Now I’m a believer in St. Louis’s MetroLink as an efficient and effective light-rail transit system, but I also understand that it has its limitations. Which is why I’m calling out The Count’s statistic as misleading.

Count On Downtown’s light-rail statistic comes from this Wikipedia article which is based on data from the APTA. Per the article, MetroLink is in fact the 10th busiest light-rail system in the country. As recently as 2008, MetroLink was ranked 7th (Dallas, Denver, and Salt Lake City have since surpassed St. Louis).

But just because they don’t have light-rail systems doesn’t mean that St. Louis is better than New York or DC. To measure only light-rail systems against each other ignores the fact that they often operate as a part of a larger transit network in a metropolitan region. When taking the total of all rail-based transit systems (minus commuter rail) in a metro area, St. Louis ranks 16th only just punching above it’s own weight in terms of population.

And with expansion of the MetroLink system stalled for the foreseeable future (Hello! Missouri legislature!), St. Louis’s ranking will likely fall to 21st in as little as 5 years.

The table below summarizes the top 25 rail-based transit systems excluding commuter rail, but combining totals from separate metropolitan transit agencies (e.g. Philadelphia). Cities marked with a caret symbol will likely eclipse St. Louis in the next 5 years.

RankMetroRidershipPopulationPop. Rank
1New York18,897,1091
2Washington D.C.979,6005,582,1707
3Boston765,4004,552,40210
4Chicago709,7009,461,1053
5San Francisco567,4004,335,39111
6Philadelphia486,0005,965,3436
7Los Angeles315,80012,828,8372
8Atlanta228,3005,268,8609
9Portland125,6002,226,00922
10San Diego96,9003,095,31316
11Miami96,6005,564,6358
12Baltimore78,5002,710,48919
13Dallas71,1006,371,7734
14Denver70,3002,543,48220
15Salt Lake City57,2001,124,19747
16St. Louis50,5002,812,89618
17 ^Sacramento48,7002,149,12724
18 ^Phoenix44,0004,192,88713
19 ^Houston37,4005,946,8005
20San Jose31,7001,836,91130
21Cleveland27,5002,077,24027
22 ^Minneapolis27,1003,279,83315
23 ^Seattle26,2003,439,80914
24Pittsburgh24,1002,356,28521
25Buffalo23,2001,135,50948