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Funding Request For Loop Trolley Gets Frosty Reception From St. Louis County Council Chief

The Loop Trolley during a test drive on June 13, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
The Loop Trolley during a test drive on June 13, 2018.

The presiding officer of the St. Louis County Council won’t introduce legislation to provide more money for the Loop Trolley — a move that could make it difficult to get the measure past the finish line.

It’s a setback for a service that’s trying to piece together enough money to remain solvent through the rest of the year.

The Loop Trolley Co. requested $200,000 from St. Louis County to keep the trolley running for the rest of the year.It also requested $500,000 to operate next year. If the company does not receive financial assistance, the trolley could stop operating as soon as Nov. 15.

St. Louis County Council Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas said on Monday that he plans to acknowledge the request for funding at Tuesday’s council meeting. But he doesn’t plan to introduce legislation on the matter. 

“It’s obviously an abysmal failure,” said Trakas, R-south St. Louis County. “And I see this as just a ploy to initiate what’s going to be pointed to as a perpetual subsidy of that trolley.”

Unless another council member offers up a bill and has three other supporters, the bid to steer money from the St. Louis County Transit Fund to the trolley is effectively dead on arrival. The move is unlikely to gain any support from the three Republicans on the council. And Democratic Councilwomen Rita Days and Kelli Dunaway told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch they have misgivings about the request.

“Before we get to a want like this trolley, let’s get to the needs we have first,” Trakas added.

Joe Edwards is the chairman and treasurer of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District. He said he’s hopeful the county council will look over the request “because it’s so important for the region, not just Forest Park or the Delmar Loop.” 

Loop Trolley dedication ceremony held Nov. 15, 2018 at Delmar Hall. Joe Edwards.
Credit File photo I Melody Walker |St. Louis Public Radio
Joe Edwards is the chairman of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District.

“If the council feels like it doesn’t have enough information yet, I’m understanding of the fact that they may not want to bring it up on Tuesday night at the council meeting,” Edwards said. “And we’ll answer any questions they might have about the reasons for it, the necessity for it, and how it all came about.”

Edwards said $500,000 for next year will “finally enable us to have the three cars up and running seven days a week.” 

“The fact that the trolley cars were delivered late has really impacted the dependability and the number of days that service could operate, basically,” Edwards said. “That’s going to change with this funding if they do it.”

St. Louis County already allocated $3 million for the project in 2015. That’s in addition to a $25 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. After nearly six years of delays, the trolley started operating in November 2018 between the Missouri History Museum and the University City Library on Delmar Boulevard. 

Trakas said that proponents of the trolley should go to the private sector “and look there for their subsidy.”

“We have county employees that we cannot give raises to,” Trakas said. “We have county employees that we cannot even pay a competitive wage compared to some municipalities because we don’t have the funds. We have roads that need repair, because we don’t have the funds. So the idea that we’re going to spend a nickel more on this trolley is an anathema to me.”

Questioned about whether asking local companies for the money is a better alternative to asking local government, Edwards said that “a lot of private-sector people have stepped up big time.” He pointed to Clayco CEO Bob Clark as one example of someone who contributed toward the trolley.

“You don’t expect the private sector to fund highways or bridges,” Edwards said. “And a lot of private-sector people, including myself, have stepped up in a major way on this project because this private-public partnership is so important for the future of the city and the connectivity of good transit. So it has happened. But it’s really important that out of the transit-only funds in the county they consider this request.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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