The Bi-State Development board approved a $361 million budget Friday morning, for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2017, that includes allocating $20 million to enhance security on the Metro transit system.
Also, starting Monday, St. Clair County Transit District officials have allocated $300,000 to increase the number of contracted uniformed officers patrolling MetroLink trains from three to nine during evening hours, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
“I think this (increased presence) will go on for some time,” St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said. “(Transit officials) are dedicated to making the trains safe and making sure that people feel safe and see uniformed officers — and so I think this will go on for some time.”
Watson said the off-duty uniformed deputies will ride the trains and stand on metro-east platforms, from Scott Air Force Base to the Mississippi River.
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As for the Bi-State budget increase, the release was unclear what the $20 million would pay for.
However, the budget does not include a fare increase for Metro transit riders.
“Fiscal responsibility is a top priority for Bi-State Development, and we manage our financial resources in a way that ensures we are making the best investment with the funds entrusted to us,” John Nations, President and CEO of Bi-State Development, said in the release. “At the same time, we provide our enterprises and employees with the resources they need to continue making an impact in our communities and improving the quality of life for everyone in the region.”
Watson said the increase in uniformed officers came in light of St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern calling for increased security on the public transit service.
MetroLink safety has been a hot topic for metro-east residents for some time now — with a number of high-profile crimes reported on the system, including an April 5 homicide and a serious shooting on March 19 on the light rail line.
Recently, officials added a weekly blotter to Metro’s website, listing what their public safety officers have done.
“That’s what we hear from our riders and people who frequent the train — that they would like to see more uniformed officers,” Watson said. “And that’s why St. Clair Transit is putting money toward this — because they want people to feel safe riding their trains.”