Metro says riders adapted to changes, but for some today's cuts mean a difficult tomorrow | St. Louis Public Radio

Metro says riders adapted to changes, but for some today's cuts mean a difficult tomorrow

Mar 30, 2009

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 30, 2009 - The largest service change in Metro's history brought missed connections and long waits for buses this morning. Considering the depth of the changes, though, the transition to a system 44 percent smaller went fairly well, a Metro spokeswoman said.

The problems riders faced today came because the same number of people are riding fewer buses, said Dianne Williams, Metro spokesperson.

"Actually people are really well prepared for this change considering it's the largest change this area has ever had in its history," she said.

Riders paid attention to "all the media attention, signs posted everywhere, customer service and the website," Williams said. "People have been prepared."

Metro officials will watching the more popular routes for possible tweaks, Williams said.

"Kingshighway, Grand, Chambers are routes in particular that have been crowded," she said. "They're heavy routes to begin with. We'll have to take a look over the next few days and see what adjustments, if any, we need to make."

Some of the schedules may also need adjustment, Williams said. With buses running less frequently, "every bus is likely stopping more places. If stopped five times over a certain stretch of road, it's likely now stopping seven, eight, nine, 10 times as more people have gathered there in that (longer) period of time. That means the buses are traveling more slowly than they have been in the past, and some people can miss connections."

A new route, the 98 Clayton Chesterfield, was hastily put together late last week and initiated today. Despite the fact that the notice was short, the bus ran at about 50 percent of capacity today, Williams said.

The route was created in a public-private partnership with Chesterfield, which agreed to pay $173,600 to help get workers to their jobs in Chesterfield and Town and Country. Chesterfield officials hope that businesses, some of which have already agreed to chip in $25,000 each, will come forward with more.

Metro anticipates the 98 will be a popular route, Williams said.

Metro also got a number of phone calls today from people concerned about service during the Women's Final Four, she said. "We've been getting calls about accessibility and getting around town," she said.

Chris Wiltse, administrator at Brooking Park on South Woods Mill Road, said the Metro changes did not seem to impact his employees today.

"We didn't have a lot (of employees who use Metro) to start with, but most of our employees have seen this coming for some time and actually had kind of worked up their own car pools and ride-sharing situations," he said.

The number of Brooking Park employees using Metro isn't a "major number but there certainly are some," Wiltse said

Wiltse said in the days ahead the Metro cuts may show an impact.

"Over the next several days or week or so, we'll see how well some of those arrangements the people have worked out themselves work out," he said. "Sometimes they're kind of short-lived. But immediately, it (the Metro changes) hasn't been traumatic for use but we'll have to see how that goes over the period of the next week or so."

Georgia Britt, who lives on a small lane in Ladue, said today's Metro cuts haven't directly affected her yet because she didn't try to use Call-A-Ride.

Britt, who uses a wheel chair, will still be able to use the Call-a-Ride van service. But if she wants to go somewhere outside of the Metro area -- say beyond Interstate 270 -- she will pay a rate comparable to a cab. 

Read our earlier story

It's March 30, the day Metro riders have been dreading -- the day the system shrunk by 44 percent leaving thousands of people unable to get from here to there on public transit.

For them it's a very sad time but for Dianne Falk of Winchester, the full impact of Metro's partial demise came early -- yesterday afternoon to be precise.

Falk and her husband Stuart who both suffer from multiple sclerosis were taking their final Call-a-Ride trip.

She and other Metro riders had known this day was coming for months and had tried to prepare for it as best they could.

But if Falk or others still harbored a secret hope that a miracle would happen and Metro would reverse the cutback orders, those hopes were dashed and when at about 5:45 p.m., a voice on the radio in the Call-a-Ride van she was riding in cut through the air and deliver a somber dose of reality. "The voice said, 'Well, it was nice working with all you people,'" Falk said.

"I am very sad because Call-a-Ride will no longer be coming to us. We can't do anything we used to."

Before today, the Falks used Call-a-Ride "four times a week at the very least," Dianne Falk said. Those trips were to her church, her husband's synagogue, restaurants, special events, Paraquad where the couple exercises and attends rehearsals for plays put on by the Disability Project and out to do "something that was just fun."

On holidays and for special events, she would go to services with her husband and he would go to church with her, Falk said.

Now, with the couple's only form of transportation disappearing, they will be in effect grounded, unable to leave the nursing home where they live.

"We're kind of lost in the sea of, I hate to say it, old people. I don't want to be an ageist but now we're stuck with people twice our age," said Dianne Falk, 40. Her husband is 46.

Anticipating the cuts, the couple spent last week going out every day -- to the Butterfly House, to a play, to Soulard, out to eat.

As sad as she feels for herself, Falk also feels sad for others who are being left stranded. "Too many people have lost their jobs," she said. "The drivers are losing their jobs."

Falk doesn't know how she'll cope with having to stay home all the time.

"I feel even smaller than I did before," she says. "I have felt very small having MS and being in a nursing home. This really does make it worse."

Stuart Falk has similar thoughts.

"I feel like I'm being punished, and I didn't do anything wrong."

Meanwhile, in Manchester, William Pathenos and his family are figuring out ways to cope with the Metro cutbacks too. Pathenos has multiple sclerosis and uses Call-a-Ride to get to his job at Maritz in Fenton.

Without Metro, Pathenos' brother and his mother Bren will take him to work everyday. Now, with the cuts here, they will change William Pathenos' life "150 percent, all the way around," Bren Pathenos said. "We're fortunate in that there are others in our household that drive. We're just going to have to adapt to it and help him.

"We've worked very hard for William to stay independent. It's hard enough for someone to get a job let alone someone with a disability. He's had his job for three years now and we don't want him to lose it. I'm just one person. We're just one family. "

Pathenos, too, says she's concerned about Metro riders without family members to help them out with transportation.

"I just cringe at the thought of people sitting in their homes, lonely, not being able to get their needs met," she said. "I'm very discouraged that the government would allow this to happen. It's ridiculous this is happening to our city."

Kathie Sutin, a freelance writer in St. Louis, writes frequently on transportation.