Metro is building the North County Transit Center to make the public transit experience more comfortable for big chunk of its ridership. But Metro COO Ray Friem jokingly said his agency has an ulterior motive for the project.
“I’ll be honest with you. The real reason to do this is to say that a bus system took over a car dealership,” Friem said on Tuesday. “Who would have thought that was ever going to happen?”
Indeed, Metro is transforming a former Mazda dealership in Ferguson into a centralized hub for its bus service. The agency officially broke ground Tuesday on the project, which is located on Pershall Road between West Florissant Avenue and New Halls Ferry Road.
The transit center is slated to have 10 bus bays, concession stands and restrooms. It will also have a free parking lot and an indoor waiting area to protect passengers from bad weather.
North St. Louis County makes up about 20 percent of Metro's bus and light rail ridership. Friem said the transit center will provide a quicker and more comfortable way for North County residents to commute.
“If you see the street corners up and around here around Flower Valley Shopping Mall, you will see people getting off of a bus and waiting a long time to get onto the next bus,” Friem said. “A transfer center, what it does is it brings us all in and allows this to happen very quickly. So it has the potential to expand the range of the transit system for everybody in North County.”
Metro President and CEO John Nations said the agency’s transit centers in St. Louis and St. Louis County move “a lot of people upon multiple bus lines to get to their destination in less time and with greater efficiency.” That, he said, helps people get to their destination more quickly and helps bus lines run more smoothly.
“It also allows us to improve our efficiencies, which allows us to stretch the tax dollars even further in order to serve the riding public,” Nations said.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said the center could be an economic development tool. He said it could incentivize businesses to sprout up around the transit center in order to serve passengers.
For instance, Nations said he could see cleaners or grocery stores opening nearby.
“People who ride transit will also need to stop at the cleaners or to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home,” Nations said. “If we get it close to a transit center, they not only use the public transit center – they can also accommodate the other needs they have during the day.”
The transit center is expected to open to the public in the fall of 2015. Nations said his agency is seeking federal funds to build a maintenance center on an adjacent plot of land. That facility, Nations said, would house dozens of buses and Call-A-Ride vans which he said would make North County bus lines more efficient.
“Having it up here, the buses can start here, they can end here, they can serve the riding public here,” Nations said. “It helps to improve our efficiencies. It reduces our cost. It’s a much greater return for the tax dollars and for the taxpayers.”