Monday, August 03, 2009

Great Expectations Lead to Great Disappointment

Monday, August 3rd. The day Metro bus routes throughout St. Louis were restored. I got up, actually on time, called a cab to take me to the bus stop, and it came quickly. OK, I thought, we're on a roll here. Even the Bus Stop sign had been set up correctly, telling me a bus would soon come.

And come it did. Right on time at 5:56AM. But there were issues. The farebox didn't want to take my money, and the operator had to turn it on and off about a dozen times before it took one of my two dollar bills. Finally, he just gave up and told me to have a seat because the farebox was messed up and it wasn't worth wasting the time for the other dollar. BONUS!

The bus wasn't exactly packed when I got on as this video shows:

But as we went along, more and more people did get on, leading to a high of 14 passengers. Metro chose to use a smaller bus, so it seemed pretty full. But there were issues. The fare box still wasn't working, so people who wanted to pay cash got a free ride. The air conditioning kept turning itself off, so the operator told us we could open the windows if it got warm. Twice, he had to restart the bus because of some ind of problem with the air pressure, whatever that means. Not a good look since Metro has had MONTHS to maintain the buses that have been off the streets since the service cutbacks.

As we reached about 45 minutes into the trip, the bus finally gave in and broke down at the corner of Lindell and Compton, just a few blocks from the new bus stop Metro put up (see yesterday's post) for my convenience, but too far for me to walk to work. The operator talked to his dispatcher, who tole him to not try to restart the bus and have the passengers wait until the next 58X bus came along, which was supposed to be another half an hour. Of course, while the decision to scrub the mission (thank you NASA) another bus going in the same general direction as ours flew past us on our left.

The poor operator was only following directions, but the combination of missing what could have been a ride downtown, where most of the other passengers were going, and knowing it would be (now) about 25 minutes until a replacement bus would be on the way led to some of the "bus behavior" I've come to know and love in St. Louis:

Most of the passengers got off the bus, hoping something would come along to take them downtown. I waited on the bus with another passenger until the next bus came, which was about half an hour after the original bus broke down. The new bus stop was where it was supposed to be, although I couldn't see one on the other side of Compton for the ride home, and I got off and took the two block walk to the office. The trip took just under two hours from when the cab came to my house until when I hit the office.

So let's review the pros and cons of Service Restoration Opening Day:


  • The bus came on time
  • No problem finding a seat
  • Half price fare
  • As promised, Metro put a bus stop near my office
  • Metro didn't collect what they should have from the farebox (an important source of funding) because the farebox was broken
  • The bus had multiple mechanical problems on its first day on the newly restored route
  • The unavoidable confusion and lack of communications when the bus broke down made many people miss a bus that could have gotten them to their destination almost on time
  • Half hour wait for a replacement bus to pick up stranded passengers
  • In the end, the best laid plans of Metro were negated by poor execution
I started the day with such high hopes. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there were problems, but the problems make Metro look less than competent to their customers and the people their customers tell about the experience, and that's a shame knowing what I know now about what it took to get the bus I took on the road at all.

And me? I'm thinking of taking a cab home tonight. Yes, its more expensive (by a long shot) but I don't have to worry about delays and equipment issues. Maybe, hopefully, Metro needs just another day to "iron things out".

blog comments powered by Disqus