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New concepts, potential ‘trade-offs’ define Metro’s vision for future of bus service in region

Jessica Mefford-Miller has taken the lead on Metro Transit’s draft plan outlining a new approach to public mobility in the region.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Jessica Mefford-Miller has taken the lead on Metro Transit’s draft plan outlining a new approach to public mobility in the region.";

Despite increased use of public transportation among young adults, overall ridership numbers in the St. Louis region have been on the decline the past four years. And that trend is part of the motivation behind Metro Transit’s newly unveiled hopes for its MetroBus service.

“That’s one of the reasons we need to take a fresh look at our system and make some changes to ensure that we’re providing service that meets the needs of our customers and provides a quality, fast ride,” said Jessica Mefford-Miller, assistant executive director for transit planning and system development.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Mefford-Miller joined host Don Marsh to discuss key features of the “Metro Reimagined” study that Metro Transit has released. Its goals are to increase ridership and cost effectiveness and to improve the customer experience, and the biggest potential change, Mefford-Miller said, is “enhanced frequent service.”

“This is a collection of 12 routes that serve the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County that would operate at least every 15 minutes,” she explained (view a map and further details here). “Today, most of the routes are operating between 20- and 60-minute frequency ... and service frequency is the No. 1 request of our customers.”

Mefford-Miller said that “a large network of supporting local routes,” mostly operating every 30 minutes, would supplement the higher-frequency lines. There would also be “trade-offs,” she added, with Metro using the same amount of resources in different ways.

The current fleet includes 400 buses plus 122 vans deployed for paratransit purposes. According to Mefford-Miller, Metro might subcontract some “mobility on demand” services in areas with lower ridership demands where “service today just isn’t cost effective.”

She noted that while some MetroBus routes currently serve as many as 7,000 people per day, others draw only a couple hundred.

“Uber and Lyft have entered our marketplace recently, and we are learning from that,” Mefford-Miller said. “I’d say in some markets we’re probably ceding some of our ridership to those platforms. The service that we provide would be a little bit different -- we would have to guarantee a service level, and our customers would need to know that within a given threshold they would be picked up, and they’d also have to be able to access the system without a smartphone.”

She added that any service Metro provides either directly or on a contractual basis would be “accessible to individuals who also don’t have a smartphone or a bank account [and to] individuals who are differently abled.”

Along with several remaining informational meetings and public hearings over the next two weeks, an online feedback form is also available as Metro Transit continues to seek input.

Related Events
What: Informational Meetings and Public Hearings
When: April 10, 11, 17, 18 and 19
Where: Various locations across the region

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.