Recent Missouri Travel Trends Fail to Meet MoDOT Expectations
In February, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) issued its finalized Long-Range Transportation Plan, titled “A Vision for Missouri’s Transportation Future.” While most of the plan rightly focuses on maintaining the current highway system and increasing transportation safety, it also outlines hopes for a department with broader funding and broader responsibilities. These new responsibilities would include an increased role in transit funding and expanding the state’s inter-city passenger rail system.
MoDOT has justified these new charges partially under the argument that Missourians in the future will drive less and use alternative transportation more. However, recent data suggests that such a transformation is not occurring, at least not yet.
In MoDOT’s long-range plan, the department cited the steady increase in passenger rail traffic from 2007 to 2012 as a reason for increased investment in this mode, including the addition of lines from Saint Louis to Springfield and Kansas City to Omaha. However, in fiscal year 2014, passenger rail travel actually fell on Missouri’s heavily subsidized inter-city line, the Missouri River Runner. Passengers declined from 197,000 in 2013 to 189,000 for 2014.
In fact, passenger rail usage in Missouri is still lower than it was in 2001, when there were 208,000 passengers. The recent stagnation and long-term decline of inter-city rail traffic argue against a role for MoDOT in funding new billion-dollar rail lines in Missouri.
MoDOT’s long-range plan also called for a larger state role in transit spending, citing increased usage from 2010 to 2012 statewide and demographic changes as evidence of increasing transit demand. But once again, recent data shows that transit usage statewide fell from 2012 to 2013 (from 63.4 to 62.5 million UPT), reversing the post-recession trend.
In fact, transit usage in Missouri, despite significant local and federal support (averaging more than $400 million per year), has steadily declined since 2000. There are many arguments one could make for increased transit spending by MoDOT, but rapidly increasing demand is not one of them.
The fact that recent travel data runs contrary to MoDOT’s expectations is perhaps unsurprising. In written comments to a draft version of the Long-Range Transportation Plan, we cautioned MoDOT against extrapolating weak post-recession trends (and anecdotal evidence) too far into the future. We especially cautioned against using those trends to speculate on revolutionary change in Missouri travel habits. But speculate they have. Unfortunately for Missourians, those speculations are coupled with plans to spend billions in an effort to meet, what are at present, stagnating travel trends.