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MetroBus overhaul could make getting around tough for people with disabilities, seniors

MetroBus at North Hanley Transit Center on April 3, 2018.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Metro Transit's plan to overhaul bus service would make it difficult for people with disabilities and those with limited mobility to catch the bus, residents from throughout the St. Louis region told officials this week.

Under the agency's plan, less-traveled routes would lose stops, while more popular routes would come more frequently.

That would move stops away from people like Brandy Thompson, who has arthritis, as well as learning and sight disabilities.

At a public hearing on Wednesday, Thompson told Metro officials that she relies on the bus to shop for groceries, attend doctor’s appointments and speak in seminars on how to interact with people with disabilities. She takes MetroBus route 79 near Normandy, where she lives. Her stop would lose service on the plan.

“If they cut that service right in between that Bermuda Road area, I will have to walk an hour to the MetroLink or 40 minutes to the bus stop to that [route] 79,” she said.

But that’s not an option for Thompson, who tries to take the bus when she can. Metro’s Call-a-Ride service for riders with disabilities can cost too much for her budget on just a fixed income. She said her only other option is her mother’s car, which isn’t reliable.

“What do you all propose you’re gonna do about it if you cut that route?” Thompson asked Metro officials at the hearing.

Metro officials are still determining the exact route changes. They will accept public comments until May 4.

To increase bus frequency without spending extra money, any new plan will need to cut some stops, according to Jessica Mefford-Miller, assistant executive director for planning and system development at Metro Transit.

“I want to be clear about the tradeoff between the frequency and service coverage. We are proposing not to operate service on some streets,” she said.

Metro’s current proposal would cut some fixed-route bus service throughout the entire region. It would replace some of those routes with alternative options, such as shuttles and on-demand service.

But in many areas, people would have to walk several blocks to the new nearest stop.

Mefford-Miller said that Metro has tried to place the frequent routes so that the majority of riders can use them. Metro estimates 86 percent of riders will have access to buses that arrive every 15 minutes.

Metro also is developing technologies that would update riders about route schedules.

But Kenneth Farmer, who lives in the Penrose neighborhood of north St. Louis, said at the hearing that the technological improvements won’t help the underlying problem he has with the buses.

“If the buses really ran the way they should, you wouldn’t have to worry about text messaging or whatever,” he said.

Farmer rides the bus two days a week. He said he’d like to ride it more often, but buses don’t run late enough and change schedule so frequently that he relies on his bicycle.

“When you eliminated those bus stops, you made it very difficult for a lot of people,’ said Farmer, 79. “I think maybe because all of you are young and healthy, you don’t know that.”

The current plan also would cut stops at several living facilities for senior citizens, including the Jackson Park Senior Apartments in north St. Louis and Charless Home in south St. Louis.

It also would cut the route along Cherokee Street, where Ri Patrick, who has a disability, catches the MetroBus route 73.

“There are a lot of disabled people, children that go to school, and a lot of stores and things along that route that those of us who access it use,” said Patrick, 31. “I would no longer be able to get to Schnucks, Aldi or my job, which is in Carondelet, because I can’t access the 73 anymore.”

Mefford-Miller said that Metro is considering the concerns and will redevelop the plan in the summer based on rider, employer and politician feedback. One of Metro’s priorities is making a “rider-centric” system that’s “convenient and accessible,” she said.

Members of the public can give feedback on the plan online, by email to reimagined@mtrostlouis.org or by phone at 314-982-1406 

Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.

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