Talking to Metro executives is almost exactly like talking to their website.
The first time I spoke with this executive it was before the first Fare Increase hearing in City Hall. I was furious (but polite, if demanding). So furious that I started this blog and printed up leaflets the day before. I had called Metro to ask a number of questions, but my main one seemed like a "no-brainer".
So simple a question that I expected these Executives to be able to answer it off the top of their head. (I then would have gone to immediately have a money wizard check to see if it was accurate, but I expected it to be an easy answer.)
My question: You propose three fare options? How do they all equal up to 2.5 million dollars a year? (I actually didn't know the 2.5 million number, my question was how do all these equations add up to x amount of dollars?)
Metro Executive's answer: "How is that even relevant?"
Dumbfounded. Me. Really. Almost made me speechless. (Almost.)
I'd spent the last two or three days (since seeing the sign posted that fares were going up) reading through their ridiculous website. (They bought some used big buses from a place in California, and quoted the owner of the used bus company saying they were "great stewards of federal funds." Because they bought buses from him. Really.)
They site many population statistics and talk about growth and decline, but come to no conclusions on what they mean for determining the public transit needs of those areas. They base their entire system-wide development on three "tiers" from a study done in 1989. They boast about how great they are doing, while explaining that it wasn't their fault that they cut 24 bus lines in 2009 and twenty to thirty percent of other services.
Metro executives, you are "stewards" of HUGE PILES OF FEDERAL MONEY, plus MORE OF MY MONEY WITH NO SERVICE IMPROVEMENTS. If you want me to buy your propaganda that you need 2.5 MILLION MORE A YEAR, please explain to me exactly how that is going to come about from each of these options?
(Accountants and money wizards, am I wrong? They supply a spreadsheet in the answers section, but it doesn't show how they are computing it. They don't seem to show any data on how many of these passes and train fares were purchased in the past. Or who and how often rides the Metro and bus? Plus ONLY 22% of their revenue comes from rider fares!!! I am against privatization of public transit for political and sociological reasons, but it doesn't appear that is going to catch on, anyhow!)
And based on looking through the website, there is almost no solid statistical data on who the average bus rider is, and what fares they pay, frequency they ride, etc. SO HOW THE *&@! did you come up with those numbers? Just some previous years data? Hoping it will all plug in the same?
If you can't explain that to me clearly (see the response below for what they did send me) HOW DARE YOU ASK ME TO PAY FOR YOUR MISMANAGEMENT OF FUNDS?!!
Especially considering you do not seem very focused or aware of the people that need your services the most.
Most of this is just cut and paste from the website. But it is worth reading. The truth is, if they fired this Executive tomorrow, only the face would change, not the job being done. If Metro hired someone that knew how to make things work, they would fire that person.
This entire agency is set up to provide mediocre service, funneling the most government funds to wealthy developers, and selling itself by comparing it to deplorable service in other cities.
Below is the whole response.
707 North First Street
St. Louis, Missouri 63102-2595
Dear Metro (in particular, Chief of Planning and System Development):
Metro will make efforts to add restroom facilities at new construction projects. Current restroom facilities on the alignment are made possible through arrangements with retail contractors. For example, at Riverview Hall MetroBus Center, the owner of the convenience store maintains a public restroom as part of his rental agreement with the agency. Similar arrangements will be sought at the facilities we are creating in north county and downtown.
2) You say that one million people ride public transit every year. How do you count the number of individual people that ride? I can see where it would be easy to count your 55 million boardings, but how are you counting individuals? Do you do surveys? Do you know what neighborhoods use your services the most? What are your busiest buses? What are your busiest transfer centers? What are your least-used bus and train lines?
Metro also completes periodic customer surveys, in which we ask customers questions about how often they ride (number of days per week) and how often they transfer per trip. This information can be used to produce an estimate of the number of people who use Metro on a regular basis. In addition, the US Census long form asks respondents to report their usual mode of travel for their journey to work. This does not include everyone who ever uses Metro for any propose, but it is useful information.
3) You say that you are connecting people with jobs, yet your own maps (actually the East West Gateway Council of Governments' maps) of areas with the lowest ownership of cars are underserved, as are many of the areas with the most jobs. The connectivity between the areas is also badly served in all but a few places (Central West End, Downtown). Shouldn't that be your highest priority? What are you doing to change that?
It is critical to understand that Metro's ability to provide transit service is bound by available funding. The majority of the funds required to support transit service are provided by local sales tax proceeds. About 22% of the cost to provide service is supported by passenger fares, and even Metro's most productive routes require taxpayer subsidy to operate.
