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Economy & Business

Bi-State Receives Federal Grant 'Critical' To Metro Transit

A MetroLink train
File Photo | St. Louis Public Radio
Along with light rail, Metro operates bus and a paratransit services in Illinois and Missouri.

The coronavirus pandemic is hammering ridership levels and the bottom line of Metro Transit. 

The organization that operates Metro says ridership is down 50% over last year. Bi-State Development adds that sales tax revenues that support the system are expected to be down 20% over the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

“The CARES funding is absolutely critical to the stabilization of transit and therefore the stabilization of the St. Louis economy,” said Bi-State President and CEO Taulby Roach.

The money will support the safe operation of the system during the pandemic.

Taulby Roach started as CEO and president of Bi-State Development in January 2019.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Taulby Roach started as CEO and president of Bi-State Development in January 2019.

Metro Transit plans to improve cleaning on buses, trains, and other vehicles and purchase more personal protective equipment for workers.

The money comes as Metro continues to focus on rider safety during the outbreak.

“Whether that’s additional disinfectants. Whether it’s indeed doing the poly-carbonate shields, or asking the public, for instance as we are now, to wear masks on our system,” said Roach.

Metro is not alone in the age of COVID-19.

The pandemic is causing public transit systems throughout the country to adapt.

A commuter rail system in the Chicago area is reporting a 97% ridership drop.

New York City subways have been closing nightly so trains can be disinfected. It’s considered the first overnight subway shutdown since the service started in the early 1900s. The city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is dealing with a deficit that could reach $8.5 billion.

Systems that are about the same size as Metro are also trying to find ways to keep many services operating. 

“We’re sharing information between different transit agencies about what is effective and what is not effective,” Roach said.

Metro has been among the first of those systems to implement measures to cope with the pandemic, according to Roach.

“One of the things that we did almost before anybody in the country is we started temperature screening of all our employees — 100% of them — including headquarters.”

Bi-State Development wants to finish fiscal year 2021 with a balanced budget, even with the drop in local sales taxes.

It’s too soon to determine if that will translate into service reductions or job cuts.

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