WU support of Prop A shows school’s callousness toward the poor

John Burns | Op-Ed Submission

Washington University is a prosperous school. It boasts a multi-billion (with a ‘B’) dollar endowment, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants, wealthy patrons—nay, Captains of Industry—and its faculty, staff and students are among the brightest—and wealthiest—in the nation.

So why is it that Wash. U. students and faculty pay $250 less for MetroLink than disabled riders? Students pay roughly 35 bucks per semester for the use of public transportation, and faculty pay 102 bucks per year. On a yearly basis these figures are rather similar. The disabled pay $360 per year for a MetroLink pass. The regular yearly pass costs approximately $720, and the non-Wash. U. regular student yearly pass costs approximately $250.

Why does Wash. U. receive a $9.3 million price cut the use of on public transportation? That’s roughly $11.5 million in public transportation services for a mere $2.2 million payment. So, if you’re a student or faculty member, the taxpayers are subsidizing your ride. Chancellor Wrighton, featured in a pro-Metro tax commercial aired during the recent Winter Olympics, was being honest and accurate when he explained that Wash. U. receives a lot of benefit from MetroLink. And Wash. U. donated $25,000 to the pro-Prop A campaign because Wash. U. is a special interest that stands to benefit if Metro expands; albeit on the backs of St. Louis County—and City—tax payers. Oh yes, St. Louis City sales taxes are set to rise if Prop A is passed. It’s an odd situation, but the City’s sales tax regarding Metro transit is pegged to the County’s in the event of a sales tax increase. Sales tax in the City would rise to roughly 10 percent.

I say all of this not to attack Wash. U., but merely to demonstrate a point: Washington University is callous toward the poor and the middle class in St. Louis.

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How else is one supposed to view Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s unabashed support of the proposed Proposition A “Metro Tax”? Far from being a progressive public transportation expansion, Prop A is a regressive sales tax that will hit all taxpayers and hurt poorer taxpayers in a disproportionate manner.

While Wash. U. wins if more MetroLink stations get built, making it easier for students to cheaply move about, the poor suffer. It has been a repeated pattern that as MetroLink expands, Metro spends more than it takes in, and bus lines are cut as a result. Buses are critical to the transportation needs of the poor. Buses are flexible. Buses come to where we live, into our neighborhoods. MetroLink is rigid, prohibitively expensive, cannibalizes bus funds and takes a minimum of five years to build—and that’s just for one route. MetroLink costs $60 million per MILE (unless Metro mismanages the construction like they did last time, then it’s close to $100 million per mile), while Bus Rapid Transit costs $30 million per ROUTE, and a normal bus costs a little over $250 thousand, with the federal government footing 80 percent of the bus cost.

Metro is secretive and operated by a cabal of elected and unelected officials. Tax payers are kept in the dark about Metro’s ultimate plans. Voters have no say in what MetroLink lines get built, or where, or what Metro budget allocation priorities will be.

Metro panders to special interests other than Washington University. Also set to win big if the tax passes are bond sellers like Edward Jones (a.k.a., the local government credit card), and campaign contributors of the political elite spearheading the pro-tax campaign, such as Charlie Dooley (St. Louis County Executive) and John Nations (Mayor of Chesterfield). Lots of pigs are at the trough, and it’s worth mentioning that the FBI is investigating Dooley and several of his friends for possibly illegally awarding contracts. The County is the principal revenue source for Metro.

Point is, we’re in a recession and the poor and middle class in St. Louis City and St. Louis County will be forced to blindly pay into a mismanaged system for a light-rail system they don’t use and don’t need. Washington University, as wealthy as it is, collects all of the benefits and none of the liabilities of a Metro Tax increase. Washington University and Chancellor Wrighton’s support for the tax is inexcusably self-serving to the detriment of the poor. If he thinks he can defend himself, I challenge the Chancellor to debate me on Prop A. Any time, any place, provided open attendance by the public, press, and a mutually agreed upon moderator.

John Burns
Citizens for Better Transit
John is a member of Citizens for Better Transit. For more information, visit the Web site http://www.stoptheprop.com.

  • Lauren

    I am a student and do not have a car. WashU’s free metrolink and bus service is an asset both to students and the community. Because WashU tuition funds metro passes for students but not all (or most) students use them as their primary mode of transportation, the Metro system benefits but does not get over-crowded. I ride the bus all over St. Louis city and the county, and I think we need to support public transportation and its continued expansion.

    People who ride the metro are NOT more likely to drive cars. As a non-driver, bicyclist, walker, and metrolink/bus user, a lot of people I know in St. Louis are down-right confused that I don’t have a car. If St. Louis is to grow as a city, then it needs to maintain and grow its public transportation!

    Vote “yes” on Prop A!

  • Caitlin

    No, Adam, it’s rude because you imply that someone making a pittance as an intern has had her opinion bought. But the Stud Life comment board isn’t the place to teach people manners, and as I still have no idea who you are “Adam,” I feel it’s probably a waste of my time. (And do you work for a pro-transit group? Are you a member of any clubs that agree with your position? Hmm?)

    Secondly, Show-Me is an educational institute– meaning its scholars study the facts and give their best policy solutions. So I don’t think it is unreasonable, after studying their data and research, to agree with their conclusions. (All of their studies are all available online, so if you are going to object to them, you should really read them so you can actually make an intelligent statement. Your previous comments have only demonstrated an entirely willful ignorance of nuanced positions.)

