Does Saint Louis Have Enough Transit Service?
With the transit committee hearing in Washington this week, there has been a freight train of stories and blog posts on how public transportation is the future. According to transit boosters, the reason that transportation makes up a tiny fraction of total vehicle miles in the U.S. is because the system just isn’t good enough. One blog, on how to get millenials (my generation) to use transit, states:
[S]ervice time is very key. Whether it’s rail or bus rapid transit, the key word is “rapid.” If the service is quick, we will ride. One of the biggest issues I’ve seen is when someone has tried an “express” route that is express in name only.
That is all transit needs to do, take people from where they are to where they want to go, with speed. But in reality, that is easier said than done. My own experience trying to use the Saint Louis Metro system is a good illustration of this.
I am a millennial and I live in the Central West End neighborhood of Saint Louis. I do not own a car. Earlier this week, I was supposed to go to an Ultimate Frisbee scrimmage after work. We usually play at a park on the Hill, a 20-minute bike ride away. But this week, the location changed to Franz Park. I figured I might be able to take public transportation, but my hopes were quickly dashed.
If I owned a car or carpooled, the total trip would have been 9 minutes. To take transit, however, would have taken between 40 and 50 minutes. That was slightly faster than walking (1 hour 9 minutes), but quite a bit slower than biking on a safe bike route (30-35 minutes).
For people who support more transit, the lesson they would take from this is that Saint Louis needs more transit service. But that is the wrong lesson. The Central West End, where I live, has bus and light-rail service. Still, transit service was little better than walking. This is not an isolated case; I walk, bike, and carpool many more miles than I use transit.
Metro spent $300 million on transit last year, or $190 for every resident of the area it serves. How much more would have to be spent so that I could have express service to work, Franz Park, and everywhere else that I want to go in the Saint Louis area? As a car-less millennial, I have a greater incentive to take transit than the vast majority of Saint Louis area residents who own a car. Yet, transit is not my primary means of getting around Saint Louis. How much would have to be spent to make transit my primary means of transportation if I already owned a car?