Inefficient Bus Service Plagues North Saint Louis County
Metro, which operates public transportation in Saint Louis City and County, has announced that it has nearly completed a brand new bus transfer station in North Saint Louis County, at a cost of around $5.29 million. Aside from its modern look, the station will have indoor waiting areas and a free park-and-ride lot, as well as public restrooms. While better facilities are nice to have, Metro’s most serious problem in North County is an expensive and slow bus service, not the amenities at their bus stops.
In 2013, Metro spent about $160 million on its bus system. The performance of that system is questionable, both in terms of total ridership and cost-efficiency. In no Saint Louis County census tract does transit account for 25% of all commuters. No bus route covers its operating costs with fare revenue, and many large buses travel Saint Louis’ streets nearly empty. Why aren’t county residents, even in depressed areas of Saint Louis County, using the bus more often?
Perhaps the better question is why those with any other option would take the bus to begin with. The map above shows the bus routes that currently serve North Saint Louis County.
What is immediately obvious is that, aside from downtown and a couple routes to mid-county areas, buses that serve North County stay in North County. They do not provide direct service to the Central West End, South Saint Louis City, West Saint Louis County, or South Saint Louis County, much less Illinois. Most routes funnel riders to the MetroLink, where they have to transfer to a train, and (if their final destination is not on top of the MetroLink) transfer once more to reach their final destination.
To illustrate how time consuming this process can be, we list rush-hour travel time from a randomly chosen address in Ferguson, MO, to prominent employment areas and compared that to travel time for a car.
Transit Time (Minutes)
Drive Time (Minutes)
Drive Time Advantage
Barnes Jewish Medical Campus
City—Central West End
West County Mall
U.S. Steel (IL)
Of course a car will be faster than transit, but it is surprising just how much faster it is, even for areas near Ferguson. Take the Galleria, which is about 10 miles (or a 20 minute drive) away. Using transit, the trip would take well over an hour. Why? The fastest transit route includes two transfers, which entails a lot of waiting around.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution for making the Saint Louis bus system better. The region has low population density and spread-out work locations. But it’s never going to look better until Metro can provide service that people will actually find value in without breaking the bank. Metro does plan to change routes after the completion of its transit center, and that may improve the situation somewhat. But maybe, before it plans another $5 million bus stop, Metro should consider how many new buses that money could buy them, and why anyone who could park in their free lot would want to use the bus anyway.