    Now to the actual substance of the article…

    Thank you, Dave, for your comment. I think that public transportation (in general) is good for an urban center, but (in specific) that the Metrolink is not necessarily the best form of that, especially for St. Louis. St. Louis is very large and sprawling; if the Metrolink goes out as far as it plans to, it will take hours to get from one end to the other. (Not to mention, since fewer people live in these areas, there will be fewer people riding it at these points). These are issues that St. Louis must face when organizing its public transit. Most public transit “loses” money, and needs taxpayer funds. It’s minimizing the amount it loses while maximizing service that is important.

    As for how it could be improved:
    First off, there have been numerous studies (some done for the Show-Me Institute, some for CATO and other organizations) that show that bus routes are much better for the environment and people than light rail like the Metrolink. (There are studies about the St. Louis public transit that show that the carbon footprint of the buses before Metrolink was smaller than the Metrolink’s carbon footprint afterwards.) THis is tangential, but still an interesting point.

    Metrolink is also very expensive to operate. That’s partly because the Metrolink has massive “sunk costs” in infrastructure, stations, etc. Highways and roadways are already repaired for cars, so this is not an added expense for buses. Light rails have to be replaced entirely every thirty years. This is an extremely costly endeavor. Also, it cannot be adapted to how people live or are moving. If an area gets a large influx of people, it is much easier to increase the bus routes to the area than extend the Metrolink.

    There are other models for public-private cooperations for public transit. In Denver, private bus companies “bid” for how much of a government subsidy they need to operate. They compete with each other for routes, and if they don’t perform (buses are late, unclean, etc) then they are easily and quickly replaced. This makes them more accountable than in our current system, where we only have one company providing services. It is able to cut services and routes willy-nilly because it has no real competition.

    Basically, we should have public transportation–funded in part by tax dollars– but expanding the Metrolink (which the Prop A funds are necessarily tied to) is the worst idea. The incompetent board running Metrolink know that– but they can’t even address their problems without adding new ones for the future (again, look at their budget. Their subsidy goes up each year, yet their services get cut. Why?)

  • Adam

    Dave, I don’t see what’s “rude and childish” about pointing out that someone is being paid by an organization that explicitly advocates against Proposition A. It’s relevant information, just like it would be relevant information if I was being paid by a pro-transit group.

    But the most important information was John Burns’ organizational affiliation, and I’m glad to see that StudLife corrected the online version of the story.

  • Dave Shapiro

    A few things:

    1) I still find it incredibly disturbing that Studlife has published something from a non-student without making it explicitly clear. Saying he is a member of a certain group is not enough. Studlife must report that he is NOT a student, as well. This is a student newspaper–last time I checked, it was written by students, for them. If I wanted to read some piece by some guy who wasn’t a student (or at least a former student), I’d read another newspaper.

    2) I do not agree with one of two main arguments that Michael raises, which is that people that don’t live in St. Louis shouldn’t vote on Prop A. I have never lived in St. Louis for an extended amount of time. However, I recognize that dynamic cities need a dynamic public transportation system. It is exactly because I DON’T want to live in St. Louis that I support this Proposition. Only with a transit system that works and is fully-funded will St. Louis become a destination that rivals the other great American cities, IMO.

    3) I disagree, respectfully, with Michael’s other argument, which is that Wash U should fund Metro rather than pass Prop A. This isn’t an either-or situation. Nor do I think that Washington University has an obligation to fund an entire city’s transportation system. I would like to see how much Wash U currently contributes, however.

    4) Calling Caitlin out like that is ridiculously rude and childish. I pretty much have never agreed with anything she has ever said, but she’s my friend, and she’s most definitely a student–I don’t see how she has any sort of “conflict of interest.”

    5) Admittedly, I don’t know much about taxation. I am wary, however, when anyone assumes they know what is best for poor people in inner city St. Louis. To say, however, that they would not support a .5% sales tax increase for the sake of easier transportation (and, by extension, safer communities), is patently silly.

    6) I don’t buy the Metro accountability argument. Anyone can say that any governmental organization isn’t as efficient as possible with their money. Fine. Go work for them, and make them more efficient. Until then, please let me know who you’d like them to employ, and how you’d like the system to be funded.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/michaelsafyan/ Michael Safyan

    Correction: in a previous post I wrote “WashU students and faculty do stand to benefit and bear a disproportionate amount of the burden”, I meant to write “.. but do not bear a proportionate amount of the burden.”

  • http://sites.google.com/site/michaelsafyan/ Michael Safyan

    I think that the criticism of WashU here is quite reasonable. WashU and its students do have more to gain and at much less cost. Because WashU purchases Metro passes in such a high volume, it has a great deal of bargaining power and, consequently, is able to get passes at a much cheaper rate. While WashU can’t be blamed for wanting to purchase passes cheaply, the fact is that WashU students and faculty do stand to benefit and bear a disproportionate amount of the burden. If WashU really supports the Metro, it should put its money where its mouth is, by funding Metro. That said, I do think the Metro is good for the economy, although without any available data, it is hard to quantify this benefit relative to the burden that would be imposed by the sales tax.

