Sunday, August 02, 2009

Words Of Praise For St. Louis Mass Transit Agency

Anyone who has read this blog or looks at the archives is well aware that I pull no punches in sharing my opinion of the St. Louis area's mass transit agency, Metro. Due to my visual handicap, I can't drive, so I have always relied on public transit, and the system in St. Louis is plagued with problems. I know how hard it is to run a public transit agency, but I firmly believe that Metro is a shambles, run poorly, and not providing the service that will keep the St. Louis region as vibrant as groups like the local version of the Chamber Of Commerce claim it is or want it to be.

I stand by my thoughts about Metro, and have learned a lot in the last few months about why they are in the shape they are in. Much of it is because they are stuck in the vortex of the "St. Louis Way" of politics, with inadequate support from the region's political establishment and even less support from local opinion leaders like
Charles Brennan at KMOX Radio. Full disclosure, I work for the company that owns KMOX, but not for that radio station, and any comments made on this blog are purely personal opinions. Like all public transit agencies, Metro is fighting an uphill battle, but they indeed face more obstacles than most, and that is a sad commentary on the St. Louis region.

That being said, I have words of praise for Metro, and a glimmer of hope for the future of the agency and mass transit in St. Louis. On August 3rd, Metro will restore service that was cut after the loss of funding, both to the city of St. Louis and the suburbs, where I live. That will not only restore bus service to many areas of the St. Louis region, it will bring some 300 people back to work at Metro, and hopefully bring growth to businesses along the newly restored bus routes.

Thanks to the efforts of the city of Chesterfield and funding from the public and private sector, transit service was restored to my area well before the rest of the region. The route they restored first certainly was a help to me, but not an ideal solution. I had to take a taxi, a bus, light rail, and another taxi to travel between my home and office. But at least I was able to use Metro again.

On August 3rd, Metro will reinstate the route I used to take, which stopped literally right in front of my office. This is what the bus stop looked like when that service was suspended, and the way it looks now. That's because when Metro decided to restore the route, they changed the way it ran in Midtown St. Louis, and the bus, actually NO bus, will pass by my office. While I know that affects ME, I also understand and appreciate that the new routing will help provide some kind of bus service to other areas that also had to do without.

Taking this newly restored route will not be a perfect solution either, as I'll have to take a taxi to a bus stop further from my home to get to the bus. However, the bus ride (which will be just under an hour) will take me to the area I work in without having to change to other buses or light rail. After checking out the new route, both on the internet and in person, I discovered there were no bus stops on the new route within a reasonable walking distance of my office. While the bus passes a couple of blocks away from the office, Metro didn't have a place for it to stop.

I contacted Jessica Mefford-Miller, Metro's acting chief of planning and system development, with the request that Metro consider adding a bus stop on Compton, a street just west of my office, so I could board the bus there. I made the request about a week before the service was to be restored, and I honestly had very little hope of even getting a response, let alone any action on my request. I have had very low expectations for Metro, but I know you never get if you never ask.

Much to my delight, I received a very prompt response from Ms. Mefford-Miller and we communicated via email a number of times during what had to be a horribly busy week for her. On Friday afternoon, I received this e mail:

Mr. Edwards,

Today Metro installed a bus stop on Compton between Market and Laclede. I hope you will find this additional stop will allow you to make your trip aboard Metro. We look forward to having you back.
Frankly, I was stunned. Someone at Metro was kind enough to take one person's needs into consideration and make using their system easier. I know Ms. Mefford-Miller and Ray Friem, Metro's COO, were instrumental in getting the first wave of service restored to Chesterfield, and Ms. Mefford-Miller's actions again showed me that there are people at Metro trying to make things better.

I applaud Metro (yes I said those words) for their efforts to obtain the funding to bring service back, for their planning the new service to help as many people as possible use public transit, and for overcoming the obstacles that challenge them on a daily basis in order to get all of this done.

I'm writing this before I board the newly restored bus, so I can only hope that its full of riders and that St. Louisians actually ride Metro, showing that the public will use mass transit. I understand Metro will try to get a new version of the failed tax increase it needs to operate on the ballot in the April, 2010 election. The last time the agency tried to get a tax increase, they enlisted the help of old school St. Louis political hacks who ran perhaps the most embarrassing campaign I've ever seen.

I hope the people at Metro who clearly do "get it" will not trust their agency's future to people who probably have never taken the bus and who don't have the vision to see the importance of mass transit to our region. Metro can't legally run their own ballot issue campaign, but surely they can find people who have more of a clue than the last set of goons they used that led to the defeat of Proposition M.

For now though, I'm grateful for Metro's efforts and optimistic that the darkest days are behind the beleaguered agency, the people who need its services, and the region that so badly needs good public transit.
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