Via Metro STL Offers Uber-Style Rides On Demand For Underserved County Areas
The on-demand, $2-per-ride transit service started operating in certain areas of St. Louis County a year ago and has recently been expanded. Now, rather than requiring a separate app or phone call to hail a ride, Via Metro STL riders with a smartphone have a more seamless view of destination and route possibilities.
The idea is to serve all corners of the region and make public transit convenient even for those who live outside bus or rail hubs.
“We can’t run a 40-foot bus into every corner of every single neighborhood,” Taulby Roach, president and CEO of Bi-State Development, said Thursday on St. Louis on the Air. “But our tasking is to try to get to every corner of every neighborhood so that we’re creating that economic access for everyone in every community, from north to south, from east to west.”
Unlike Call-A-Ride service, the Via Metro STL service is designed for everyone who needs it. But it won’t necessarily take you from your door to the door of your destination. Instead, it may take you from your door to the most convenient bus route, providing the “last mile” (or sometimes first mile) of service in the area’s public transit system.
Roach noted that ridership is down about 50% across the regional transit system, a decline precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But we have made it [through the pandemic], and we've made it through the strength [of our workforce],” Roach said, adding, “I cannot be here this afternoon without recognizing our operators, who still showed up and did those 4:30 a.m. shifts on MetroBus and MetroLink, and still move St. Louis.”
The Via Metro STL service launched as a pilot project last June. It completed upward of 12,000 rides in specific areas of north and south St. Louis County underserved by public transit lines. Last month, the program was expanded to cover more areas, and hours of service were adjusted as well.
Roach struck a note of optimism about overall transit use going forward, pointing out that he’s seeing more people moving around downtown St. Louis these days, where Metro’s headquarters are. As one strategy to encourage people to get back on board transit, the agency just this week unveiled a $5 all-day pass promotion, which will remain in place through mid-December.
“In the end, it’s about getting butts in seats,” Roach said. “I need to do that. I need folks on our system. But we need to give them a product that they care about, that they think is fair. And I’m working hard to do that.”
“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. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.