    I think, though, that there is a more important issue, here, than that of Proposition A. Should students, who live on campus during the semester, but who are not truly a part of the St. Louis community, vote in St. Louis elections? While it is possible to change where one is registered — and the proponents of Prop A have been encouraging many students to do so — I think that this practice is simply unethical. If you are not a St. Louis resident, whether you think supporting the Metro is a great idea or a terrible idea, you should leave it up to the people who live here to decide. If you consider St. Louis your home, then vote; otherwise, respect the community’s decision.

  • Malik

    What a joke. This Adam kid gets ticked off because Burns is a spokesman for Citizens for Better Transit. He also accuses Burns of being paid by the Citizens for Better Transit campaign…without offering any proof. Well, metro has paid employees who blog in favor of Prop A.

    Courtney, seen on the comment thread for the article here:

    http://www.studlife.com/news/2010/03/03/wrighton-appears-in-pro-transit-spot-as-election-nears/

    is one of those paid bloggers who stalks the internet for Metro articles and posts propagandic comments in favor of Metro and the Metro tax. My guess is that Adam knows this, but doesn’t care about facts. Here’s the proof of what and who Courtney is:

    http://www.nextstopstl.org/about/blog-team/

  • Malik

    This just came out today, folks. Check it out…it’s legit.

    #########
    All News Editors, Reporters and Producers:

    Beginning today, Monday, March 1, 2010, I will be taking a leave of absence from my day job at Metro, and I will start devoting all my time to the Advance St. Louis, Proposition A Campaign!

    I am very excited about joining an impressive team of grassroots supporters, like Chesterfield Mayor John Nations, Urban League Executive Director James Buford and Washington University Chancellor, Mark Wrighton, who are working toward the Tuesday, April 6 passage of a ½ cent sales tax to support transit stability and growth in St. Louis County.

    Keeping St. Louis newsrooms informed, coordinating media interviews and providing updates from the Advance St. Louis Campaign will be my top priorities. Yes, I am back in my old media coordinator seat. Some things never change!

    I can be contacted at the following phone and e-mail address:

    [email protected]
    314- 917-2027

    The Campaign will officially roll out this week. Advance St. Louis Steering Committee members and Campaign leadership will be available for interviews. Be on the lookout for more information about the roll out later today.

    Thanks,
    Adella D. Jones

  • Brandon

    Adam,
    John Burn’s is recognized as a member of Citizens for Better Transit in the PRINT story, but for some reason that identifying information was not attached to the story posted online. It seems as if Student Life has noticed this error and corrected it by adding that information at the end of the article.

  • Adam

    Can someone explain why StudLife did not identify John Burns as the spokesperson for an anti-transit group? Don’t readers have the right to be informed?

  • Caitlin

    Kevin,
    The blackmail I refer to is not that they ask for money at all, but that they are tying their needs list to their wish list. The choice is either pay for unnecessary expansion or lose valued routes. In my book, that’s blackmail. It’s one thing to ask for needed taxes, it’s another thing to try to expand to areas that will use the Metrolink even less, creating a bigger future financial burden.

    Also, Adam, I meant to address this before, but the Show-Me Institute does not oppose public transportation or taxes in general. If you do even a modicum of research on the subject you’d see that the scholars have produced lots of work about how to improve transportation and improve the taxing structure– here are examples:
    http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2010/02/show-me_institute_hopes_to_derail_metrolink_expansion.php?page=2

    http://www.showmedaily.org/2010/03/how-should-we-pay-for.html)
    I think those are the sort of changes we should make to improve transportation in MO, not increasing the sales tax!

    Public transportation may necessarily lose money, but Metrolink is losing even more than it should, and needs efficiency improvements in management structure, not a boatload of more tax money, coming straight from the pockets of the poor. (Of course, everything I say is my own opinion and not that of Show-Me, because contrary to popular belief, my opinion has not been bought off– and especially not for an intern’s salary! Plus, Show-Me doesn’t have “one” stance on anything, because different scholars have different opinions about some policy topics. Solid research–not just opinions– is what’s important)

  • Kevin L.

    I don’t understand how Citizens for Better Transit or for that matter anyone could actually say that a car is cheaper than Metro service.
    The cheapest car I or any of my friends ever owned was $2,000 and broke after just over a year. Even with the new sales tax, I would pay far less for metro service than I would buying a car, buying gas,and paying for maintenance.

    The idea that people don’t use the Metro is a fallacy, as well as the idea that poor people don’t use the Metro. How else are non-car-owning people supposed to get around? We can’t always rely on friends or family for rides, taxis are expensive, and biking/walking only takes you so far.

    The fact is public transit is never profit-making, not in New York, not even in dense Europe. But it is an essential service. I don’t see anyone arguing that the schools, fire department, or police stations are blackmailing taxpayers by asking for more money.

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com/victory.htm Jerome Bauer

    PS to my comment above: I am puzzled: why are the Metro supporters not using to good effect their best argument, the likelihood of a big federal grant in the near future if St Louis taxpayers demonstrate their support for the system? This is true, isn’t it? Let’s hear more about this.

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com/victory.htm Jerome Bauer

    f Prop A passes St Louis will be at the head of the line for a lot of federal money for further expansion. One can legitimately question the way this is being paid for in the short term, and we can and must be critical of WashU and all Universities with special tax breaks (are they doing enough to earn their privilege?), but in this case the consequences of failing to pass the bill would be, in my opinion as a low income, non-driving and low visioned Metrolink and Metrobus user who depends upon this system for transit to diverse contract adjunct lecturer jobs, very much worse than having us all pay a small tax. I don’t like taxes either and I run my house as a non-profit charity, though I am taxed through the nose because our free university does not yet have non-profit status. Even so, I will pay this tax, for the sake of the city and county of St Louis.

