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What’s new in 2019 with St. Louis public transit: WiFi access, smart cards and fare gates

The 70 Grand bus stops near St. Louis University in December 2018.
File Photo | Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio
The 70 Grand bus stops near St. Louis University

2018 marked big changes for transit in St. Louis. The first new MetroLink station in more than 10 years opened in the Cortex Innovation District, the region’s bridges and highways underwent major construction, and dockless bikes and scooters landed on city streets.

More changes are on the way for 2019, especially for frequent public transit riders. By fall, bus routes and schedules will start changing as part of Metro’s plan to overhaul bus service on the Missouri side of the St. Louis region. The agency also plans to make public transit rides easier by improving technology and safety across the Metro system.

Metro executive director Jessica Mefford-Miller said that many of the changes coming in 2019 focus on creating a “rider-centric revolution” that will change the transit experience, such as adding WiFi on buses and other features riders have requested.

Here’s what to expect in 2019:

WiFi to expand across MetroBus and MetroLink

Metro started testing wireless internet service on 20 buses in December. That pilot program will continue into the new year, then expand to the full bus system in 2019. MetroLink trains will also begin testing WiFi service in the first quarter of 2019.

Fare gates and other updates to safety and security

Metro started a safety and security assessment in 2018, and the final report will be released in January. Mefford-Miller said the agency plans to start implementing recommendations from the study this year.

Fare gates were added in 2018 at three MetroLink stations, controlling access to the platforms by channeling customers through smaller entrance points that have fare inspectors and security guards. In 2019 Metro will improve the design of those stations and add fare gates to stations in the Central West End and Delmar Loop.

Metro is also seeking a new contract for security services, and plans to have selected a company by the end of spring.

Redesigning original MetroLink stations

Early in 2019 Metro will revamp five of the original MetroLink stations: Arch-Laclede’s Landing, Convention Center, 8th and Pine, Forest Park and the Delmar Loop.

Mefford-Miller said Metro hopes to transform the stations into “vibrant spaces” with new lighting and art to “better connect our stations to the vibrancy that’s happening in the community surrounding us.” Design will start in spring after Metro determines a contractor. Construction timeline will depend on funding. The five 25-year-old stations will also receive needed maintenance.

The Central West End MetroLink station platform, which is being extended, will also reopen in 2019.

Electric bus program gets rolling

Metro won almost $3 million for establishing electric bus service from two Federal Transit Administration grants. Mefford-Miller said Metro will receive several 40-foot buses at the end of 2019, with plans to put them into service in 2020. Eventually the program will convert 60-foot buses on the most-used route, 70 Grand, to electric.

Metro is also partnering with Ameren UE to convert the Brentwood MetroBus facility to provide power supply and equipment that will support electric buses.

The last chance to give feedback on proposed bus route changes

Throughout 2018 Metro gathered public comments on Metro Reimagined, its plan to increase bus frequency without changing its budget. The plan involves scaling back the number of stops and routes, but increasing bus frequency. Metro released a revision in October that responded to rider concerns. The agency will make additional revisions before finalizing its plans, so the last chance to comment on the proposal ends is Jan. 11. See the Metro Reimagined website for information on how to submit public comments.

Riders will begin seeing pilot programs and route changes in 2019, but the majority of changes will not take effect until towards the end of the year.

‘Microtransit’ tests

Metro Reimagined will replace some fixed-route services with more flexible options. One of those, called “microtransit,” shuttles people to specific employers or shifts. Metro plans to start testing microtransit in spring.

The shuttles will focus on areas that are dense with people and employers, such as Downtown, the Central Corridor, the Hazelwood industrial area and health care employment centers in St. Louis County.

Fresh technologies to make trips easier

Metro’s Gateway Card, which allows riders to store and pay fare electronically, is in a pilot stage. Throughout the year, Metro will convert more passes from magnetic stripe paper to Gateway Cards.

Metro is working with a company to develop new software to plan trips in early 2019, and riders will also have mobile payment options.

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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