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
5San Francisco567,4004,335,39111
7Los Angeles315,80012,828,8372
10San Diego96,9003,095,31316
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
22 ^Minneapolis27,1003,279,83315
23 ^Seattle26,2003,439,80914

Posted by Herbie Markwort

I like to write about transportation.


  1. The most revealing comparison is to do the math to look at the transit ridership percentage of the regional population. If we take a set of similar cities and compare them with St. Louis, the results are not good. Former Mayor Vince Schoemehl has noted that he tracked the success of Boston and San Francisco relative to St. Louis during his time in office as they are all cities in the shadow of a larger economic neighbor (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago). In addition, each was a major industrial city with comparable population that saw steep declines from 1950-1980. We can also throw in Philadelphia into this cohort.

    Using this comparison we find regional ridership percentages as follows:

    Boston: 16.8% of regional population uses transit
    San Francisco: 13.1% of regional population uses transit
    Philadelphia: 8.1% of regional population uses transit

    By comparison, St. Louis has a 1.8% ridership share of the population. St. Louis is much more closely emulating fragmented and weak-market declining rust belt cities such as Baltimore (2.9%), Cleveland (1.3%), and Pittsburgh (1.0%). Using the thesis that effective public transit demands intra-governmental efficiency, perhaps these statistics are the bad fruit of a century of fragmentation and weak government?

  2. Oh this has a really simple solution… Expand Metrolink!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. is that an infinity symbol? Like the bridge and tunnel crowd never get to exit the train. 🙂

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