Does Metro Deserve a Second Chance?
I’m an impatient guy. I hate waiting around for small problems to get solved so I can move on with my life. Some people might call me bullheaded. I won’t argue with them. But I don’t even come close when compared to the Metro transit agency.
Yesterday, September 16, I had the good fortune to attend the Metro public hearing in Clayton and watch Dave Stokes give his opinions about Metro’s future financial options. At the hearing, I was given a handy packet explaining the state Metro is in today. There were three main theses in the packet. The first, as one would expect, was explaining all the good Metro has done for the community, such as employing more than 2,200 people and reducing traffic, pollution, and oil dependence. Great — I would expect that from public transportation of any kind. You don’t need to tell me twice how convenient the MetroLink is, especially for public events like Cards games.
The second section gave a great color-coded map of all the expansions Metro is currently planning. MetroLink would run all over the city and county, all the way from Chesterfield
Bottoms Valley, to I-55 & I-270. Also, it gave a detailed plan of the next planned expansion, the Daniel Boone Corridor, which will run from Clayton to I-270 at Westport. This new line could be open in as soon as 10 years. Ironically, the offices of the Clayton branch of the Show-Me Institute overlook the area that would be dedicated for the MetroLink expansion. There is also a highlighted section explaining bus–rapid transit (BRT). According to Metro, “BRT is an innovative, high capacity, lower cost public transit solution that can significantly improve urban mobility.” These buses would have designated lanes and traffic signals, and would be allowed to travel at great speeds. And not only that, the BRTs look strikingly like a vehicle found in Star Wars.*
Now, if I were to stop the blog post here, you would think Metro is in great shape. They are helping the community and have ambitious expansion plans. The only problem is the third thesis included the packet, the section that details the potential service reductions Metro is planning for both MetroBus and MetroLink. If MetroLink does not gain additional local funds, it will not be eligible for additional state and federal funds, which would mean not only an end to expansion, but also a reduction in service in order to lower costs. MetroLink would be reduced by 42 percent. There would be no service after 8 p.m. and no extra trains for events like Cardinals games. Also, trains would run every 20 minutes rather than every 15. Overall convenience would fall even more. Why take a train into the city that won’t be operating by the time you need to leave? I can’t remember the last time I left a Cards game before 8 p.m. In all, 57 percent of service would be reduced, including nearly half of all bus routes.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an article this morning detailing the woes of Metro’s newly released audit. Apparently, a great deal of Metro’s financial trouble dates back to the creation of the Shrewsbury line, which opened in 2006. This line has plagued Metro with problems, including a disastrous lawsuit that cost the agency $27 million, including legal fees. In total, the Shrewsbury line cost Metro $676 million.
With all the costs and problems associated with the Shrewsbury construction, Metro should be very cautious with any expansion. How many more fiascos can it survive before having to cut service drastically? This city has become very dependent on Metro, and cannot afford to have public transportation disappear.
Now, one would think that such a sizable debt, combined with the risk of having to reduce service, would cause Metro to focus on shrinking its defecit. Expansion should be the last thing on the minds of its officials right now. While these new lines and BRTs would be great, they simply aren’t attainable right now. As Dave stated in his testimony, fare hikes may be necessary to increase Metro’s revenue, but should not be the only factor. Alternate solutions need to be found to fill Metro’s debt, and increasing this debt by adding new lines should not even be up for debate.
For more thoughts about public transportation, be sure to take a look at the Show-Me Institute’s policy study with the Reason Foundation, “Missouri’s Changing Transportation Paradigm.”
* If I’m not mistaken, I am the first person on the blog to link to Wookiepedia. I take great pride in this fact.