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In wake of Prop M's defeat, Metro increases fares

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 21, 2008 - The Metro board of directors today made good on one promise it made during the recent Proposition M campaign -- it raised fares by 50 cents a ride over the next 22 months.

Before the Nov. 4 election when voters defeated the proposition that would have added a half-cent sales tax to increase funding for Metro, officials had warned that defeat would bring fare increases and services cuts. If voters had approved the measure, a quarter-cent sales tax would have gone into effect in the city where voters approved the tax increase a few years back. The city tax can't kick in until county voters approve an increase there.

Metro's fare increase will come in two stages. On Jan. 1, fares will increase by 25 cents. They will increase by 25 cents again on July 1, 2010.

"The hope is by phasing in the increase in steps, that will help minimize the impact for commuters," Dianne Williams, a Metro spokesperson, said. "As the agency has said for the last several years without a source of revenue that keeps up with inflation, fare increases and service reductions are going to be required."

Riders will also see service cuts that will come in the spring, Williams said.

The price increases will affect all Metro users. Monthly passes, which Williams said are "very popular," will increase from $60 to $68 in January and to $70 in July 2010. A weekly pass will go from $19 to $23.50 and then to $25.

ADA Call-a-Ride rides will go from $3.50 to $4 and then $4.50 over the same period. Non-ADA Call-A-Ride trips will jump from $6 to $7 and then to $7.50 a zone.

MetroLink fares will jump from $2 to $2.25 in January and to $2.50 in July 2010. MetroLink rides with transfer will increase from $3.50 to $3.75 in January and then to $4 in 2010.

The downtown free ride zone from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. that Williams said "helps tourism in downtown" will be eliminated Jan. 1.

The second part of the bad news for riders--service cuts--is yet to come.

On Dec. 11, Metro staff will present a revised proposal for cuts to the agency's operations and strategic planning committee, Williams said. The committee may accept it and take it to the full board on Dec. 19 for approval -- or send it back for more work, she said.

If the plan goes back for revisions, it has to be ready in January "for sure because the plan is for the service adjustments to happen in March or April," she said.

Plan A, the initial proposal for service cuts, evolved into Plan B after hearing from the community, Williams said.

Plan A called for: 

  • No local service or Call-A-Ride outside Interstate-270
  • Limited express service outside I-270
  • 41 percent reduction in MetroBus miles
  • 32 percent reduction in MetroLink miles
  • 26 percent reduction of Call-A-Ride miles 

The plan to eliminate service beyond I-270 was hugely unpopular and evolved into Plan B, which would preserve service to some "key locations," Williams said.  However, the board found the plan to be short $5-$7 million so further revisions have to be considered, she said.  "The committee said, 'You have to live within your means. The community has spoken. You can't have a plan that requires more money than you've got.'"
Plan B calls for: 

  • Local service and Call-A-Ride outside I-270
  • Limited express service outside I-270
  • Substantial consolidation in the city
  • No local downtown bus circulation east of 9th Street
  • 30 percent reduction in MetroBus miles
  • 32 percent reduction in MetroLink miles
  • 11 percent reduction in Call-A-Ride miles  

Under both plans, MetroLink service would be reduced, but the earlier suggestion that nighttime train service would be eliminated has been modified.
"They found a way to continue to keep service into the evening because there just too many fares that would be lost and too many people impacted," Williams said. "If I can get you to work at 3 o'clock but I can't get you back home at 11, I've lost you at 3 o'clock also."

Trains would run every 15 minutes instead of every 10 minutes as they do now during rush hour and every 20 minutes instead of every 15 minutes outside of rush hour, she said.

In addition, non-rush hour MetroLink service on the Shrewsbury line would become shuttle service requiring a transfer at Forest Park.  "If you wanted to keep going downtown, you'll have to get off and get on the Lambert line. That will save that from making a 30-mile trip. Instead, it will make a seven-mile trip back and forth," Williams said.

During special events, MetroLink users would find longer waits for trains under both proposals, Williams said. "If you go to a baseball game, you could indeed take the train back, but there will not be extra service. Right now when a lot of people are downtown, we push in as many trains as can safely be accommodated in the schedule. Under this proposal, if service is every 20 minutes at night, trains would come every 20 minutes."

The committee wasn't satisfied with either Plan A or Plan B and has asked the staff to come up with Plan C, she added. They are looking for the "best sustainable plan with the money that is available," she added.

The plans officials are considering can be viewed at www.metrostlouis.org/ImportantInfo/111408OSPCSlides.pdf

Kathie Sutin is a freelance writer in St. Louis. 

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