    I commend Washington University for its leadership role, and I am wondering, where are you, Webster University? Many Webster students live off campus and depend upon Metrolink and Metrobus. I know from experience that the service, especially in the afternoon, is terrible and has become much worse since the service cutbacks. Where are you, Lindenwood? SCAT (St Charles Area Transit) is a joke, and runs nowhere near the campus, nor does it connect with Metrolink (you can catch a SCAT bus from North Hanley, but the fare is separate and the two systems do not swap information). I would like to see more support from the SWIC and SLU communities, whose members are well served by Metro.

    I have been, and will continue to be, a fierce yet loyal critic of WashU. In this case, I believe the school deserves praise, not disparagement, for its good efforts. Let them (us) earn their tax breaks and privilege, if they can. Please let them (us) try.

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    –you know who I am, where I live, and what I have done for this school…

  • Ronald K. Calloway

    A few comments in response to Adam:

    (1) I believe you have misunderstood Caitlin’s argument (or, at least, one of them). It is a fact, rather than an opinion or a tenet of political philosophy, that Metro has long tied funding for their operating budget to funding for expansion. There are good POLITICAL reasons for doing so. Metro poses their funding requests to voters as a choice between two options: pay more for the services you already received, plus expansion that you may or may not want, or receive fewer services than you currently do. Since most people prefer to keep the services they currently receive, they are more likely to vote for expansion, even if they do not particularly want it. I believe that Caitlin’s reference to “blackmail” was a colorful way of characterizing this political game Metro plays. Obviously, whether you agree with that characterization is dependent on whether or not you think Metro expansion is necessary (or worth the cost).

    (2) You do not have to be opposed to raising taxes to oppose this particular tax increase. Anytime you increase taxes and allocate that money to some particular use, you are also diverting that money from alternative uses to which it could be put. Thus, the question need not be “should we increase taxes or not,” but rather “is Metro the best place to put that increased tax revenue?” Given Metro’s long history of being inefficient (a nice way of saying “corrupt and incompetent”), it’s not unreasonable to think that there are better ways to use an increase in tax revenue.

    (3) I believe you underestimate the added burden a .5% sales tax increase will have on the poor. You gave as an example a person who spends $40k per year and who thus pays an additional $200 per year in sales tax (I will grant that, if someone is consuming $40k, they are probably not poor, but it’s the number you chose so I’ll use it). For someone with limited income, $200 is nothing to snuff at. For example, that might be a half-month’s rent that an individual must find elsewhere. Now, certainly some low-income individuals will reap more than $200 of benefit from Metro expansion (e.g. if a new stop or route allows them to find a job, or stop driving to work). But many will NOT reap that benefit. In this case, we are redistributing wealth, but it is coming OUT of the pockets of some poor people to improve the welfare of other poor people. This seems counterproductive, particularly if there are fewer people that receive a net benefit than there are those who receive a net loss. That is an empirical question for which I do not have data sufficient to pass judgment.

    (4) You wrote that “the poor are the people who use… public transportation.” Could you please provide, as reference for debate, the ridership statistics on which you base this claim.

    (5) You attack “Caitlin” for not revealing her conflict of interest. Since you seem to believe that anyone who comments on an article must reveal their potential conflicts of interest, could you please provide the following information: (a) By whom are you employed? (b) Which Metro bus or metrolink routes do you regularly use? (c) In what municipality do you reside? Without this information, the objectivity of your posts is in question. To avoid hypocrisy, I will provide my answers: (a) a Federal social services agency; (b) none; (c) the wonderful city of University City.

  • Caitlin

    Why, yes, Adam, but I don’t see how that’s a conflict of interest, as it is not a coincidence that I intern at a place that holds positions with which I agree. I am still a Wash U. student: I went here for undergraduate and am currently a graduate student. Does the fact that I have an internship (as does everyone else in my graduate program) mean that I am any less qualified to give my opinion? In fact, with the amount of research I have done, I feel like I am just as qualified as any other person– if not more so– to talk about this issue.

    These taxes ARE regressive and they WILL fund lines that will not benefit the poor people you supposedly champion. Look at Metrolink’s budget: they are not responsible with the money they are given. If they need a tax increase, it should be focused on what they need, not a huge wishlist of lines that will further drain their budget. Metrolink needs to prioritize and better spend their money– which increases every year, but somehow is still not enough– before they ask for an enormous tax increase.

    Also, I don’t think John Burns is paid to be a spokesperson, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

    PS Adam, I find it slightly creepy that you know who I am with just my (rather common) first name, and I have absolutely no idea who you are.

  • Caitlin

    Why, yes, Adam, but I don’t see how that’s a conflict of interest, as it is not a coincidence that I intern at a place that holds positions with which I agree. I am still a Wash U. student: I went here for undergraduate and am currently a graduate student. Does the fact that I have an internship (as does everyone else in my graduate program) mean that I am any less qualified to give my opinion? In fact, with the amount of research I have done, I feel like I am just as qualified as any other person– if not more so– to talk about this issue.

