Home > Downtown, tourism, transit, transportation > LB Passport v. STL Downtown Trolley

LB Passport v. STL Downtown Trolley

Metro St. Louis' Downtown Trolley. Photo: nextstopstl.org

Before I moved to Long Beach, I did a little research on the public transit in the area. Having previously heard how bike and pedestrian friendly the city was, I was eager to see the extent of the bus system. In St. Louis, I used the bus and Metrolink when I lived in South City to get to school, the Galleria, the comic shop, sporting events downtown, and the bars and shops on South Grand. I had a Metro Student Pass and used public transit whenever I could. When I moved back to South St. Louis County, taking the bus was more difficult because my neighborhood was only served by two routes. It became even more difficult when the bus routes were cut back in 2008 (thankfully, they were later restored with the help of federal funds). However, despite having good ridership numbers, public transit in St. Louis maintained somewhat of a negative reputation. I heard all the usual complaints: it’s inconvenient, doesn’t go where I want to go, seems unsafe, etc.

Earlier this year, Metro St. Louis created a somewhat gimmicky way of getting people to change their ideas about transit: The Downtown Trolley. This bus route runs in a constant loop through downtown St. Louis, taking riders to major points of interest in the area for just a $2 all-day fare.  While it isn’t an actual trolley, the bus wears a fun, painted wrapper, the idea seems to work. I took it myself once over the summer while researching for some bar reviews. At first, the idea of the trolley seemed gimmicky and wasteful to many, but much excitement was eventually generated, and the idea took off. Metro used to operate a “Downtown Circulator” route, but it generated little excitement, and it seems few actually knew about it. Does the success of the new trolley mean it’s gimmick is what made it work?

Fortunately, Long Beach Transit has something similar in downtown LBC. The Passport is a similar idea to Metro St. Louis’ Downtown Trolley- it takes riders to major points of interest and attractions in the area and provides a great way for visitors to see the city. The Passport however, consists of not one, but four bus lines, and is free at all times when ridden downtown (regular fare is required East of Alamitos Blvd.).

LB Transit's Passport. Photo: flickr.com/photos/fredcamino/

The positive impact of riding the Passport is immediately apparent. I have ridden it on several occasions to go to the Queen Mary, the Convention Center, and Shoreline Village.

The idea of a bus route focused on local attractions and tourism is not a new one, but any transit system will benefit from it. Long Beach Transit has created a successful formula in branding the Passport as a separate system integrated into the larger LBT system: Passport buses have noticeable red wrappers, routes marked with letters instead of numbers, and it’s own name (“let’s take the Passport!” sounds different from “let’s take the bus!”).

So maybe the gimmick is worth it. Both the Passport and the Downtown Trolley have a wrapper that separates them form other buses, clearly defined routes mapped at each stop, and are often marketed to tourists. What do you think? Have you ridden either bus? What can the two transit agencies learn from one another? Is their success exaggerated?

Sources: lbtransit.org, metrostlouis.org, nexstopstl.org

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  1. November 15, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    I think the big idea here is that we shouldn’t be splitting our bus needs into different categories. Tour buses, church buses, university shuttles, casino and sport stadium shuttles, etc. could easily be replaced by public buses. Metro taking over Wash U’s shuttle system was fantastic. SLU ought to adopt the 70 Grand in the same manner.

    The downtown trolley operates primarily for tourists, but at the same time serves a very real need for local residents. I’m not sure if Lumiere is operating shuttles, but the Admiral did. Why couldn’t the casino give that money to Metro and have Metro modify their downtown circulator route while adding more buses and frequency of service?

    The Urbanophile wrote an awesome blog post a while back about the idea of a Loop University in Chicago where dozens of colleges and universities just rented office spaces and ran their universities in the middle of downtown. Each relied upon public services and kept their overhead low while at the same time adding to the collective coolness of the downtown loop. There are several small colleges, or university extention programs located in and around downtown St. Louis. The downtown trolley can serve as a shuttle for those programs. It just takes the leaders of those programs to see that giving money to metro for better service is cheaper than building a new parking garage.

    It’s very significant that the leadership behind the downtown trolley didn’t just come from Metro, but from the CVC and the Downtown Partnership. The businesses of downtown wanted it for their customers, and they chose to do it through Metro and not a private shuttle service. I’m certainly pleased about that.

    Thank you for creating your new blog. I hope to follow it and leave lots of comments like this one. 🙂 Cheers.

    • November 19, 2010 at 7:40 PM

      You bring up an interesting point. Having one agency fulfill many transit needs makes things easier to understand and more convenient. I’ve always felt that the creation of the Forest Park circulator was a smart idea as well. Having the park operate it’s own bus would have been an expensive disaster.
      Chicago certainly knows what’s it’s doing (most of the time) when it comes to transit. I’ve ridden the Pace bus’s Toyota Park Express several times, which is a great example of sport stadiums utilizing public resources.

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