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Mizzou Ph.D. Student Examines COVID-19’s Impact On St. Louis’ Bus System

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

Even before the pandemic, Maged Shoman had his eye on St. Louis’ bus system. He is a doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and among his academic interests are transportation trends. He started collecting data about bus delays, trip durations and cycle times.

Then news broke that an airborne virus was wreaking worldwide havoc. By March, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Shoman realized the data he’d been compiling might come in handy.

“I believe that every single field out there … you sort of have [an] obligation to help with whatever crisis is going around,” Shoman told St. Louis on the Air. So he shifted his focus and used the data he’d previously collected as a starting point to determine how COVID-19 impacted the St. Louis bus network. Shoman even created a website to visualize his findings.

He notes that April is when public transportation across the board showed significant change.

“I found that [the number of riders] was actually reduced by around 70% up until July, then it's sort of improved a little bit,” he said. “But it was definitely severely impacted.”

When the demand started to increase again, users experienced delays thanks to changes made during the pandemic.

“Certain routes where service stopped the moment that pandemic started, users had to end up using nearby routes,” he explained. “And then these routes were eventually impacted, [because of] the number of users that were [using different routes]. And eventually, that increased the delays on those routes. Plus the frequency of buses stopping at stops was decreased.”

Shoman’s project “Visualizing Transit System Performance Impacted By COVID-19 Virus: A Case Study of Saint Louis, Missouri,” earned him top recognition at the Transportation Engineering Association of Metropolitan St. Louis’ fair, held virtually this year.

Shoman explained on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air that commuter behavior can affect policies and funding priorities. He hopes his dataset can help city governments make more data-driven decisions. For now, it’s entirely free to access.

Are you an avid bus user? How has the pandemic affected your daily routine? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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

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