For three years, the Ten Toe Express Program has been helping St. Louis seniors become familiar with public transportation, stay active and see new areas of the city. It has been a success by any measure, with more than 6,100 participants since its inception.
Every Monday morning, Dan O’Connor waits in front of the southern-most Metro stop in St. Louis County for 30 to 40 seniors in walking shoes. He has been a volunteer walk leader with Citizens for Modern Transit since the public transportation advocacy organization first started the Ten Toe Express Program. His is just one of six walking groups that ride St. Louis’s bus and light rail system in order to get to walking routes around the city.
He and other experienced Metro riders help newcomers buy and validate their Metro tickets. This is some people’s first introduction to public transportation; for others, it is the first time they’ve used public transportation in decades.
O’Connor says, “I think meeting new people, mostly retired, and doing new things when you are retired are the biggest benefits for anybody who would want to do something like this.”
Participants talk about the enjoyment of getting out of the house, meeting other people and the history they learn while getting exercise. Pat Havelin, a walker with the Ten Toe Express puts it this way: “We get to see parts of the city we’ve never seen, and do it cheaply and safely.”
These benefits may be intangible from the perspective of a transportation engineer, but they are what makes the participants enjoy the walks; it is what makes them come back week after week.
Some of the more measurable benefits of the program include:
- Increase in the use of public transportation – The survey that Citizens for Modern Transit gave to each participant before and after the program showed that after taking part in the program, participants are beginning to take public transit at a slightly higher rate than before they began the program.
- Health benefits of walking – The survey showed a significant increase in the number of participants who incorporate walking into their daily routine after taking part in the program. The total number of minutes participants spent walking increased after the program was completed, while the amount of time spent in a car decreased.
- Health benefits from using public transportation – Another study found that people who used public transportation for any reason were less likely to be sedentary or obese than adults who did not use public transportation.
- Education of participants – “Increasing ridership is an important goal for Metro,” according to Dianne Williams, director of communications for Metro Transit. “The Ten Toe Express program is a great community asset because it introduces people to transit that may have never tried it had it not been for this program. It introduces people to places they may have never visited. It also shows people how many places their transit system can take them.”
Replicating the Program
The Ten Toe Express is easy to replicate. In fact, walking programs that incorporate the use of public transportation have been popping up all over the country in the past seven years.
St. Louis is not the first city to offer the Ten Toe Express Program. In 2003, the city of Portland, Ore., expanded its escorted bike rides to include walks. This was the beginning of the Ten Toe Express. Portland’s Bureau of Transportation offers about 20 walks each summer. A crowd of 30 to 35 people join the walks to learn history and information about the area they are walking through. These walks are now led by Rich Cassidy, senior transportation planner for the Bureau of Transportation in the city of Portland. They have guest leaders, too, often people with historical expertise or knowledge of the neighborhood.
Based on Rich Cassidy’s experience, he offers the following advice for those interested in creating their own Ten Toe Express: