By Rachel Lippmann, KWMU
St. Louis, MO – Crowds packed a hearing room Metro's headquarters Thursday as members of the agency's governing board considered a series of cuts to deal with a $36 million deficit.
Very few people in the room expressed support for the cuts. Nearly half of the agency's bus routes will be eliminated, also eliminating Call-A-Ride service there. MetroLink will run less frequently, and there will be no special event trains.
Many speakers worried about the impact of cutting Call-A-Ride, which serves elderly and disabled passengers.
Bren Pathenos's son has cerebral palsy.
"I have taught him to be independent If we take this away from him, he will be a non-taxpaying individual, he will have to go back on Social Security disability," she said, later calling the planned cuts "pathetic."
Critics like Tom Sullivan call the $36 million dollar figure fuzzy math. Sullivan says a state audit found the agency has $71 million dollars it can direct to operating expenses. And he says some spending from last year, like attorneys fees for a now settled lawsuit, is not needed this year.
"So I think we need to know a lot more about Metro's finances," he told the crowd. "I think the board, before you start talking about cutbacks, you need to make a much better case."
Metro officials say the state report was incorrect - the $71 million is set aside for operating reserves and insurance needed to issue bonds.
The full board will likely vote on the cuts next week. They would take effect in March 2009. A fare increase is also scheduled to take effect after the start of the year.