    These taxes ARE regressive and they WILL fund lines that will not benefit the poor people you supposedly champion. Look at Metrolink’s budget: they are not responsible with the money they are given. If they need a tax increase, it should be focused on what they need, not a huge wishlist of lines that will further drain their budget. Metrolink needs to prioritize and better spend their money… which increases every year, but somehow is still not enough– before they ask for an enormous tax increase.

    Also, I don’t think John Burns is paid to be a spokesperson, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

    PS Adam, I find it slightly creepy that you know who I am with just my (rather common) first name, and I have absolutely no idea who you are.

  • Adam

    This is really a mistake, either by the Studlife Forum editors or by John Burns, He is the paid spokesperson for an anti-transit group and also is not a student. He should have identified himself accurately when he sent the message in. If he did identify himself, then Studlife should have included that information. He presents himself as an advocate for the poor, when in fact he’s a paid spokesperson for an anti-transit campaign. Readers have a right to be accurately informed.

    This is a huge FAIL by StudLife until and unless they issue a correction making it clear that John Burns is a spokesperson.

  • http://www.gatewaystreets.org/ Herbie

    The very simple answer why Wash U gets such a big discount is that not every student, faculty, or staff member fully utilizes their passes. Full utilization of the passes would imply that Wash U alone is responsible for over 15,000 daily transit riders and 30,000 daily transit trips on Metro buses and light-rail trains, or in excess of 15% of Metro’s daily ridership. As big as Wash U is, I doubt they have that kind of pull.

  • Adam

    Is that Caitlin as in Caitlin Hartsell, paid intern for the right-wing think tank Show Me Institute (which is opposed to funding public transportation)? If not, then please correct me. If so, then you should make your conflict of interest known, just like John Burns should have made it known that he’s the spokesperson for an anti-transit group.

    The argument is also ridiculous. Metro is not “blackmailing” people; it requires money to run. That’s why the state of Missouri had to pitch in last year to restore some of the routes that were cut.

    By the way, the poor are the people who use and would benefit the most from public transportation. The idea that this is harming them is an absurd argument put forward by the same wealthy individuals who hate all taxes (i.e. the Show Me Institute). Someone who spends $40,000 a year would only pay, get this, a whopping $200 in sales taxes with a 00.5% tax. This whole argument is knowlingly fraudulent.

  • Caitlin

    As a WashU student (and personally, not a fan of Mr. Burns or his style) I do want to clarify why his position (in general) is correct and why exactly this proposition is a bad one and why everyone should vote it down.

    If Metro needs money to continue its services, it should lobby for that money. But this proposition ties support of current services to support of less-needed (yet still expensive) expansions. These sorts of taxes are always regressive– if you care about the poor, as many commentors have claimed, than how can you hazard supporting that they fund the Metrolink’s expansion into areas where they will mostly not be riding?

    Metrolink is very poorly run. Metrolink is essentially blackmailing the people of St. Louis: in order to keep the services they want, they must pay for services they do not want.

    Metrolink cannot afford its current routes (partly because it is poorly managed.) The expansion they are lobbying for goes out further into the suburbs of West Country, where the population density is lower (something that correlates with ridership.) Instead of trying to improve efficiency and ridership, Metrolink will create another funding drain, requiring further taxes in the future to maintain the routes.

    Public transit, in any metropolitan area, will usually run a deficit. The goal should be to reduce that deficit– they spent $220 million last year– instead of constantly looking for new revenue sources.

    Metrolink needs new management, not new tax sources.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659125328 Melissa Fr.

    I would like to express my support for Proposition A, and for taxpayer support of public transportation in general.
    The metro, like all other public transportation, does not make a profit on the service it provides. The same could be said for the police and fire departments and the public library. These services need government support (and thus public tax money) to continue to operate for the public good.
    And let me not fail to stress that it is indeed for the public good. This service has suffered too long under the stigma that only poor people ride buses. People in the city and those with less disposable income are simply more likely to make the economically sound choice to pay for a metro pass rather than spending significantly more money to buy, maintain and insure one or even two cars.
    My response to the issue of the Metro supporting the car culture is that I feel your point is a rather naive. In an ideal world, public transportation would be extensive enough, and everyone would be environmentally minded enough to always walk, cycle or ride the metro. However, given the current system and the design of St. Louis (and of nearly every other city in the Midwest), that is impractical at the moment. Many people can walk or bike to the Metro, but parking lots are a pragmatic way to attract people who must drive at least part of the way.
    The practical way to make the Metro more bike-friendly is to vote for Prop A! Without funds, the Metro can do nothing to improve their system. In addition, service cuts will cause increased driving and decrease people’s ability to bike or walk to their destination.
    In short, if your concern is indeed that the “StL Metro supports the car culture and works against walking-cycling” you are undermining your own argument. Voting down Prop A can only hurt your supposed concern.

  • student

    well at least we have the opposing perspective communicated through the school’s paper

  • Adam

    By the way, if anyone is wondering who John Burn is, he’s (1) the spokesperson for the anti-transit campaign was the emcee at this Saturday’s tea party: http://www.globe-democrat.com/news/2010/feb/27/tea-party-celebrates-anniversary/ .

