Effects of transportation-service cuts will be felt next week by Metro riders

Strategy to restore some cuts with federal funding rejected

By BURKE WASSON

Starting next week, Metro transit riders will feel the effects of planned transportation-service cuts.

On Monday, March 30, Metro’s buses and Call-A-Ride vans no longer will run in south and west St. Louis County outside the Interstate 270 loop. MetroBus service will be cut by 43 percent, including the closing of 15 express routes and other routes either consolidated or shortened.

Metro transit agency officials had hoped to temporarily restore one-third of those routes with a proposed $12 million in federal congestion funds through the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, Federal Transit Administration and Federal Highway Administration.

But those funds were recently denied.

With no bus service outside I-270 in south and west county, north county residents outside I-270 will have limited bus service.

Metro officials have said north county has a greater transit need than south and west county. Metro Call-A-Ride van service to disabled riders will be reduced 15 percent. Metro officials said this reduction is needed because the paratransit service operates within the same areas already serviced by fixed-route bus service.

MetroLink light-rail train service will be eliminated 32 percent by running those trains less often. Outside peak hours, the Shrewsbury line will convert into a shuttle connecting to the eastbound line from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport at the Forest Park station. Additionally, no extra trains will be offered for special events in Missouri.

Among all of the approved cuts, Metro availability will decrease slightly in the city of St. Louis, but dramatically drop in St. Louis County.

While 98 percent of city residents will have Metro service within one-quarter of a mile from their homes, 58 percent of county residents will have service that near as of March 30. More than 93 percent of county residents currently have Metro service within one-quarter of a mile of their homes.

And while Metro service will be within one-quarter of a mile from 99 percent of city jobs, 71 percent of county jobs will have that service availability.

Faced with a mounting deficit, the Metro Board of Commissioners in December approved substantial service cuts, including the elimination of 553 of the transit agency’s 2,365 employee positions.

The board voted unanimously in favor of $35.7 million in transit cuts, the deferral of $10.9 million in non-immediate expenses and the reduction of $3.4 million in administrative costs to help offset a projected $50 million deficit in fiscal 2010. With these cuts, Metro officials estimate that the agency should operate without a deficit until June 30, 2010. But officials also projected a 2009 ridership loss of 9.5 million passengers of the 52 million passengers it would expect to serve if service levels were not cut.

The decrease in service also comes with increased ridership costs that were effective Jan. 1. The Metro board in November approved the first in a series of fare increases to raise roughly an additional $7.2 million next year to help combat projected 2010 deficits.

MetroLink one-way fares increased from $2 to $2.25 on Jan. 1 while MetroBus one-way fares jumped from $1.75 to $2.

While Metro fares increased by 25 cents per one-way trip Jan. 1, they also will jump an additional 25 cents July 1, 2010.

Metro officials estimate that the 25-cent fare increase plus requiring passes will generate an additional $7.2 million with a total ridership of 53.2 million people. The additional 25-cent increase plus passes in July 2010 will generate an additional $9.2 million, but also result in a projected ridership of 51.5 million people.

Metro officials have considered these options after more than 51 percent of county voters rejected Proposition M Nov. 4.

Prop M was 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.

Besides Prop M’s rejection, Metro received $10 million less from St. Louis County in 2008 than it had in 2007.

Transit officials do not believe that the 2009 cuts will be enough after 2010, when they likely will have to continue cutting as regional sales-tax revenue is expected to drop 1 percent to 2 percent over the next three years.

With service reductions looming, Metro officials also recently revealed that January systemwide ridership dropped 8.7 per-cent compared to January 2008.

MetroBus ridership in January was down 9.67 percent compared to January 2008 while MetroLink light-rail ridership was down 6.61 percent.