Editorials

Metro loses 3 million riders, wants $3 million more from taxpayers

MetroLink riders talk safety at SWIC station

St. Clair County IL County Board Chairman Mark Kern has called for more security on St. Louis, MO MetroLink trains that run through southern Illinois that includes stops at Scott Air Force Base AFB, IL, Belleville, IL, Swansea, IL, Fairview Height
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St. Clair County IL County Board Chairman Mark Kern has called for more security on St. Louis, MO MetroLink trains that run through southern Illinois that includes stops at Scott Air Force Base AFB, IL, Belleville, IL, Swansea, IL, Fairview Height

So if a mass transit agency loses 3 million riders in a year, how smart is it to hand them an additional $3 million?

Not very. Nodding your head to that deal creates incentive for failure.

But that’s what’s being asked of the St. Clair County Transit District.

Metro Transit is coming off a year in which it lost 3.2 million bus and MetroLink riders. All told since 2014 they lost 10.4 million riders, or 22 percent.

Big drops in the two most recent years seem to correspond to high-profile crimes, including several shootings and murders.

If you shop in St. Clair County you pay a 0.25 percent sales tax to support mass transit through the St. Clair County Transit District. The district uses the money to contract with Metro for bus and MetroLink services.

Last year Metro received $54.2 million for providing services in St. Clair County. The request for the upcoming fiscal year is $57.2 million, or about 84 percent of everything the local transit district expects to take in.

Only in government does less work equal more money.

The transit district is resisting the hike, said its manager Taulby Roach.

“That’s not a sustainable path. The district is working hard to make Metro focus on security so it regains the public’s confidence and regains the ridership decreases,” Roach said.

The Illinois leg of MetroLink could be as safe as your own bed, but that matters little if there’s crime in Missouri. Roach said 99 percent of the Illinois riders end their trips in Missouri.

St. Clair County already has deputies on MetroLink, recently increased their numbers and they are in the process of getting approval to patrol the system in Missouri. St. Louis’ former mayor, who serves on the board overseeing Metro, praised St. Clair County’s efforts and mused that the system would be better off with St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson in charge of system security.

Roach said he’s hopeful that changes in the top two leaders at Metro and an initiative at the mass transit agency to reinvent its service might help.

Kudos are nice. Wishful thinking is nice.

We’d rather see St. Louis County and the city pulling their weight on the security issue. Illinois deputies are still fish out of water in Missouri, where they don’t know the bad actors like their Missouri peers do.

Ultimately it is a question of fairness. The bulk of the population, the bulk of the riders and the bulk of the high-profile crime is coming from the Missouri side of the system.

Missouri needs to step up and bring back riders before asking Illinois for any more of our taxes.

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