Make Bus Rapid Transit Serve Bus Users
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is likely to make its debut in Saint Louis in the next couple years. Regional planning agencies are narrowing down the list of potential candidates, and MoDOT is preparing to spend more than $10 million constructing the service from 2015 to 2016. Unfortunately, the prime candidate for the first BRT route in Saint Louis is likely to be a wasteful route to West Saint Louis County.
In the Saint Louis area, the vast majority of transit (and bus) usage is in areas with low income, low vehicle ownership rates, and high population densities. Virtually all busy bus routes in the Saint Louis area are concentrated in the city (mostly in North Saint Louis City) and North Saint Louis County. Conversely, most bus routes that serve West and South Saint Louis County (where vehicle ownership and incomes are higher) see little ridership. Many of those routes lose more than five dollars for every passenger that steps on board. For instance, the 158 Ballas-West County route, which currently serves what would be the western half of the I-64 BRT route, has a fare box recovery ratio of 6.6 percent, meaning it loses a staggering $15 per passenger.
Despite these facts, the prime choice for a $42 million BRT route is one serving West County, going from downtown to Chesterfield along I-64. Planners prefer this route as it connects area workplaces and (they hope) can draw new “choice” transit ridership. However, if demand for current transit is any guide, ridership is likely to be low, especially because end-to-end travel time is only being cut from 76 minutes to 53 minutes. With the same trip taking less than half the time by car (and the vast majority of people living around the proposed line own cars), that’s unlikely to get many people out of their personal vehicles.
A second finalist for BRT is a route along Natural Bridge and West Florissant. As the map above shows, that route would travel through areas with high public transportation usage (high FBR) and low rates of car ownership. It would be very likely to have high ridership and greatly improve the mobility of local residents. It is far superior to an I-64 BRT, as are both the Halls Ferry and Page Avenue routes (both of which failed to make the final selection).
If Saint Louis can only implement one BRT route in the next five years, the Natural Bridge and West Florissant route is likely to have the highest ridership and best service for those who need transit. Even if they go forward with more than one BRT route, the I-64 option likely would waste tens of millions in a futile attempt to chase choice ridership, and planners would do better to choose another route that serves Saint Louis City or North Saint Louis County.