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Metro gives West County mayors a $4 million price tag for bus service

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 20, 2009 - West County communities would have to dig deep into their pockets -- $4 million a year's worth -- to pay for Metro bus routes to get workers from St. Louis and mid-county communities where they live to jobs in West County, according to Metro's estimate.

The mayors of three West County communities and business leaders there asked Metro last week for a price to provide bus service to their businesses from the westernmost points that will still have service after Metro cuts go into effect March 30.

Metro plans to cut bus service by 43 percent and MetroLink service by 21 percent next month. In the process, it is eliminating service west and south of Interstate 270. The agency said the cuts are necessary because of a $50 million budget shortfall. Last fall voters defeated a proposed 1-cent increase in St. Louis County sales tax to increase revenues for the transit system.

Jessica Mefford-Miller, acting chief of planning and system development, said the $4 million would not be used to restore the popular Bus 91 that runs from the Delmar MetroLink station to Chesterfield. Instead, it would fund two new routes, one from the North Hanley MetroLink station to Chesterfield and the other from Clayton to Chesterfield.

That price would cover buses on the routes "all day, seven days a week," she said. Metro is now developing figures for a "barebones" version of those routes to get employees to and from work, she said.

Employees of retail businesses and nursing homes in Chesterfield and other points in West County depend on Metro to get to work, and business owners are concerned that they will have difficulty replacing them.

"We're working with the businesses to figure out what times absolutely they need people there and picked up," said Libbey Malberg, Chesterfield assistant city administrator for community service and economic development. "Once they do that, they can better know what costs are going to look like so we can figure out how to fund it," she said.

The $4 million is out of reach, she said.

Malberg said she doesn't know how low the figure would have to be to appeal to the businesses and municipalities.

"I just know that's not doable," she said. "I don't know where to begin because it's the businesses that will have to help pay for it. We're just trying to figure all that out yet."

Mike Jones, senior adviser to St. Louis County executive Charlie Dooley, scoffed at the West County officials' efforts to come up with funding to extend Metro service beyond I-270.

"It's kind of ironic that all those people who are interested in negotiating a side deal (with Metro) didn't contribute to the campaign and didn't advocate for the passage of the tax," he said. "That's where you weren't in November and that's where you are now. They can put that picture in the dictionary as a case of being pennywise and pound foolish."

Katie Sutin, a freelance writer in St. Louis, writes often about transportation.