MetroBus System Changes, 2009-2014: More Miles, Fewer Stops, Higher Price Tag
Saint Louis MetroBus service has undergone many changes since the success of 2009’s Proposition A, which increased sales taxes in Saint Louis County to fund Metro. Metro reversed earlier service cuts, changed many bus routes, introduced new service, and promised the eventual implementation of Bus Rapid Transit. This post will explore these changes in terms of route miles, bus stops, and cost efficiency.
From 2009 to 2014, the MetroBus system totaled more than 1,500 routes, 100-plus miles more than in 2009. While Metro actually cut the length of most bus routes over that period, the addition of 14 new routes has meant an overall increase in route lengths. A map of routes cut and added between 2009 and 2014 is below:
At the same time, MetroBus stops have receded over the same period, from more than 10,500 to 9,615. Reduction of stops may be a good cost-control strategy. However, the reductions have not been even across all areas. Most portions of the system within the city and near suburbs saw a large decrease in stops while those further away from the city tended to gain stops.
Together with the information on route miles, it is clear that Metro service now has wider total area coverage, but it has fewer stops and fewer route miles in most areas close to the city core.
Contemporaneously, the costs of operating MetroBus have increased faster than inflation, from $131 million to $151 million from 2009 to 2013. While Metro justifies increased service, the bus system is no more efficient than it was in 2009, with the percentage of system costs covered by fares still hovering at 22 percent. The routes Metro added since 2010 have, for the most part, garnered lower-than-average ridership. On October weekdays, when Metro records its highest ridership numbers, added routes averaged less than 700 riders per day with a farebox recovery of 24 percent, lower than the system average of 1,300 riders per day and 35 percent, respectively.
This result is predictable, as half of the added routes serve South and West Saint Louis County, which rarely supports cost-efficient, high-ridership routes.
With Saint Louis County’s increasing support to Metro, it is perhaps unsurprising that they receive more service. But whether that makes for an efficient bus system is more in doubt. More on this to come.