In a move that Metro has been threatening since Proposition M failed in November, the Metro governing board has approved a proposal to trim service starting March 30, 2009 in order to drastically reduce costs by $36 million a year.The move is expected to hit the bus and Call-A-Ride service outside of the Highway 270 loop especially hard, but it will also effect these services as well as Metrolink throughout the City and the rest of County.
This is really a said day for the St. Louis area. While Proposition M’s failure has been made into a County vs. City battle by many locally, that is not the issue to which I am referring. That is just the latest symptom of a greater problem: a separation of vision and reality. When the subject of public transportation comes up, everyone has a grandiose vision of have bus routes on rail tracks that cover the entire area. Expand, expand, expand is all you ever hear. Just last year there was a lot of talk of a huge North-South Expansion of Metrolink in the City. But that’s not reality. The truth is that there isn’t enough money to cover the existing infrastructure let alone expand it. Ever few years they ask for more and more sales tax to support the system. This time it failed. That does not mean that people don’t care about or want public transportation. They just didn’t like this proposal.
We are plagued with poor leadership. We are plagued with mismanagement. We are plagued with the false notion that we can have our cake and eat it too. The complete disaster that was the Cross-County extension should make all that clear. Way over budget (more than $100 million over) and over-schedule (about 1 year), the project is a text book example of the “if you build it they will come” school of thought. St. Louis County got a major jump in service miles and St. Louis City brought the County deeper into the public transportation mix. The powers that be must have been thinking that this would open up a bottomless piggy-bank to sustain their unchecked budgets. But a slowing economy and a frustrated voter-base showed them that that assumption was wrong. Now there isn’t enough money to pay for everything and rather than look tot he root of the problem, the solution is to ask for more money throught he same tired old methods.
St. Louis needs to face a reality. We are low-density region. As such, the infrastructure to have routes covering the entire area as well as some would prefer is not feasible. When the street-car system was dismantled we lost the true fixed route system we had. Metrolink can never completely replace that. The money required is just too great. Every dollar of federal, state, county, city and grant money spent comes from somewhere. When those we entrust with the expansion and running of this system squander this money without care it’s time for a change. Can anyone blame a person who was sceptical about what will be done with that money?
Fingers can be pointed until the cows come home, but that won’t change this reality. We need to reinvent how this system is run and make it accountable for itself. If the demand is there, service expansions will come when needed, and most importantly, when they can be afforded. St. Louis deserves better than this, and I’m not just talking about public transportation. Its not going to be handed to us on a silver platter though. We need to quit looking towards Jefferson City and Washington DC to solve all our problems. We’re going to have to get over our perpetual inferiority complex and take control of the matter ourselves. If we don’t we’ll continue to wallow in the realm of mid-tier cities for another century.