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Updated plan to overhaul MetroBus scales back frequent routes, increases coverage

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

Metro Transit is working to finalize plans that would overhaul public transportation on the Missouri side of the St. Louis region.

Transit agency officials last week announced that updated Metro Reimagined plans for improved bus service would address riders’ calls for safer or closer bus stops while still increasing the frequency of buses along busy routes. The agency made the changes after reviewing more than 2,200 surveys and comments from Metro customers.

Metro is still accepting public comment on the plan until Dec. 31.

A previous plan, announced in April, prioritized bus frequency and eliminated lesser-used routes throughout the region. Some riders said the plan’s service cuts would prevent older people and people with disabilities from being able to rid buses.

“I knew right away that this one was going to upset my apple cart,” said Lenora Kelso, 81, about the previous plan. Kelso travels by public transit because her vision does not allow her to drive a car safely.

Kelso, a self-described “avid knitter,” often boards the number 30 bus on Arsenal Street, and rides to a knitting shop on Watson Road. Metro’s first proposal diverted Kelso’s bus north on McCausland Avenue, away from the shop. “That was just going to cut out a big part of my life — things I do, friends I see.”

But the new plan keeps a bus route on Watson. To Kelso, that’s a great relief.

“I’m smiling all over,” she said.

Frequency vs. coverage: Finding a balance

The plan’s current version restores service to some roads that would have lost bus routes and covers more ground compared to the first proposed plan. However, Metro will decrease bus frequency on some routes to offset the costs of the added coverage. That includes some buses running less often after 7 p.m., instead of after 9 p.m.

The agency is not increasing its budget as part of Metro Reimagined, so it’s a process full of trade-offs, according to Jessica Mefford-Miller, executive director of Metro Transit.

Compared to current service, some route paths would change and some areas would lose fixed-route buses, instead relying on specialized schedules and smaller vehicles.

“Think of Metro Reimagined as wiping the board clean and redrawing the lines in a way that reflects the unique mobility needs and character of the many different communities and individual streets that we serve,” Mefford-Miller said.

Despite scaling back the frequency of some buses from the earlier proposal, the newest plan offers almost 300 miles of MetroBus routes that provide service at least every 15 minutes at busy times during the day.

That’s an increase from the 30 miles of high-frequency routes Metro offers now.

Marie Ceselski, an activist and Democratic committeewoman in St. Louis, rides the bus every day. She said she’s glad to see service on Cherokee Street and in the Soulard neighborhood, but is concerned that the new plan doesn’t have service along Russell Boulevard, which she said has had public transportation “since horse-drawn trolley days.”

“They’re wrong if they think people are going to walk seven blocks to catch a faster bus, or they’re going to ride a scooter to a faster bus,” Ceselski said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

She said she’s hoping riders — especially those with mobility issues who might not be able to make a longer walk — can push for service on a few other streets before Metro finalizes its service revisions.

Changes also would include safety improvements and technology updates, like adding electronic ticketing.

Metro plans to present a final plan to the public in spring 2019, then implement most — but not all — route changes in fall 2019.

Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

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