CHESTERFIELD • It takes Jessica McCray as much as three hours each way to commute between her home in north St. Louis County and her retail job at the Chesterfield Mall.
From the time she left her front door on Friday, McCray, 22, boarded a bus to the North Hanley MetroLink station, then took light rail to the Delmar Loop station, where she boarded the final bus to the mall. It’s reversed on the way home.
“I’m on this bus for an hour and 30 minutes from Chesterfield to the Delmar station,” she said last week while waiting outside the mall.
Seeking to provide more direct routes for workers in Chesterfield, Earth City and West Port, regional planners are eyeing a faster, more frequent form of rubber-tire transportation known as bus rapid transit.
Kansas City and other U.S. cities have launched successful bus rapid transit lines that provide more regular point-to-point service at a fraction of the cost of light-rail or commuter trains.
“This is all-day, more or less 21-hours-a-day type service on these corridors,” said Ray Friem, operations chief at Metro — one of the agencies studying ways to expand public transportation in the region. “We would use them just like we use MetroLink.”
Metro, the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council and the Missouri Department of Transportation originally looked at four highway corridors: Interstates 55, 44, 64 (Highway 40) and 70. Those have been narrowed to I-64 and I-70, although the others remain in play for future consideration, officials say.
Public meetings are scheduled Sept. 10, 11 and 12 to review four potential corridors for bus rapid transit. Planners also are soliciting online comments before narrowing the four options to two finalists. But planners also want input on a name, system features, or even catchy slogans.
“Each of these lines has its pluses and minuses,” Friem said. “They have different purposes, different attributes that would make them work.”
In the end, Friem said, Metro and the other agencies are looking for bus rapid transit projects that would be best able to compete for federal funding. Each line is expected to cost $35 million to $40 million to build.
Friem said there were some wrinkles that would distinguish bus rapid transit from a typical bus line. They include:
• Fewer stops than on a typical bus route.
• A separate branding theme for each bus.
• Capability to give buses signal priority on city streets.
• Distinct, significant stations, as opposed to bus benches.
• Park-and-ride lots at some stations.
St. Louis planners have been talking about bus rapid transit for years. But other transit agencies across the country have moved more swiftly to turn the form of bus travel into a reality.
It is difficult to predict when bus rapid transit will arrive in St. Louis, Friem said. The region should be able to put a competitive proposal in next year’s federal evaluation cycle.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority launched its six-mile, Main Street MAX orange line in 2005, and then added a second, 13-mile route — the Troost MAX green line — in January 2011. Passenger use of the bus rapid transit system grew beyond its original projections, said agency spokeswoman Cindy Baker.
The stations feature real-time updates for arriving buses, she said, and some traffic lanes are dedicated to buses during certain times of day.
Cleveland, Denver and Seattle also have launched successful bus rapid transit systems, Friem said.
One of the potential routes of a St. Louis system would run straight between downtown St. Louis and Chesterfield. McCray said that kind of direct route would be a welcome change for bus commuters.
“That would be great,” said McCray, who has worked at the mall since March. “Because we’ve got to wait an hour each time” for a bus to arrive.