    He’s (2) the guy who built the gulag on campus to raise awareness about how AmeriCorps and child labor laws are like Soviet communism: http://stlactivisthub.blogspot.com/2009/11/washu-students-for-liberty-social.html

    He (3) has no affiliation with the university but has presented himself as a leader of Young Americans for Liberty, even though they have distanced themselves from him: http://stlactivisthub.blogspot.com/2009/12/yal-disowns-jon-burns.html

    And finally, and worst in my mind, is (4) the fact that he attended a LGBT rally with James O’Keefe and Joseph Basel (two of the people arrested at Senator Landrieu’s office for allegedly tampering with the phones) and attempted to disrupt the rally by writing “free abortions” on some of the signs and interfering with the protesters: http://stlactivisthub.blogspot.com/2009/11/guy-who-built-campus-gulag-attempts-to.html

    Burns claims to care about free speech and then went out of his way to interfere with the free speech of the LGBT community. He is not a trustworthy source of information, and particularly not about public transit. He should not be giving lectures on morality to the students at our university or anywhere else.

  • Adam

    Why is studlife publishing op-eds from conspiracy theorists who aren’t even affiliated with the campus? If you’re going to publish this nonsense from the spokesperson of the anti-transit campaign, then you owe the Transit Alliance an opportunity to respond.

  • Malik Shabaaz

    Hey Dave Shapiro…

    Metro always makes cuts shortly after getting more money. They do this because they always overextend themselves and mismanage their money.

    The current budget shortfall happened PRIOR to the recession. So the BS excuse that it’s due to declining tax revenue is shown for the crap that it is. These people don’t give a shit about how they spend our money.

    And another thing. If you check out the Citizens for Better Transit website, it’s pretty clear that the anti Prop A peeps aren’t against buses, they’re against metrolink because it’s a waste of money. Metro hemorrhages money every time they build a new route.

    Being anti metrolink is not tantamount to being anti-bus.

    also:

    “I won’t even touch the ridiculous assumption that “wealthy” Wash U was taking advantage of the Metro system at the expense of poor people (wtf?)”

    Of course not, Dave-O, because you’re either a coward or incapable of mounting a defense for the poor subsidizing a wealthy university with extremely wealthy students. You seem to be an over-privileged, condescending rich puke who thinks he can make decisions for everybody. My people have been fighting this paternalistic bullshit for hundreds of years, clown. The peasants aren’t taking your bullshit anymore, rich boy.

  • NoVote4A

    Cut down on unnecessary carbon emissions by walking and cycling, StL Metro supports the car culture and works against walking-cycling. How you ask?

    1. Parking garages built next to Extension stations and in some cases FREE,
    2. The Extension was to have a bike-pedestrian path alongside but Metro in catering to politically powerful minority incurred gigantic cost overruns and deleted the needed infrastructure,
    3. Busses and electric trains are NOT free from causing carbon dioxide emissions, in fact virtually empty busses are worse than cars in the emission/person comparisons,
    4. Many Metro stations have fences built around them so travel distance from nearby homes jumps from a few hundred feet to over 3000 feet (not pedestrian friendly), and
    5. Even though Metro is considerate in allowing bikes on board, how many bike racks are available? Answer: ZERO. In addition, the BoB option is limited to two bikes per car.

    If you want lower emissions and to make it easier for the poor to earn a living, support Complete Streets and not some operationally-managerially deficient enterprise as a competitive alternative to the car culture. Locals need to be educated as the above comments makes clear. The region needs public debates not divisive bantering.

  • Brandon

    To say that WashU is taking advantage of the poor by supporting Prop A and the slightly higher taxes that come with it is simply ridiculous! As has been said multiple times already on this thread, it is the urban poor (who cannot afford alternate means of transportation) who will most benefit from the renewal and expansion of Metro services. With the one-half cent sales tax increase, a 2-person household might pay say somewhere between $50 and $150 dollars per year, compared to the cost of two cars (to get each person to their individual jobs!) in an upwards of $9000 a year. That math is simple.

    To say that WashU relies on subsidies, back-room deals, its tax-exempt status, and the hard-earned dollars of the poor is simply ignorant and misinformed. The financial support (a.k.a. the MILLIONS if not hundreds of millions of dollars) that WashU has provided Metro in the past years and especially since the failure of Prop M is the only means by which Metro has managed to survive! WashU donates millions and millions of dollars every year to Metro and in return receives a good deal on Metro passes. Furthermore, WashU wants to see Metro continue for the sake of the hundreds of people who rely on the buses and trains to get to WashU for work.

    To say that the money could be better spent on providing “thousands of cars overnight” is neither effectual nor sustainable as a long-term solution. Giving a person a car helps that one person in that one time period, but it provides very little security for both that individual and the greater population in the future. What happens when that car breaks down, and the person can’t afford to repair it? Answer: the solution has broken down and that person is again in need. We could continually provide cars, which exert massive amounts of pollution into the environment and congest our roads, or we can allocate that money to the expansion of bus and light-rail systems that serve the entire population for the present and the future, cuts down on carbon dioxide emissions, and cleans up the city by taking more cars off the road.

  • concerned citizen

    My house has never caught fire- why should I be taxed for the fire department?

    I have never been robbed- why should I be taxed for the police?

    No one has ever scammed me- why should I be taxed for the FBI?

    My neighborhood has never had a drug bust- why should I be taxed for the DEA?

    I have never had a serious disease- why should I be taxed for the CDC?

    I don’t fly- why should I be taxed for the TSA?

    I have no children in college- why should I be taxed for Missouri’s state-funded universities?

    I’m healthy- why should i be taxed for Medicare?

