By Susan Stauder
A lot rides on the Proposition M vote in November.
Use of the St. Louis Metro public transit system is way up this year—and continues to grow. The system recorded a 12.4% increase in ridership during the first four months of the year, and projections are Metro will finish the calendar year with an annual increase in double digits.
In fact, Metro is enjoying the highest ridership in over 30 years. MetroLink posted a 15.6% increase in riders the first quarter. That was the third highest increase in the nation, beating the national average of 10.3% And, the increase on MetroBus for the same period, at 4.2% over last year, was more than twice the 2% national increase in bus usage.
What’s behind this increased popularity for public transit? Gas prices, better bus and rail services, an aversion to roadway congestion, employer incentives to take transit, a better way to get to the game—it’s all that and more. People want to live in a region with quality alternatives to the automobile. They want to save money on commuting. They want to do something good for the environment.
But, St. Louis finds itself at a crossroads. Just when the region is reaping the benefits of its $1.4 billion investment in transit over the past decade and the system has reached a new high point, Metro’s long standing structural funding woes have brought the region to a decision-making brink this budget year.
Without additional stable revenue resources sufficient to meet a growing shortfall that will reach $45 million in 2010, Metro will be forced to reduce service to a level that meets current funding. There is a choice to be made. Do we fix public transit funding and move forward with better, expanded services for the future? Or, do we decide that we will turn our back on investments made to date and settle for a reduced system of service?
The Vote in November
On November 4th, voters in St. Louis County will have an opportunity to vote for Proposition M—a ½-cent sales tax to support the operation of the region’s transit system and expansion of MetroLink. A positive vote on Prop M will provide funds for Metro operation and expansion, free up funds for critical county road projects, and trigger a ¼-cent sales tax passed by City of St. Louis voters in 1997 which could not be collected until matched by St. Louis County voters.
A “Yes” Vote:
More Transit Options
In addition to providing funds to adequately operate Metro into the future, a “Yes” vote also means new transit investments for the years to come.
New funding would allow the St. Louis region to compete for federal and state funding needed to begin analysis required for expansion of MetroLink in the Daniel Boone/MetroNorth, major corridors defined by East-West Gateway for enhanced transit including light rail.
Increased frequency on express
and arterial bus routes nearing capacity.
Ridership on MetroBus express routes has risen 22% over last year. Adding capacity, frequency, and park-ride spaces to heavily traveled routes could be accomplished within one year.
High-speed bus service between major residential and employment centers.
In the absence of light rail, enhanced bus corridors can offer quality, high-speed travel linking residential and high density employment centers. New routes and expanded frequency could be implemented within three years with the purchase of new vehicles.
Develop express bus corridors into Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines. Enhanced routes carrying very high numbers of riders can be converted to BRT lines, which would use high capacity vehicles, dedicated stations, and limited stops. BRT development would occur in phases as demand warrants and could be implemented in three to five years.
A “No” Vote:
Reduced Transit Options
Even with Metro’s constant improvement in operations and increased ridership, current levels of service cannot be maintained without a new source of funding for its capital and operating needs in the future. A “No” vote in November means the looming $45 million 2010 shortfall becomes a reality and will require Metro to operate a much smaller system. Cutbacks, phased in over 2009 and 2010 include MetroBus service reductions of 57%; a 42% reduction of MetroLink service; and a 36% reduction in Call-A-Ride.
Trains would run every 15 minutes in the peak hours rather than every 10 minutes as they do currently. There would be no service after 8 p.m. Non-rush service would operate every 20 minutes rather than every 15 minutes. Extra trains would not be available for Cardinals, Blues and Rams games and special events.
28 of the current 60 MetroBus routes would be eliminated and routes would be consolidated in an effort to continue to offer some limited services in neighborhoods. All service outside of I-270 would be cut. A phased reduction of all night service and express routes would be implemented over a two-year period.
Metro is required to offer Call-A-Ride services within a 3/4–mile boundary of existing MetroBus and MetroLink services. With a reduction in those services, Call-A-Ride services would no longer operate in those areas no longer served. No service would be offered for trips that begin or end outside reduced service areas.
A Choice for the Future
At stake in November are not just the personal convenience and cost savings that accrue to users of the Metro system, but also the many benefits the region derives from having a quality, effective and responsive transit system. Metro services reduce traffic congestion in major corridors, reduce air pollution, provide access to employment and schools, and afford access to recreation and special events. And, MetroLink in particular spurs economic development and increased real estate values along its corridors.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, for every additional $1 invested in transit approximately $6 in local economic activity is generated. Every $10 million in capital or operating investment yields $30 million in increased business sales.
A growing transit system is an asset to users and non-users alike, to the businesses benefitting from the economic activity the system generates, and to the region—making St. Louis a more livable, competitive and prosperous place of choice.
Proposition M—a choice for the future.