Week of July 18, 2001

Going Whose Way?
Nice guys finish late: As a soon-to-be ex-passenger of the 80 Southampton Express, which has been listed as a casualty by Oct. 1, I've had the discomfort of being a passenger a few times while Mike McGrath was at the helm ["Transit Authority," RFT, July 4]. A nice guy, no doubt, but when he drives, he picks up everybody -- be they at express stops, nonexpress stops, stop signs or just waving him down. He turned the 80X into another local taking 40 minutes to cover the 7.5-mile loop. Because he's such a nice guy and because I nearly always caught the earlier 80X, I never complained, until now. Come Oct. 1, I shall bid my dear 80X and my friends I've made on it goodbye. In the interim, I'll be shopping for a car loan, because the 80 local takes nearly an hour to get downtown.
Philip Taylor
St. Louis

Dill would do well to listen: D.J. Wilson's piece on Bi-State was quite interesting. Although I fully understand how in its evolution an agency such as Bi-State can struggle and sometimes fail to maintain high levels of ridership, quality of service and necessary maintenance, I'm perplexed by the response of union president Herb Dill to Mr. McGrath's journal.

"Mr. McGrath plays at being a bus driver; we actually do the job. He does more harm than good. He's got a lot of politicians listening to him," Dill said. Dill would do well to listen and not take a stupidly defensive stance.

Mr. Dill's response is emblematic of some of the problems facing the St. Louis region: Right or wrong, defend the status quo because you may not like the tone and tenor of the commentary. Here we have a union president defiantly dismissing the observations of a driver whose company would not receive a favorable grade from the people who utilize its services and has a problem maintaining profitability.

The administration of Bi-State would do well to at least investigate Mr. McGrath's journal for accuracy and begin to implement action plans on those items that the investigation corroborates.
Greg Gibson
University City

Quit catering to our automobile obsession: What is it that St. Louisans don't understand about mass transit? In his letter, Tim Jamison asserts that "if Bi-State couldn't survive without the 'visible fist' of government force or funding, then it should be gone" ["Letters," RFT, July 11]. If that's the case, how about dissolving the Department of Transportation, because God knows Missouri's congested interstates couldn't quite cut it without "government force or funding." Is the Page Avenue extension being funded by private sources? Is the Highway 40 restructuring being done as a gesture of goodwill? Hell, no. We're paying for them, dearly, to the tune of 100 percent, and they will never recover a dime. And we will continue to pay to maintain, upgrade and widen them.

Mr. Jamison's attitude typifies the ignorance rampant in our region. These are the same people who think two MetroLink routes converging at the Forest Park station would be far too complicated to comprehend, the same people who think buses and MetroLink act as pipelines for undesirables to enter their untarnished communities. Get rid of Bi-State? Let's save some real money and quit catering to our obsession with automobiles.
Chris Polka


McGrath is onto something: As a first-time visitor to St. Louis, I was intrigued by your article on Mike McGrath.

The hotel staff here was very helpful in pointing out the MetroLink, which I found very easy to use with its simple map and flat-rate fares. However, the red shuttle buses for the Forest Park area were another matter. I waited nearly 45 minutes for the inbound bus from the Forest Park station to take me to the St. Louis Art Museum before deciding on risking a walk there. It was quite a sojourn up the hill where the museum was, but I made it up there a little before the bus which finally came chugging past the statue of St. Louis. I was not happy. Getting back at least was easier, as the buses were coming on a timely basis and the MetroLink helped return me to my hotel. A small experience, but a memorable one. I wonder how much more time-effective the taxis would be.

Mike McGrath is very much onto something in his novel study, which takes all the faceless, featureless statistics and puts faces on the people whom the public-transportation service should serve and those that are failing it as a civil service. He reveals a "tyranny of expertise" that won't brook any problems it hasn't noticed or solutions it did not think to recommend. I hope his work is well considered.
Thomas Izaguirre
Edgewater, Md.

My 2 cents' worth: Mike McGrath hit the nail on the head! As a lifelong St. Louis city resident and bus rider, I'd like to add my 2 cents' worth as to what can be done to attract (and, as the article indicates is the more immediate concern) retain riders.

Go low-tech. It seems every new bus has to have the latest bells and whistles. One of the goofiest is the route name and number of the bus in lights in the front and side of the bus. If it's too sunny, you can't make out the route because of the glare; if it's rainy, the glass in front of the lights fogs up and you can't make it out; if it's busy flashing "Go Cardinals," you don't know if it's your bus (I'm sure the Cards aren't paying for Bi-State's boosterism!) Why not go back to the old scroll-type signs, with the bus route and number printed in white letters on a black background? Sure, we wouldn't see the cutesy messages, but at least we'd know if it's our bus. The fare boxes need to be simplified, too.

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