Metro to add service in 3 phases following approval of tax hike

New routes, increased train service to start June 28

| Enterprise Editor

Metro will gradually phase in expanded transit service following St. Louis County voters’ approval on April 6 of a sales tax increase for Metro, top Metro officials said late last week.

Chief Operating Officer Ray Friem said service will be restored in phases over the next 12 months. The first changes will come June 28 after a series of public hearings in the coming weeks. Among the likely first changes are an increase in MetroLink frequency from four to five trains per hour and more bus service in the form of new routes and alterations to existing ones.

Friem said bus routes serving Washington University’s campuses—Red Line, Gold Line and Green Line—likely won’t see any major changes. Those routes were changed little in the March 30, 2009, service cuts, and they have continued to enjoy good ridership, he said. Jessica Mefford-Miller, Metro’s chief of planning and system development, said changes to most routes near the University are unlikely.

Metro’s approach, rather, is to “put as much service back on the road as quickly as possible” to regain lost ridership, Mefford-Miller said. That means that areas with the greatest need—places like the Central West End and areas of St. Louis County beyond Mid County—will be among the first recipients of increased bus service. Metro also wants to split some routes, such as the 49 Lindbergh, into two routes to increase efficiency and accommodate demand.

And while local transit leaders and University students are mostly cheering Metro’s restoration proposal, few details are final. The final additions and changes, Friem said, will depend largely on public feedback and how quickly Metro can rehire bus drivers and purchase new buses. Friem said bus routes will be a major focus of public hearings, especially because bus service took the biggest hit on March 30, 2009.

“We have our intelligence, we have our data, we know where connection problems are, and we’ve prioritized them ourselves, but it’s a little disingenuous of us to say we know what’s best,” Friem said of the need to get public feedback.

Metro has received no feedback so far from the University community on what services to restore, Mefford-Miller said, but she noted that it’s very early in the feedback process.

Senior Will Fischer, a member of Green Action, said he’s very interested in attending a public hearing. He’s most excited about the possibility of a new north-south MetroLink line in St. Louis, but he also hopes to see plenty of new service. “I really hope they increase frequency of all different lines, for both MetroLink and MetroBus,” Fischer said.

Friem said a second wave of restoration and expansion will likely occur either entirely in September or in two sub-phases in September and November. Metro officials are aiming to have the final wave occur by June 2011, provided that hires and bus orders go as planned.

Metro has 78 fewer buses on the road now than it did before the March 30, 2009, service cuts. The agency has almost 50 buses of its own that it can return to the roads, but it will need to order almost 30 more. Normally it takes about 18 months to receive an order of buses, but Friem expressed confidence that the order could be filled in just a year. “We have a good relationship with the manufacturer,” Friem said.

And Friem said Metro will need to train the bus operators and mechanics it hires.

Metro has already received some pressure to increase bus service in downtown St. Louis, after eliminating all area bus routes in 2009 to have more buses in western parts of the city. Metro replaced those downtown routes with a downtown circulator, which Friem said has had poor ridership and is the “biggest disappointment of my professional career.”

Tom Shrout, executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit, is among those who want Metro to pay more attention to bus routes downtown. He also wants to see the downtown ride-free zone restored.

Still, he described Metro’s restoration plan as “well thought out.” He especially likes the proposed increase in train frequency. “Going from four trains to five trains an hour on each line will help a lot, especially in the Central West End station, where there’s really been severe overcrowding,” Shrout said.

Friem said getting people to their jobs will be an important consideration in Metro’s restoration plan. “As the area recovers and jobs become more plentiful, you don’t want transportation to be a barrier to people’s success,” Friem said. Metro’s goal at the end of first year is to reinstate service to 98 percent of jobs within walking distance of 95 percent of the population.

“That’s an excellent ratio for St. Louis,” Friem said, “and that’s what I’ll try to get back there.”

Friem also hinted at the possibility of adding a Forest Park-Central West End circulator shuttle that would likely run during summer only. It would start at the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink stop, which is close to some student apartments, and travel through Forest Park, down Oakland Avenue and through southern St. Louis until Tower Grove.

Friem also does not expect any changes to how Metro sells bulk passes to universities and businesses. Washington University pays Metro over $2 million per year to provide transit passes for free to benefits-eligible faculty and staff and full-time students.

Among the proposed service changes coming June 28:

• MetroLink trains will run five times per hour instead of four times.
• A new bus route, 06 River City, will connect the Shrewsbury-Lansdowne I-44 MetroLink station to the River City Casino.
• Frequency will increase for the 70 Grand, 90 Hampton and 95 Kingshighway MetroBus routes.
• The 49 Lindbergh MetroBus route will be split into a 49 North Lindbergh route and 48 South Lindbergh route.
• The 34 Earth City route may be split into North Earth City and South Earth City.
• The 03 Forest Park-Central West End circulator may be created.

What service do you want Metro to restore?

Metro will be hosting the following public hearings to get feedback on what service to restore, add and alter.

April 27, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Mehlville High School Library
3200 Lemay Ferry Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63125

April 28, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Riverview Transit Center
9000 Riverview Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63147

May 4, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley Multi-Purpose Room
3400 Pershall Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63135

May 5, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Ballas Transit Center
790 S. Ballas Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63141

May 7, noon – 1:30 p.m.
St. Louis City Hall
Kennedy Room
1200 N. Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63102