More on the ugliness that is about to enter my life thanks to the St. Louis County Government and Bi-State Development Agency (Metro) incompetence in not getting funding for mass transit in the St. Louis area. Thanks to the Suburban Journals (click headline above for link to the story) for the chance to share my point of view. Again, this is my PERSONAL issue and in no way connected with my employment or employer.
Riders lose their way Metro service cuts will leave riders out in the cold
Rick Graefe photo/ Jim Moody of Mehlville waits for his bus to Chesterfield at the Ballas Road bus depot. Moody takes a bus from South County Mall to the depot then transfers onto the 58 line to get to work in Chesterfield.
By Shawn ClubbMonday, January 5, 2009 12:05 PM CST
Jim Moody doesn't need public transportation to get to work. He takes it for his sanity."I do it because I hate the traffic on (Interstate) 270," he said. "There's always an accident."When Metro cuts bus routes from Moody's home in Mehlville and to his office in Chesterfield, he said he will just have to drive.
But for Mark Edwards, the situation does not have a simple solution."In a word, I'm screwed by Metro," said Edwards, who has a visual handicap that prevents him from driving.Thousands of people who live or work in South County and West County are having to find alternatives if they use public transportation. Metro will eliminate all of the bus routes in these areas at the end of March to reduce its budget after failure of a county referendum to help fund the system.It will mean the end of the line for many people who can't drive, can't afford a vehicle, hate traffic or want to be environmentally-responsible.
Edwards, who lives in Chesterfield, takes an express bus to his job in midtown St. Louis. Because Metro will eliminate all West County service west of Interstate 270, he will be cut off.Edwards has a condition called optic nerve atrophy, which he describes as "a bad phone connection in the eye," so he cannot drive. He has looked into ride-sharing programs such as RideFinders, but he said it is a hard service to use. He also has contacted local large employers to see if he can find a ride through one of their employees."If March 30 comes and I don't have a ride, I'll be paying ridiculous money for cabs," Edwards said. "I don't really have an answer yet."
MJ Maroney, who lives in south St. Louis, also might end up taking a cab for part of her commute to work in an insurance business at Maryville Center. She used to take a scooter to work on days when the weather allowed it, but a crash has her undergoing physical therapy and riding MetroLink and the bus. Even when she recovers, she won't be able to ride until she can buy a new scooter.Maroney previously depended on the bus for transportation when her employer used to be located in Earth City. She said Metro changed that route and made it twice as long, so she bought the scooter.When Metro cuts service, Maroney plans to ride public transportation as far as she can to the Ballas Transit Center, which is located three miles from her job. She'll then take a cab."That will be $10 a day, $50 a week, $200 a month," she said. "That's ridiculous. That's going to be expensive. They're raising prices and decreasing service. It's painful to the very people who can least afford the pain."
Mark Gilligan, like Moody, also will go back to driving. He has taken the bus since May to get exercise, save money and gas and cut down on pollution. The 17 Oakville bus he takes from South County will be eliminated. The 49 Lindbergh bus he takes to get to work at Ursuline Academy in Kirkwood will be rerouted.Gilligan said he voted for passage of Proposition M in November, but he did it despite not seeing an effort by Metro to sell the need for the funding."Most people certainly did not know what was at stake - and that is definitely your fault," he wrote in a letter to Metro. "Now you seem to be seeking to 'punish' the riders in the areas where the votes did not go your way with your ridiculously unfair cuts."
Todd Plesko, Metro's chief of planning and system development, said he can see where riders would think certain areas are being punished when they look at the route cuts. He said the route eliminations were done to cut the budget. He said Metro had to cut routes that are highly subsidized due to low ridership."Coming up with $40 million worth of savings was not easy," said Plesko, noting that Metro had to raise rates effective Jan. 1.All Metro routes are subsidized, Plesko said. Including ones that are used heavily, such as the 70 Grand bus, which is subsidized by less than a dollar per passenger boarding. The 17 Oakville bus that Gilligan rides is subsidized by $13 per boarding, Plesko said. It carries just 232 passengers per day.Other routes with high subsidies that are being eliminated include the Eureka Express at $12 per boarding and Tesson Ferry route at $12.26 per boarding.Gilligan wonders why Metro couldn't just cut the number of times a route is run instead of eliminating it altogether."Metro said 'Let's preserve routes with the lowest subsidy that support the largest number of riders and not divert money from those routes,'" Plesko said. "Our instruction from the board and our funding partners was to serve the largest number of people and the largest number of jobs and do a credible job of serving areas where you can afford to provide service."
The service cuts are what Metro staff calls Plan D. Other plans had been brought to Metro's board for approval. Plan B included some West County and South County routes but would have cost an additional $7 million to $8 million. Plesko said Metro asked the city and county governments if they could fund Plan B but were told there was no money for it.
Like Gilligan, Edwards and Moody also think Metro did a poor job in convincing the public that the agency needed the funding that passage of Proposition M would have given it. Edwards said the loss of these routes will cripple the ability of the region to grow.Plesko said Metro and the city and county governments have asked for Metro to receiving funding as part of the federal government bailouts. He said Metro will be meeting with state leaders to seek funding. He also anticipates there will be an effort in the next year and a half to ask voters to approve more local funding. He said any such effort would require Metro to specify what the people of West County and South County would get with increased funding.
These service cuts are viewed by Metro staff as tragic, Plesko said."Metro is horrified that this is what this has come to," he said. "We're not going to give up. We're going to try to convince people that having good public transit is good for the region."