Seeking ‘Better Ride,’ New Bi-State CEO Talks MetroLink Safety, Future Of Metro Transit | St. Louis Public Radio

Seeking ‘Better Ride,’ New Bi-State CEO Talks MetroLink Safety, Future Of Metro Transit

Feb 28, 2019

Taulby Roach started as CEO and president of Bi-State Development about two months ago.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated March 1 with comments on timeline — Since being named CEO and president of Bi-State Development a couple months ago, Taulby Roach has emphasized improving security throughout the St. Louis region’s Metro Transit system.

A New York-based engineering firm last week released its final recommendations from a eight-month study of MetroLink’s safety and security. The evaluation comes after years of claims from riders and politicians that the MetroLink is unsafe, even though data shows that crime on the system is relatively low compared to ridership.

The study’s strongest recommendations include:

  • Increasing fare enforcement
  • Improving technological resources, for instance by sharing security footage
  • Revising contracts with police departments that emphasize community policing
  • Clarifying roles for security officers and other staff
  • Changing how officials talk about MetroLink safety and security to media and the public

In recent months, Roach says he’s ridden MetroLink on a near-daily basis and says customers are noticing positive changes.

“I’ve had customers come up to me and thank me, asking [if] we added security,” Roach told host Don Marsh during Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air. “Actually we haven’t added any more bodies, but how we work and how they are deployed and how they interact with our customers – we are changing that.”

Roach ousted Metro Transit’s top security officials a couple weeks into his tenure, and he’s made other recent staff changes as well.

“Part of the reason why I was brought in as a new president and CEO is to try and bring the system in a slightly new direction, and in doing that I have made some staff changes,” Roach said.

Safety and security assessment

The report by engineering firm WSP USA Inc. describes parts of MetroLink’s security protocol as unclear and lacking direction. It also says that the Metro Public Safety Department does not use industry-standard security methods and recommends an overhaul of leadership and training procedures.

The study recommends dozens of improvements. For one, Metro currently does not collect, store, own or analyze its own security data, which makes it difficult to determine how many crimes actually occur on the MetroLink system. The report also suggests several ways Metro could add new physical features — like lights, fencing and landscaping — to stations to improve fare enforcement and overall system safety.

The study claims that local politicians have “escalated conflict without supporting change” by politicizing crime on the system. That has made improving security difficult for Metro, according to the report.

New security training would educate staff about how to interact with riders from different cultures and backgrounds. That could include training to help staff safely de-escalate conflicts with riders with mental illness, according to officials.

Loading...

Many of the recommendations in the report address improvements riders asked for during a survey conducted as part of the study. The majority of the 1,824 people surveyed said they were most concerned about low security presence on trains or passengers not following ridership rules.

One survey respondent wrote, “I want ‘better security’ to mean less violent security. I am a patron, not a criminal, and I do not like feeling policed.”

Another said, “I know MetroLink is paying for security personnel, but I never see them.”

Officials said that they plan to update infrastructure and technology in the long-term, but changes to the security program will come first. Officials will reevaluate security procedures over an eight to 10 month development process that’s expected to cost between $350,000 and $500,000, East-West Gateway Council of Governments executive director Jim Wild said Friday.

President and CEO of the Regional Business Council Kathy Osborn said she hopes that pursuing the report’s recommendations will bring riders back to the system — and soon.

“ Unless we can really deal with these problems quickly, and efficiently, in a way that the customers see that and come back, we really shouldn’t be investing in any more of this [MetroLink] infrastructure. I believe that there’s a really urgent need right now,” she said.

Metro has already begun to implement some of the recommendations, Roach said on St. Louis on the Air. It has been working to improve security footage sharing, revise its contracts with law enforcement and develop relationships with other community partners.

One security-related idea that Roach is not in favor of implementing is allowing the concealed carry of firearms on buses and trains. The topic has been debated by some state lawmakers in Jefferson City.

“I don’t feel that concealed carry is really a good paradigm on a transit system,” Roach said. “Quite frankly, I would invite a lot of people to see the [passenger] loads that we have.”

He compared the situation to bringing guns into a crowded ballpark or stadium, noting that “there’s environments where we feel that [a ban on concealed carry] is appropriate.”

The St. Louis on the Air conversation touched on the Metro Reimagined plans that will change how buses operate in both Missouri and Illinois starting later this year – and also included questions and comments from listeners.

Related Event
What: Citizens For Modern Transit Event Focused On MetroLink Security Recommendations
When: 8 a.m. Friday, March 1, 2019
Where: St. Louis Regional Chamber (1 Metropolitan Square, Collaboration Center, 13th Floor, St. Louis, MO 63102)
Registration required

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Jon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.