my most recent retail job here, I plenty of times took the bus for $1.25 that took twice as much time as a rail trip at $1.70, just to save the money.

  • Gailgartelos

    I don’t believe it is the “liberals” who are afraid of the city residents, but the Conservatives.

  • Thank you for bringing light to this issue. The MetroBuses were moved out of downtown as a result of the Metro Transit cuts in 2009. Metro lead us, the MetroBus riders to believe that the local bus service would return when the tax passed. That day have came and gone.

    But before then the Downtown Partnership was pressuring Metro to move the busses out of the downtown. The demographic of the bus riders, did not fit in to the re-urbanization of downtown. That was one of the reasons why the Civic Center Transit Center was built. Let’s face it. This is St. Louis. Racism and Classism is alive and well in the 21st century!  Nothing scares or at least makes suburban white folks uncomfortable, than a bunch of Black, Latinos and poor White standing at a corner. And all minorities know when we hear the term Re-urbanization or Gentrification that means one thing Negro removal.

    I have to ask all the white liberals and re-urbanist some questions.  Why do we, the bus riders have to pay an extra 75 cents to access our downtown??? Why do the poor have to pay an extra 75 cents our government center??? Are we, Black, Latino, and poor Whites, a part of this city plan? Why do I get pushed aside to make white liberal and white suburbanites less scared or more comfortable?
    I grew up downtown on 16th St. & Cass Ave. There was never a problem with MetroBuses being downtown until the white suburbanite moved in. It also shows that we BLACK, Latino, and Poor Whites are not welcomed!

    • Erick S.

      As a poor White city resident, I completely agree! The looks I get from suburban white people who ride the train only for a sports event make my skin crawl! They know I’m a regular rider and apparently feel sorry for me but also feel contempt and “holier-than-thou” at the same time.

    • stev0205

      Interesting assumption. If you could back it up with facts your argument might be able to stand on it’s own. For instance, what sort of pressure do you believe white suburbanites are bringing upon the Metro Transit administration? Technically the more people with more money who move into downtown proper, the higher the tax base.. which generally results in more money for government backed programs such as the Metro.

      I’m not disagreeing with you, I would just like to know what kind of evidence you have to prove your theory?

      • First. Metro is funded through a sales tax…Not a property tax.Missouri state law only allows for transit agencies such as Metro to leavy a sales tax for its operations. So it doesn’t matter how many people with money move into the city. And besides if it did get money from a property tax. The people of downtown got an tax abatement. You’ll are not paying propety taxes for the nex 10 years.

        Second. from 2002 to 2009. I use to work very closely with Metro. My imput has been asked several times about routing buses through downtown because they were getting complaints from the residents about the buses waking them up or they were too loud or they wanted a bus stop moved because they was afraid of the people standing there. Those people, me included are just trying to get ot where they are going.

        Buses have been going through downtown for as long as there have been buses. Why am I being  penalized because of some white suburbanite with money that chose to live to the busiest place in the Metro Area. Why do I have to pay an extra 75 cents for me to come into my downtown I never abonded the city.

        • No, most downtown property owners don’t get a tax abatement.  There were some in the early years, but by and large those are gone.  

    • Douglas Duckworth

      What evidence exists that the Downtown Partnership wanted buses removed?  I am writing a paper currently and would like to find out.  Transit is one of the things people want on paper when they move to cities, so it would be unusual if they wanted to limit transit accessibility.  

  • Malbrite10

    Interesting. Many people I know, including me, take a bus that terminates at Civic Center during rush hour and take the train to 8th and Pine to reach the CBD (and vice versa for the return trip). I am a monthly pass holder, though, so it’s no inconvenience for me to make the transfer–especially considering that there’s now a train every 6 minutes during rush hour. On nice days, I’ll walk the 8 or so blocks.

    I guess the question is: is there enough demand not served by express buses to run another line, or reroute an existing one, through downtown proper? The 32 already serves the vast majority of residents who live on Washington (there are only a few other scattered residential buildings in the CBD, and it’s an easy walk to the 32 or the 40 from any of them). 

    You also have to consider that, of the 70,000 or so workers in downtown proper, the vast majority drive to work and won’t ever step on a bus (or would practically have to be chased on to one by subsidies/incentives).

    I think too often the reality of the situation is hidden behind boring numbers and studies, while the anecdotes flourish in the light of the day. Chances are the answer to any question like “why doesn’t a bus go here?” is a lack of demand/boardings/farebox return.

    Now, there is no rational answer to the question, “Metro, why do you have buses that arrive at Civic Center at 7:30am and 8:00am on the dot?” People have to be at work AT those times, not 10-15 minutes later.

    • You don’t get it??

      • Malbrite10

        I don’t get what?

        My point is: if I had a streetcar token for every time I heard someone who uses the bus complaining that the system was not an ideal system for THEIR own purposes, then I’d have quite the collection on my hands.

        Metro routes are about numbers, not individual stories and experiences. Downtown has tons of workers, yes, but they’re either served by rail (and rail alone), Madison County transit, a Metro Express bus line, or one of the two bus lines that do go through downtown proper (the 32 and the 40, not to mention the 99 Downtown Trolley). The same is nearly true with downtown residents. As for visitors/tourists, they’re served by rail or the trolley to get around downtown itself.

        Bus service reduction in the CBD probably has more to do with the numbers than people’s perceptions of buses and their riders.

        • MattH

          The arguments above by Edward Williams above don’t appear to be based on any form of reality.  I take the “system”, both bus and rail or bus only depending on the day and time, daily.  The current system actually works and is fairly efficient.  It is very easy to get to the core and doesn’t much longer if longer at all than if a bus went straight into the core.

          In fact, as a long time user of this sytem, I felt that this move made the downtown schedules better and that was one of the reasons for the changes.  When busses went through the core there seemed to be more regular cases of busses being late, sometimes very late.  This was very often due to traffic congestion in the core during rush hour.  With the changes (using the trolley or metrolink to get into the core) I don’t come across very many late busses at all these days.

          • I’m sorry Matt H. Not everyone has the same pleasant experience as you do. I have been riding the buses by myself since I was 7 years old. I’m 40 now. I have seen bus service dwindle since the 80’s with the biggest cut in service when ’93 when MetroLink started service, 2001 when they cut more bus service, and 2009 when they cut even more.

            I’m also glad that you don’t experience very many late buses. but I and many other transit dependant people do..#70. #95, #27, #74, #04, #36, #35, #64, # 91, #94, and #30 sometimes. I ride an average of 25 different routes a month. I am all over St. Louis. There is maybe only 3 routes that I haven’t rode.

            So my view points is based on this reality of: first I am a transit dependant rider for over 33 years. Second, because I am a transit dependant rider, I ride the bus all over I talk with other bus riders. We talk at the bus stop while we are waiting 30 to 40 minutes for a bus because bus to bus transfers is horrible. Third, I’m not disillusioned that MetroLink is our savior for public transit. 

            One more thing..I am tired of the few, that the system works mainly train riders, for trying to make themselves look like they are the majority. When the majority, mainly bus riders is not connected online to raise their voices.

  • matthb

    Excellent point and well illustrated.  I used to be able to take the bus VERY easily from my home in Tower Grove South to my place of work in downtown.  So much so that I considered getting rid of one of our cars.  But with the changes, I need to walk about a half mile in the morning and 3/4 of a mile in the evening to the nearest bus stop for the 30 line.  Or, I could stay on the bus, pay and wait for a transfer to travel 1.7 miles to cover the same distances.  I don’t mind the walk on a nice day, but how many of those do we get.  It just makes bus commuting an inconvenient hassle on a regular basis.