Getting a Grip on the Cost of Public Transit
Ballooning gas prices have encouraged more people to utilize St. Louis’ public transportation options, according to a story published in the Post-Dispatch. The dollar figures discussed in the article got me to thinking about how much public transit costs the average taxpayer in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Last month saw the highest utilization of public transit in decades, at 5.5 million passenger trips during the course of the month, or an average of 177,500 passenger trips a day. We can safely assume that the number of unique passengers is no more than half that number, because most people would be using the bus or train for a round trip of at least two boardings. So, on average and at the absolute height of ridership, roughly 90,000 (about 3 percent) of the St. Louis metropolitan area’s 2.8 million residents are using public transit on any given day.
Metro required $230 million to operate its buses and trains this year. Twenty percent of that amount (about $46 million) was collected from ticket sales. The remaining $184 million came from area taxpayers, no more than 3 percent of whom were likely to use public transportation on any regular basis. That means that every man, woman, and child in the area faced an average of $65 in additional taxes to subsidize the operation of Metro’s buses and trains services that 97 percent of those taxpayers are rarely (if ever) using.
Additionally, St. Louis County is asking its taxpayers to approve a ballot measure this November that would raise the local sales tax rate to generate an extra $80 million annually for bus transit and Metrorail. Assuming that most county residents do their shopping in the county, each of the county’s 1,000,000 residents will be shouldering an average of an additional $80 per year to subsidize public transit.
To be perfectly clear where I stand, I take Metrorail between my house and the office about twice in any given week. I would likely chip in an extra two or three dollars per trip in exchange for reducing my and my neighbors’ tax burdens by $60 or so, and knowing that we would only have to pay for the service when we chose to use it. I do understand, however, that many people are perfectly willing to pony up tax dollars for a service they think will be of use to those who can’t afford their own vehicles. I was just kind of stunned by the realization of just how much each St. Louis–area resident must currently be forced to pay in order to keep these services going, and I felt like it was important for someone to offer some perspective on how much public transit is costing the average taxpayer.