29 July, 2008

MASS TRANSIT MIX - A HUGE LESSON FOR JACKSONVILLE

WHAT WOULD A STREETCAR AND SKYWAY DO FOR JTA BUSES?

Trends Blur Line Between Bus and Train
Elisa Crouch and Ken Leiser
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

MISSOURI - For years, many St. Louis transit riders fell into one of two camps.
After it opened in 1993, MetroLink appealed largely to middle-income riders who used light rail to get to college campuses along the tracks, to office buildings in downtown St. Louis, and to special events at Busch Stadium, the Trans World (now Edward Jones) Dome and the Kiel (now Scottrade) Center. Most had cars in the driveway.

Bus riders were generally working-class, and many of them had fewer options when it came to getting around. The bus was more a necessity than a choice.

But the latest research put together by the Metro transit agency shows some erosion in those class divisions.

Part of the reason is the way today's MetroLink is fed by the bus system.

MetroLink operates as more of a hub-and-spoke network these days, where buses feed the trains - and vice versa. That means many traditional bus riders use the trains for parts of their trips. There also are more bus transfer centers, including those at Hampton Avenue and Gravois Road, Broadway and Taylor Avenue, and Ballas Road and Highway 40.

Growth of the MetroLink system and new express bus service has extended the reach of transit as well, making it available to more people.

Another reason, of course, is that gas prices have shot up to nearly $4 a gallon. So the group of people who see transit as a necessity - or a bargain - has grown a bit.

Half of today's bus riders say they have a car, truck or motorcycle in their household, according to preliminary findings of this year's onboard customer survey. In 1993, about 70 percent of bus riders said they either didn't have a car available to them or didn't drive.

In this year's survey, 3 percent of bus riders reported household incomes of $100,000 or more. By way of comparison, 8 percent of MetroLink riders were part of that income bracket.

Most bus riders have Internet access (61 percent), own a cell phone (70 percent) and use text messaging (58 percent), according to the survey.

Thirty percent of bus riders have been riding less than two years. Those newer bus riders, according to the survey, tend to have slightly higher incomes than established riders.

"We've seen a lot of the kind of stereotypes of these rider groups kind of disappear as time has gone on," said J. Todd Hennessy, manager of market research at Metro.

"It's a more diverse system," said Jessica Mefford-Miller, the agency's director of research and development.

Tom Shrout of Citizens for Modern Transit said that he had heard the knock that MetroLink was at odds with the bus system, but that he had never subscribed to it. "The bus system was in free fall until MetroLink opened," he said. "The ridership on MetroLink helped stabilize the bus system."

Shrout says a transit system that appeals to more people stands to be more robust than one that does not. He points to development popping up along the Forest Park-to-Shrewsbury MetroLink line as evidence of that.

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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