6) Can you point me to the official story of how the proposed St. Charles MetroLink was rejected? What lessons did Metro learn from this? Also, why was a train put into Shrewsbury when north Saint Louis has the greatest need? Can you offer any assistance to the public and OPTINSTL on how to make sure future trains are not blocked?
While many residents and some elected officials talk to us, on occasion, about expansion possibilities, the majority of St. Charles County voters have voted against bringing MetroBus and MetroLink into that county. Those voters will decide when and if they want to tax themselves in order to operate Metro transit in their county.
Major capital expansion projects are the result of regional decisions led by elected officials who are members of the East West Gateway Council of Governments. The Shrewsbury expansion decision was a regional one and the next expansion will be the result of a regional decision as well. The public, as it did with the Shrewsbury alignment, will have opportunity for input well before final decisions are made about future expansion.
7) Many of your bus stops are badly placed and many are not marked with the identifying information for the bus lines that stop there. None of them have schedules, routes, or fares posted. There seems to be a lack of coordination and planning with the cities (who decide where the bus stops can be placed) on trash cans, lighting, sidewalk repair and so forth. Especially in low-income areas where families with young children ride the bus, this seems like it should be an obvious priority. What plans are in place to create better bus stops?
In particular, to post route, schedule and fares? I have suggested two sheets of acrylic, three sided (the top would be sealed to prevent moisture from precipitation) with holes at the top and bottom, to be bolted to the metal poles that the bus stops signs are mounted on. I was told it was too expensive. Can you direct me to the feasibility study that was done that determined this cost was too high?
Metro is also working to improve signage at bus stops. We have secured some funding to replace bus stop signs throughout the region, though we do not yet have enough grant funding to begin the project. As funds become available, we anticipate replacing existing bus stop signs with new, larger signs that include more customer information including: route(s) served, Customer Service phone number, Metro website and brief instructions on how to obtain information about next bus times. We are working now to implement several new features that will provide customers with more transit information, including real-time arrival information via desktop applications, mobile applications, text messaging and Metro's Transit Information call center.
Posting print schedules at all MetroBus stops is not feasible due to issues of cost and durability. We do not have sufficient manpower to post schedule information at all bus stops (and re-post when schedules are damaged, stolen, or changed). A better solution is to rely on the channels mentioned above, as well as Metro's print timetables. Schedule information is posted at all Transit Centers and MetroLink stations, and could potentially be included at Metro's busiest bus stops as part of the signage project.
8) Are there any plans to extend the Customer service information? It is nice that you started the phone and email alerts, but many low-income people do not have data service on their phones. When people need to reach Metro the most, it is usually late at night and on weekends.
10) You also own Downtown St. Louis Airport, and the Arch and Riverboat Trams. How much of the revenues generated from those entities are used for public transportation? Have you investigated selling these entities to private companies? If so, have you done any discovery of what impact this would have on the public transit system? Would sale of these entities provided you with needed funds to improve existing services?
11) Can you explain why there is not more outreach work done-- such as rider surveys, and having Metro officials available on buses and Metrolink to make feedback more convenient to the riders? To come to your hearings, those of us that don't have the money to buy bus passes have to pay to come, in addition to having our day disrupted. And you would reach a much greater portion of customers by coming to them.
Metro has reached out to customers about the fare increase through the following mechanisms: Posting signage on buses, trains, MetroLink Stations and MetroBus transit centers; publishing news releases that have been covered by local news media; advertising in local newspapers including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Belleville News Democrat and St. Louis American; posting on Metro's website at www.metrostlouis.org; and via Metro's blog at www.NextStopSTL.org; and via social media (Facebook and Twitter).
Through these outlets, Metro has published that we are soliciting feedback not only at the four scheduled meetings, but also via a telephone hotline; e-mail; a web survey; and US Postal mail.
As discussed above, passenger revenue supports only about 22% of the cost to operate transit service. The remainder of that cost is supported primarily through local sales tax proceeds. Passenger revenues could not have been increased to a level that would have sustained service in the face of this budget deficit.
Metro's policy moving forward is to grow passenger revenues at a rate that will keep pace with inflation, in part to prevent future service cuts (assuming other revenue sources including local sales tax proceeds and federal funding are not diminished).
14) Your website says that for every $1 a community invests in public transit, it receives $4 in federal money via Metro/Bi-State. Can you explain to me exactly how that works? Where does the $1 come from, and who gets paid the $4 in return? Also, is this true equally, for all communities? And if so, does that mean that lower-income areas are lower served, because they have fewer dollars to contribute?
These are the answers I can provide for you without requiring that you file a Sunshine request for research and compilation of documentation. If you need such documentation, please contact Shirley Bryant in the agency’s Legal Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.