    I plan ahead for my own retirement- why should I be taxed for Social Security?

    And you ask why you should be taxed for public transportation because you are one of those people who was born into a middle-class family that could afford to have a car. St. Louis needs to wake up. This city is still segregated based on the still-prominent impact of policies from 50 years ago and the suburbs see nothing wrong with it.

    People here seem to think that since they got a lucky draw when they were born into a suburban middle-class family, they don’t owe anything to anyone. Maybe once this city’s public transport system totally collapses, they’ll realize something is wrong when no one in St. Louis County can find the cheap labor they once had. Maybe you’ll wake up when the fees for your lawn service or the cost of a Big-Mac go up. I don’t know how many people in Clayton are going to settle for minimum wage (…or less…shhhh).

    The point of having a government at all is to provide services that individual citizens would not be able to support due to lack of resources. Everyone uses some of them. No one uses all of them. The point is for everyone to be better off in the end than if there were no government. Social Contract- Google it.

  • Dave Shapiro

    BTW, is John Burns even a student at Wash U?

  • Dave Shapiro

    The tax increase would be the one St. Louis City voters approved in 1997. Other than that, and asserting that Metro would CUT buses when they get MORE money (as opposed to not cutting buses when they get less money?) you say NOTHING about how this hurts the poor more than it helps.

    I won’t even touch the ridiculous assumption that “wealthy” Wash U was taking advantage of the Metro system at the expense of poor people (wtf?)

  • NoVote4A

    Want to destroy any remaining incentives to buy local? Vote 4A.

    Want to subsidize students from wealthy families? Vote4A.

    Want to lower revenues to local municipalities? Vote4A.

    Want educated voters? Demand a public debate… it’s about time Lou locals get a real education, not a SLPS type.

    Metro has greatly hurt the poor and dependent by “not being there” when needed. Bus route cuts became commonplace once Metro double downed on a train to nowhere. In addition, Metro failed to build the pedestrian-cycling path along the Extension as promised. There is no better or cheaper way to travel than by foot or cycling but Metro supports parking lots more than inexpensive alternatives.

    Subsidies damage too many already… just look how they made the public dependent on too many roads and private motorized vehicles.

  • Hitomi Inoue

    One of the biggest reasons that the Metro system is in financial trouble is the lack of state funding for public transit. Metro has been avoiding financial mistakes since totally changing management after the extension lawsuit. Even though that is still fresh on everyone’s minds, Metro representatives are willing to talk to the public and are increasingly open. I attended public meetings that happened during the fall of 2008. They were thoroughly informative, but a lot of things are unclear even to them due to lack of secure funding. A lot of expansion things are probably very far off in the future if they ever happen because of that.

    The sales tax is regressive, and it will hurt the poor more than the rich, but without this additional funding, there will not be a good chance for Metro to apply for federal funding. Without immediate funding, the system will have to cut services to post-Prop M level and probably more. After Prop M failed, I think it was pretty clear how many people rely on public transit to get to their jobs. If you care about the poor, you should really work for increasing state and federal financial support of public transit. There really isn’t a successful transit system (in the world) that doesn’t rely heavily on government funding, and public transit is a crucial part of any healthy city.

    However, transit is not just for poor people. It’s for all people. If you’ve been to Chicago or New York, you know everyone rides the trains and buses. It’s important to increase transit for people without other options, but it’s also important to reduce the stigma surrounding transit, especially in St. Louis. I think famous rich people supporting Metro is a big positive for this purpose. Buses and trains aren’t scary, and it won’t bring scary people to your neighborhoods! Hooray! (It’s hokey. It might not be that effective. But they’re trying.)

    All in all, I’m glad people are talking about it. I think we all should talk about this in person, because the internet brings the callousness out of people.

    Peace

  • Malik Shabaaz

    BTW: Melissa, you worry about public transit, but why build a light rail system when we could buy thousands of cars overnight? It would be far cheaper.

    You seem to care about the poor, but not enough to give a damn when their bus service gets cut again because Metro mismanaged itself into another hole.

    This just proves that it’s easy to spend other peoples’ money. Even in a wantonly irresponsible manner. Kudos.

  • Malik Shabaaz

    Well, it’s nice to see the lack of creative responses here. You all ostensibly support positive “change,” yet you’re all proposing the same old oligarchic solutions that are only self-serving, with a comforting window dressing called “service to the poor.”

    Great way to rationalize forcing the poor to pay for your transportation. And by the way, Louis, requiring Wash U students to pay for their own metro usage (as opposed to St. Louis regional citizens) is not placing a burden on students. If you’re so concerned about the plight of students, why not lobby the administration to knock of 20 or 30K from its tuition? At roughly 50K per year, that’s far worse. And who ever said it was the duty of St. Louis residents to subsidize college student transit with a 2 billion dollar light rail system? Smoke less, think more.

  • Louis L.

    First, at this point, if we vote no to the tax, they will cut transit service again for those who need it, which we saw happen last spring; numerous people were cut off from their jobs, and the employers that depended on these people were short staffed. Under the fallacious assumption that transit is only for the poor and/or middle class, I’m not sure I understand the logic that supporting Prop A, which will restore and maintain critical transit service, is callous to these groups.

