Gooey butter cake, the Gateway Arch, the Cardinals, and telling jokes on Halloween. There is no doubt that all of these things remind you of the city of St. Louis, Missouri. But what if, when you thought about St. Louis, you pictured the MetroLink or a MetroBus similar to how we think of the Subway in NYC or the El in Chicago? Well, if St. Louis ever wants public transportation to be as prominent as it is in these two cities, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
Currently our Metro system spans a total of 46 miles throughout St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Clair County (Illinois). Within the MetroLink specifically, ridership has declined 11% since June of 2017. Some of the possible reasons for the decline in ridership include the negative security perceptions of the community, the relocation of the Rams lessening traffic downtown, lower gas prices, and the increase in rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft. So far, Lyft has created $15 million in revenue for local drivers in their 16 months of service in STL. Recently, the company struck a deal with Chaifetz Arena at St. Louis University to create a designated area for Lyft drivers to pick up customers. Just this past August, Lyft provided around 5,000 rides for people during the PGA tour in St. Louis. Rideshare programs like this are generally more appealing to consumers mainly because of the ease at which one can summon a ride through a simple app on their cell phone.
In St. Louis, feeling safe riding a train to and from work is important if we ever want to have a successful public transit system within this city. It’s a given fact that when people feel unsafe using a specific form of transportation, they are more likely to find other methods of transport to get to and from places. According to the Belleville News Democrat (BND), in 2017 there were “1.4 violent crimes, such as homicide or robbery, per 100,000 boardings” on the MetroLink. By comparison, “8.5 people per 100,000 Illinois residents died in a motor vehicle crash” that same year. So, for all the people who believe that everyone driving their own car to and from work would be safer, that’s not necessarily true.
Currently, our MetroLink stations have no turnstiles on their platforms, which makes it easier for people to sneak onto the trains. Every now and then, there are fare inspectors who will randomly ask riders to show their time stamped ticket as proof that they paid for the ride, but this becomes more of a challenge when trains get super crowded. An additional safety concern is that there are currently no connecting train cars for police or passengers to move between while the train is moving. This means that it is harder for passengers to escape possible danger that arises as the train is in motion.
While many of these concerns can be solved through the reconstruction of trains and stations, there are still safety concerns regarding policing policies throughout the system. For instance, the Metro security guards don’t share a common radio frequency with the local police departments, nor is there a common radio system shared among the three different security jurisdictions of St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Clair County. If this did exist, it would make it easier to deploy officers when and where it’s necessary if a train is in motion. Other possible improvements to security include adding turnstiles, fences, or some sort of barrier, putting a guard on each platform, or having just a single access point to platforms instead of multiple entry points.
As a response to this growing uncertainty that St. Louisans have towards the MetroLink, St. Louis County officials have decided to delay the study of further expansion of the MetroLink until they have completed an evaluation of security practices used within the system. Keep in mind that the new Cortex station has been the only new station to open in the past 10 years of the MetroLink system. Going back to the security assessment, it will be carried out by an engineering company named WSP USA. This investigation of the 38 MetroLink stations in MO/IL will include looking at the lack of coordination between local municipalities across the system and reviewing the general policies of each police force. The study is expected to be completed by January 2019.
On the other side of the Mississippi in St. Clair County, they have been actively implementing new measures to increase safety on their trains. An example being that they have a deputy on every train from 5:00PM – 1:00AM in locations where higher crime has been reported. As a result of this, there has been a 7% decrease in crime on the MetroLink in this county. Both STL City and STL County need to take note and recognize that if they want to see more people taking transit, then they better step up their game and patrol more officers.
Throughout all the chaos of trying to increase public transit use, there is one group, Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT), that has been somewhat successful. The purpose of this group is to “…lead efforts for an integrated, affordable, and convenient public transportation system with light rail expansion as the critical component that will drive economic growth to improve quality of life in the St. Louis region. One of their more popular programs is called “Try and Ride” which helps first time riders become more familiar with the Metro system. So far, they have helped over 5,800 people through providing services such as personalized route information, free fare for an entire month, and registration in the Guaranteed Ride Program. This programs allows travelers to use ride-hailing services such as Lyft or Uber in case of sickness, unscheduled overtime at work, other personal emergencies, etc. CMT will provide up to $60 per ride in these instances.
Of course will always be pros and cons to public transportation, but for a city currently in the midst of a battle over public transit, privatizing our local airport may not be the best idea. Currently, there is an active push to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which falls within St. Louis City jurisdiction. The headliner for this project is Rex Sinquefield, a well-known financial contributor to political campaigns in Missouri. His nonprofit organization, Grow Missouri, helped pay for STL’s approved application sent to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This whole idea of privatizing the airport was introduced in early 2017 when Mayor Slay was still in office, and has now been passed onto Mayor Krewson by default. St. Louis City has selected members for the FLY314 Coalition of Advisors (supported by Grow MO aka Rex) whose job is to work closely with the Board of Estimate and Apportionment to look at ideas from interested investment partners. Supposedly, their job is to also inform the community and airport operations throughout this process, but unfortunately, it is being done under the radar, hidden from public view. Airport privatization needs to be approved by the FAA, Board of Aldermen, Board of Estimate and Apportionment, and a majority of the airlines at Lambert Airport in order to pass.
However, if St. Louis ever hopes to see the day where public transit is a main method of transportation, we have to use a more efficient process than the one used in the whole Loop trolley ordeal, which by the way, is still not in full service! According to the 2018 State of the St. Louis Workforce Report conducted by St. Louis Community College, one of the top five potential barriers to expanding employment is lack of transportation. Thus, if we are able to make using our public transportation system safer, easier, and generally more enjoyable, it’ll benefit our workforce, eventually improving St. Louis as a whole.