WU continues pushing for Metro funding

| Copy Chief
While Metro service has already been cut by $35 million as a result of the failure of Proposition M last November, many students hope that full transit service will eventually be restored. (Matt Lee | Student Life)

While Metro service has already been cut by $35 million as a result of the failure of Proposition M last November, many students hope that full transit service will eventually be restored. (Matt Lee | Student Life)

Metro’s service cutbacks may have gone into effect, but that’s not stopping a number of Washington University students and administrators from continuing to advocate funding for the transit agency.

Members of the University community are preparing many efforts—events, grassroots initiatives and advocacy at the local and state levels—to help Metro get the funding it seeks to restore full transit service to St. Louis.

Metro made $35 million in cuts to its light-rail, bus and shuttle services on March 30 to avert a $50 million budget deficit after St. Louis County voters rejected Proposition M, a half-cent increase to the county’s transit sales tax, last November.

Administrative fellow and 2008 University graduate Liz Kramer and junior Melissa Legge are two of the people planning an event on May 8 called the MetroBus Funeral, a parade and memorial service in downtown St. Louis for the more than two dozen bus routes Metro eliminated.

The new Student Union (SU) administration, meanwhile, says it is making Metro a high priority, because the cuts will make it harder for University students to travel.

Metro has had little luck in getting funds. Critics have said that past Metro management mishandled the agency’s finances, which has made voters and legislators skeptical of providing funding.

Even though Proposition M failed and Metro could not stave off the cuts, students said they are not giving up hope of Metro eventually restoring full service because they said the agency has some avenues left for getting a long-term, stable funding source.

In particular, the University has kept its focus on two bills in the Missouri General Assembly, neither of which is guaranteed to pass. One, HB 20, is a one-time, $20 million emergency infusion from the state’s federal stimulus funds that would restore a large portion of slashed services.

The other, SB 477, would make it possible for St. Louis County and City to form a political subdivision that could vote on a single transit sales-tax increase instead of passing separate taxes, the latter of which proved problematic when Proposition M failed.

Transit advocates fear Metro may need to make more cuts in the future if no stable funding source emerges and struggles with revenue continue.

“If Metro can’t find funding, Metro cuts their schedule, and they cut the lines that they have, which in turn leads to fewer people being able to ride Metro,” said senior Adam Cohen, a former SU senator, who fronted SU Senate’s resolution endorsing Proposition M. “That has an effect on the economy of St. Louis, which in turn affects people’s willingness to fund MetroLink and MetroBus and Call-a-Ride.”

MetroBus Funeral coordinators said the event is geared toward raising awareness about Metro’s plight and turning transit users into transit advocates.

“We want to make sure that a week after March 30, a month after March 30, people still know that people care about transit,” Legge said two days before the cuts took effect. “It’s about maintaining the focus on the fact that this is not a permanent situation, and we need to look for solutions from our government and from the state government.”

Funeral goers will meet at the St. Louis Convention Center in the evening and parade downtown with a coffin. Metro users will be invited to give eulogies to their favorite eliminated bus route.

MetroBus Funeral is sponsored by Miz MetroLink, a personality Kramer created in 2007 as the winner of an imaginary Metro pageant to promote transit by making it fun.

“The idea is to do something fun to get people to be active participants in your transit system,” Kramer said. “It doesn’t reach the biggest group of people, but every person you convince to not only be a transit rider but also to be a transit advocate is one more person voting ‘yes’ on proposals like Prop M, and that’s one more person who might call their state representative and say, ‘Please fund us.’”

Junior Jeff Nelson, SU president, hopes to mobilize students and work with the University administration on the issue, but because summer is approaching, he said SU will start mobilization efforts next year. These efforts will focus in part on encouraging students to contact legislators.

Nelson plans to work with student leaders at local colleges during the summer to coordinate advocacy efforts among schools.

Rose Windmiller, the University’s director of state relations and local government affairs, had previously expressed cautious optimism about SB 477 after it initially moved quickly through the Missouri Senate. She said it has since stalled there and will likely not pass before the legislative session ends May 15.

The emergency appropriation, on the other hand, is faring better, but there is no guarantee it will pass either. Sources say it has the support of the governor’s office and some top state lawmakers, including House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood. That option does not restore full service—the $20 million is less than the $35 million Metro originally asked for—and is not a long-term funding source because it is a one-time infusion.

Metro has said it might go to St. Louis County voters with another sales-tax measure next April if the agency cannot find long-term funding by then.

Nelson stopped short of endorsing the idea of another sales-tax measure right away. He did say, however, that students should still pursue the Metro issue if the legislature does not act.

“If we truly believe that we are right, then one defeat should not stop us,” Nelson said. “The battle does not end if the legislature doesn’t want to act now.”

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