After voters’ rejection of Prop M, Metro officials study cuts

Officials present three options for Metro service reductions

By BURKE WASSON

Faced with $50 million in 2010 deficits and no new funding after county voters rejected Proposition M Nov. 4, the Metro transit agency is studying a variety of cuts.

In a presentation last week to Metro’s Operations and Strategic Planning Committee, transit officials proposed deferring $10.9 million in “non-immediate” expenses, reducing administrative expenses by $3.4 million and reducing transit service at a cut target of $35.7 million.

While cutting transit service will decrease Metro’s deficit, it also will reduce fare revenues. Because of this, Metro officials are considering increasing fares.

Metro officials estimate that a 25-cent fare increase and requiring passes would generate an additional $7.2 million next year with a total ridership of 53.2 million people. A 50-cent fare increase plus passes would generate an additional $9.2 million, but also result in a projected ridership of 51.5 million people.

More than 51 percent of county voters rejected Prop M, a proposed half-cent sales tax that would have raised $80 million a year to be split evenly to fund Metro maintenance of public-transportation systems and construct light-rail expansion to Florissant and Westport.

In south county, 59.37 percent of voters rejected Prop M. Among the townships of Concord, Gravois, Lemay, Oakville and Tesson Ferry, the sales-tax measure received 37,980 “yes” votes and 55,509 “no” votes, according to unofficial election results.

Results also show that north county voters voters favored Prop M by two votes — 80,683 “yes” votes to 80,681 “no” votes.

Central county saw 58.36 percent of its voters favor Prop M with 69,229 “yes” votes and 49,388 “no” votes.

In west county, 56.55 percent of voters rejected Prop M with 60,446 “yes” votes and 78,677 “no” votes.

Metro officials said during the Prop M campaign that without additional funding from the ballot measure, the transit agency would be forced to reduce its service for the MetroLink light-rail line, MetroBus and Call-A-Ride, and the Operations and Strategic Planning Committee last week studied service-reduction scenarios.

Metro President and CEO Bob Baer also is expected to meet with County Executive Charlie Dooley, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Clair County (Ill.) Board Chairman Mark Kern to examine possible cuts.

The Metro board then will vote in December or January on which service cuts to implement by next spring.

On Friday, Metro officials presented three separate proposals for service reductions, one of which calls for elimination of all service on Saturdays and Sundays.

Plan A calls for no local service or Call-A-Ride and limited express service outside Interstate 270, a 41-percent reduction in MetroBus revenue miles, a 32-percent reduction in MetroLink revenue miles and a 26-percent reduction in Call-A-Ride revenue miles.

The plan would serve 478,100 county residents instead of the 947,284 county residents served today and serve 339,428 city residents instead of the 348,189 city residents served today.

The MetroLink light-rail reduction under Plan A would have no special-event service, a 15-minute rush-hour frequency, a 20-minute non-rush-hour frequency and the Shrewsbury station would be used as a shuttle during non-rush hours.

With a 25-cent fare increase, Plan A would result in a net savings of $35 million in Metro’s fiscal 2010. With a 50-cent fare increase, Plan A would save $36.6 million.

As for the proposed reduction of service outside I-270, Metro officials reported hearing “strong opposition” from hospitals like St. Anthony’s Medical Center, nursing homes, colleges, restaurants, hotels, call centers, casinos and factories. Also opposed to that reduction outside I-270 are the cities of Chesterfield, Ellisville, Ballwin, Florissant, Black Jack, Fenton, University City, St. Ann, St. John, Maryland Heights, Webster Groves, Kirkwood, Hazelwood and Spanish Lake.

Plan B still would provide local service and Call-A-Ride outside I-270, but also have limited express service outside I-270 along with a “substantial consolidation” in the city. While Plan B would still call for a 32-percent reduction in light-rail service like Plan A, its service reductions for MetroBus and Call-A-Ride would not be as drastic as Plan A. MetroBus service would be reduced by 30 percent in revenue miles, and Call-A-Ride would see an 11-percent reduction in revenue miles.

Plan B would serve 720,867 county residents and 344,639 city residents. If fares are increased by 25 cents, Plan B would result in a net savings of $28.6 million in the 2010 fiscal year. With a 50-cent fare increase, Plan B would save $30.3 million.

Plan B+ calls for the elimination of all Saturday and Sunday service in Missouri.

This would drop Metro’s ridership figures to pre-1993 levels.

While no weekend service would save an additional $12 million over Plan B, Metro would see a $6 million to $8 million loss in passenger revenue. Plan B+ would save $34 million with a 25-cent fare increase and $35.4 million with a 50-cent fare increase.

Metro officials’ analysis of all three service-reduction proposals conclude all would have a “significant negative impact to system utility and ridership” and “dissatisfied customers and stakeholders.” The analysis also found that “none of these plans address core funding issues” and that “inflationary pressure will mount triggering requirement for further system reductions.”

Board member Kevin Cahill said with Prop M’s rejection, the Metro board should focus more on managing the system within the finances it already has rather than “politics.”

“Don’t worry about the politics,” Cahill said. “Worry about having a system that works given our financial constraints. St. Louis County obviously spoke and said: ‘We don’t want to give you more money.’ So we shouldn’t be that sensitive to getting out to 270.”

Board member Richard LaBore also urged the board to accept Prop M’s outcome and make “cuts” as needed.

“It’s time to stop talking and wishing about additional revenues that are not available,” LaBore said. “… Cuts need to come … We serve the public with the money they give us.”

But Public Transit Accountability Project spokesman Tom Sullivan has contended that Metro could use reserve monies to fund operations. Metro board members discovered last week, however, that if $71 million in reserves is used, the transit agency would default on bonds.

Still, Sullivan believes this recent discovery shows that board members don’t understand Metro’s finances.

“What was abundantly clear at the (Friday) meeting is that Metro board members have no idea what the transit agency’s finances are,” he said. “Yet they were asking St. Louis County voters for a 100-percent tax hike. County voters certainly made the right decision in rejecting Proposition M.”