Metro Ridership Trending Down in 2015
Earlier this year, we talked about how, contrary to the hopes of many Saint Louis regional planners, there is no evidence that people are ditching their cars for public transportation. In fact, Metro ridership peaked around 2008, took a nosedive during the recession, and has experienced tepid growth ever since. The latest data (from 2015) paints an even bleaker picture from Metro, as sluggish growth has transformed into decline.
To see this, we can look at ridership changes on the MetroBus and MetroLink systems since the end of the recession. That recession technically ended in mid-2009, according to the Saint Louis Federal Reserve. And while 2010–2013 cannot be described as great years, total employment in the Saint Louis Metropolitan area has steadily risen since around October of 2009.
Metro ridership was anything but recession-proof. During the economic downturn, MetroLink ridership fell 37% and MetroBus ridership fell 28%. But while the employment in the Saint Louis area has slowly but steadily recovered, the same cannot be said of Metro ridership. In 2010 and 2011, MetroBus gained back much of the ridership it had lost in the recession, but in 2012 and 2013 growth stagnated. MetroLink ridership recovery was less robust. By mid-2014, five years after the recession’s end, MetroLink ridership was still 30% below its pre-recession peak.
But as the chart below also shows, 2015 saw ridership levels reverse their post-recession trend of steady (if modest) growth. From July 2014 to October 2015, MetroLink ridership fell 8% and MetroBus ridership fell 5%. Taking all this together, it means that MetroLink ridership in late 2015 is only 2% higher than the post-recession ridership lows.
There are many factors that may explain weak post-recession ridership growth for Metro. Saint Louis has had a weak jobs recovery, with total employment still below pre-recession highs; employment has only increased 4% since 2009. However, economic growth has accelerated in the last year, the same time ridership began to decline on Metro.
Whatever the underlying reasons, this much is clear: there is no evidence that Saint Louis residents are flocking to public transportation or the MetroLink, despite significant investments made in the 1990s and early 2000s.