    As for the attack of subsidized transit for students, first, why assume that Wash U students can afford another increase in fees on top of the tuition increases for next year? Those types of assumptions are what creates a climate that is belligerent to the socioeconomic diversity that the University lacks. Second, I want to bring up an example of subsidized transit for students in another city.

    In Pittsburgh, a few universities have a similar opportunity to that of Wash U in providing extremely inexpensive, unlimited transit access to its students; two prominent schools of this group include Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. The result is an influx of students into several nearby neighborhoods, bringing increased foot traffic, consumerism, and diversity. Even more, the provision of subsidized transit brings more demand to these lines, which pushes the local transit agency to provide more service, and now, they are upgrading the quality of the service, which benefits everyone who uses it.

    I don’t see how instituting a program that introduces thousands of new riders to the transit system and supporting a tax to maintain service is callous or of a conflicting interest.

  • Malik Shabaaz

    Steve,

    So, it’s OK that a college, which doesn’t pay taxes, gets its own light rail system, to and from it’s medical center, for example? Why don’t people in West County enjoy that privilege? Could it be because they don’t have a Danforth patron willing to work back room deals and grant them privileges? Face it, Wash U is a wealthy special interest that reams benefits without paying any costs. And you’re right, they provide a bulk of the ridership. Metro (Bus and Metrolink combined) Ridership in STL County is about 10k (unique riders), and in the city is it’s about 30k. Wash U supposedly transports 25k. Taking away buses, Wash U represents over half of the Metrolink ridership. So Wash U’s riders equate to nearly half of the ridership overall, yet Wash U gets an 80% discount! Oh, and did I mention, everybody else in the St. Louis region is paying for Wash U to have a train? METROLINK: “Some of us ride it, all of us (except for Wash U) pay for it.”

    So do you see now, Steve, why Wash U is a special interest sucking off the teet of the working class in St. Louis? Metrolink is primarily a subsidy to Washington University.

    What planet are you from Steve where this is OK? So you’re saying that a tax increase is necessary to help Wash U have expanded Metrolink coverage? To the detriment of the poor. Great job, wealthy special interest schill.

  • Isaac

    1) Another reason that transit authorities subsidize student passes is that it helps get students used to the idea of riding transit, a habit they may continue after they leave school.

    2) Prop. A is necessary to maintain both bus and MetroLink service at current levels and to expand both services. If it fails, bus service levels will be cut. This would not be a good outcome for people who depend on bus transportation.

    3) Metro recently completed a long-range transit plan, which shows what they plan to do if they can get the funds. (http://www.nextstopstl.org/1952/east-west-gateway-board-approves-long-range-plan/)
    The plan’s first stage (five years) calls for increasing and improving bus service, adding two bus rapid transit (BRT) routes, and planning for expansion of MetroLink. Actual expansion of MetroLink doesn’t come until further out, and it’s accompanied by additional BRT routes. This plan may be more in line with your stated priorities than you think.

    4) It’s quite odd that you’d say that “Tax payers are kept in the dark about Metro’s ultimate plans.” and that “Voters get no say” in what Metro does. In advance of putting together its long-range plan, Metro did a tremendous amount of outreach via public workshops, to see what the public’s priorities are. It continues to do public presentations of its plans all over the place and on the web. You can read all about it at: http://movingtransitforward.org

  • Melissa

    I don’t know the exact figures, but I think your facts are way off. A) /the university actually pays MILLIONS of dollars directly to Metro every year for those Metro passes. It is undoubtedly included in the cost of our admission. The cost that is passed on to students and faculty (in truth, Metro passes cost nothing to students unless they use them. I’m not sure about faculty) does not reflect the amount Metro is compensated for that transit.

    As a student who has served on the administration’s transportation committee in the past, I know that the continued existence and viability of Metro is incredibly important to the university for many reasons, not the least of which is that they know that many university employees and students rely on it as their only source of transportation because they cannot afford their own car. I am one of those students. And I am proud that this university has taken such a strong stand in favor of public transit.

    Public transit is a social justice issue. Your claim that this regressive tax will hurt the poor, but in fact what would really hurt the poor would be not being able to get to their jobs. This is what the St. Louis region learned after the failure of Prop M when thousands of workers could no longer get to their jobs in St. Louis county. I think most people would gladly pay the tax (I think last year they did the math and found that it would only cost the average St. Louis family an additional $27/ year) instead of facing the possibility of losing their income or having to buy a car.

    A “no” vote on Prop A, and losing that much more of our public transit system, shows MUCH more callousness towards the poor. If you want to debate the chancellor on Prop A, you better get your facts straight.

  • Emily Beck

    This article is just plain inaccurate with regard to how Metro is managed. Ever heard of East-West Gateway?

    If you think new metro stations will be funded by this tax any time soon, you are woefully ignorant to the dire state of mobility services for the transit poor who depend on it to get to work and to health care providers. Your criticism is ignorant and misplaced, and you should do some research before making such harsh judgments that are not evidence-based.

    Moreover, transit systems are one measure of a community’s ability to attract new people and businesses to the region. And that means jobs.

    I’d gladly debate you with regard to Chancellor Wrighton’s support for Prop A. So, why is your name not coming up in the wustl directory so I might contact you directly?

  • Steve L.

    Most urban colleges and universities around the country receive discounted bus/train passes, not just Wash. U. It’s because they tend to provide a significant share of ridership. I don’t see how it’s any different than any other discount model. It’s just an added incentive for students to use transit, that’s all.