Title: Bus - Rail Integration
Date: January 17, 1995
Street cars departed St. Louis many years ago, and the interstate highway system created new arteries for commuters who preferred to live outside the city's core. Most commuters used their personal automobiles, but a small percentage used the public transit provided by the Bi-State Development Agency's (BSDA) bus system, which extended into the Illinois suburbs across the Mississippi River and the Missouri suburbs to the west, including areas beyond the Missouri River. It was important that bus patrons become aware of how the light rail system would affect their daily transit routines.
BSDA decided that early customer consideration was essential for introduction of the new service and ridership. The St. Louis Light Rail Project, known as MetroLink, developed a public information program, consisting of two parts, Bus Buddies and Rail Ambassadors, to win the confidence of bus patrons and future rail patrons. This program, created good will, sold the light rail system, provided information/education, assisted customers, and extended hospitality.
Success of the bus-rail integration depended on the effective communication of route changes and the new MetroLink service to all customers, existing and potential. For existing customers, the challenge was to overcome the natural resistance to change which could have led to disenfranchisement. For new and potential customers, the challenge was to make the integrated bus and rail system appear easy, convenient, and desirable to use.
Extensive advertising and promotions in the traditional media (newspapers and radio) carried the message to the entire area. The very untraditional approach to communication involved use of Bus Buddies from BSDA. For two weeks prior to start-up, every trip on affected routes had BSDA representatives on board during commuting hours. These individuals explained to the riders what the rail system would entail, how some bus routes would be slightly modified to become a feeder network for the light rail system, and when opening day would be. Intensive preparation allowed the Bus Buddies to answer questions and allay rider concerns.
The Bus Buddies also began the orientation of future light rail patrons regarding the route, the station environment, and the fare system. These preliminary efforts were augmented by an intensive "Rail Ambassadors" program that ran for two weeks after the July 31, 1993 opening. The Ambassadors were a combination of BSDA employees, volunteers from Citizens for Modern Transit, and Boy Scouts, all especially trained to explain how to use MetroLink. Their duties were to:
- Greet customers at MetroLink Stations
- Direct customers to the proper platform
- Assist customers in using the fare vending machines
- Help customers make their bus-rail connections
- Provide information on the MetroLink system
- Answer any questions
Every MetroLink station was staffed by Ambassadors from 5:00 AM to 7:30 PM, seven days a week for the first two weeks of operation. Tables were set up at each MetroLink station with the following information for distribution to rail customers:
- MetroLink timetables
- Timetables for the bus routes serving that station
- Transit system maps
- Pamphlets on how to use the fare vending system
- Brochures and advertisements from businesses and attractions near the MetroLink station
- Prepaid post cards to request additional information or timetables.
The Rail Ambassadors were used subsequently for various special events (ball games, Veiled Prophet Fair, etc.).
2. The Lesson
Early and personal consideration is essential for introduction of new service and ridership. The key was using "real" people. The "total system" approach should convey the added advantages of rail transit and provide early orientation that will allow patrons to feel more knowledgeable about the rail system when it opens. The program should reach out to travelers in the area and not wait for them to seek information. In the case of the St. Louis Metrolink project, the success of these efforts is apparent with ridership exceeding all expectations by over 100 percent on rail and by more than 8 percent on the bus system.
Metropolitan areas that do not have rail transit service or are opening new services should consider this type of bus-rail integration as a part of project planning, and initiate the detailed plans and organization no later than the final design phase of the light rail project.