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Consultant Says MetroLink Making Security Strides — But Many Steps Remain To Enhance Safety

Officials are considering the addition of turnstiles to the MetroLink system.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Council members heard from a consultant on Sept. 10, 2019, that examined MetroLink security.

A consultant looking at security on the MetroLink light rail system says the local transit agency has made a number of steps to enhance rider safety.

But the company, WSP USA, said there’s still a lot of work to be done by Metro Transit — including following through on a “code of conduct” on the trains.

Amid public and political outcry over safety on MetroLink, WSP looked at a number of different areas to improve security, according to a report presented to the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday.

Among other things, WSP found that some of the lighting on MetroLink platforms required improvement — and there needed to be better communication among the agencies patrolling the train system.

Lurae Stuart said since her company started examining the service, there’s been a number of improvements made. That includes bringing in new people to oversee security operations and having a more consistent way of making sure people pay fares.

“I think there is absolutely progress,” Stuart said. “And I think we’re on the right track. We have work to do. It’s not fixed. Don’t say it’s fixed.”

Stuart noted that the number of crimes committed on MetroLink isn’t that much higher than on light rail services of comparable sizes. But she said passenger behavior often contributes to the perception that the service is unsafe.

“From the day we got here, we actually felt your system was safer than was being portrayed,” Stuart said. “It’s very consistent with other systems its size. What is not consistent with systems its size is the code-of-conduct violations — how people act on the train which makes people feel unsafe. People are loud. People are eating and drinking and acting in ways that don’t feel comfortable.”

Even though she cited a lot of improvement, there’s been pushback to some of WSP’s recommendations. For instance, Stuart said Metro isn’t embracing a recommendation to disarm contracted security workers.

And some County Council members said the city of St. Louis isn’t providing enough police officers to patrol MetroLink.

“The simple math is that the county has more than seven times the number of police dedicated to MetroLink security to secure what amounts to 40% of additional track compared to the city,” said Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-south St. Louis County. “This too is no longer acceptable.”

Taulby Roach, CEO of the Bi-State Development Agency, which oversees Metro, said he appreciated WSP’s “exhaustive critique.”

“Critiques and criticisms are important for how we get better,” Roach said. “And it’s important that we look at that honestly and openly. That’s what I’m here to do today.”

While emphasizing that he didn’t feel like the problem of MetroLink security was solved, Roach told council members that his agency executed a new contract with Securitas.

He also pointed to “strengthening relationships” with law enforcement agencies in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County, Illinois.

Council finalizes medical marijuana buffer zone

Earlier Tuesday, the St. Louis County Council gave final approval to a 1,000-foot barrier between medical marijuana facilities and schools, day cares and houses of worship.

Council members voted 5-2 to establish the 1,000-foot buffer zone in unincorporated parts of St. Louis County. Proponents say the distance is in line with regulations establishing the state's medical marijuana program. Some, including Councilman Tim Fitch, R-St. Louis County, said it’s important to establish the parameters, because medical marijuana is often a precursor to legalized recreational marijuana.

But the two opponents — Councilwomen Kelli Dunaway and Lisa Clancy — have said that the buffer zone is too onerous.

“I do support a buffer zone. However, I think 1,000 feet is too restrictive,” said Clancy, D-Maplewood. “Both from an economic development perspective, but more importantly from the perspective of people who need to use this product as a medicine. And I am concerned that our conversation missed the mark on that.” 

The bill now goes to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.