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Bi-State Development Will Not Revive Loop Trolley, Transit Agency CEO Says

Two trolleys sit in a garage as workers try to fix an electric problem during a week of test drives. June 8 , 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Two trolleys sit in a garage as workers try to fix an electric problem during a week of test drives in June 2018.

The quest to bring the Loop Trolley back to life under St. Louis’ regional transit agency has failed. 

Bi-State Development committee members on Friday declined to send to its full Board of Commissioners a proposal to temporarily take over running the trolley. Members of the committees challenged the plausibility and business sense of the proposal, a four-year management contract aimed at making the trolley self-sustaining by 2024. 

Taulby Roach, Bi-State president and CEO, said after the meeting that he does not plan to revise the proposal.

“At this point, that’s it,” he said. “Now, we’re going to move on. As far as Bi-State is concerned, I won’t be moving anymore forward.” 

He said he doesn’t expect the commissioners to ask him to revisit the project.

Loop Trolley Company President John Meyer said he’s disappointed that Bi-State’s leadership chose not to support taking over the trolley. 

“It’s like a nuclear waste dump,” he said. “Nobody wants to get near it. But somebody’s got to, to make it successful. That’s what political leadership is supposed to be about. I’m sad that we’re lacking that in our region today.”

Roach has warned that St. Louis could lose out on future federal transportation grants if the trolley becomes permanently shuttered. The Federal Transit Administration provided $34 million in grants toward the $52 million project. The trolley operated for a little over a year before shutting down. 

In the committee meeting Friday, Mokhtee Ahmad, Federal Transit Administration region administrator, told the committees that a failed transit project could indeed cause problems for St. Louis.

Ahmad said that the federal agency would likely sue for about $25 million if no one got the trolley running again. The Loop Trolley Transportation Development District and East-West Gateway Metropolitan Planning Organization would owe the money, according to the federal agency. Ahmad also implied that any litigation to recover federal money could hurt St. Louis’ applications for future federal grants.

“What do you think you would do [as the Federal Transit Administration], given the fact that you have this litigation going on, and an application comes in from St. Louis for a discretionary grant?” he asked. “I’ll leave it up to you to answer.”

The proposal

Roach had proposed that Bi-State Development take over managing the trolley for four years. It would use leftover money from past federal grants to cover the trolley’s expected $1.2 million deficit over that period. Bi-State would also budget $800,000 for maintenance of the trolley cars, which have become the butts of many jokes for breaking down and striking several parked cars along the 2.2-mile route between the Missouri History Museum and the Delmar Loop. 

The proposal would use money that Bi-State Development already has available, and would not require additional taxpayer funding. Roach recommended that Bi-State’s committees vote to approve the proposal and recommend a “yes” vote from the full Board of Commissioners.

But the transit agency’s committee members had numerous concerns. 

Some noted that the $800,000 in capital set aside for the trolley could go toward other improvements to the Metro system. Others said they worried that bailing out the trolley could set a bad precedent for future projects, and asked whether private individuals who had pledged support to the trolley were not being solicited for funding. And still others pointed to public opposition, including two transit riders who gave public comments at the start of the meeting.

Commissioner Herbert Simmons said that he wanted to see written commitments from St. Louis County, University City and St. Louis officials before approving any proposals. Roach said he was working to get support from the St. Louis County Executive’s office, but that St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson already supported the project.

The trolley has garnered consistent opposition from the St. Louis County Council, which pays for a large portion of Bi-State’s annual funding.

Roach said he isn’t aware of any other plans to resuscitate the trolley. Bi-State committee members suggested that someone could look for private support, or that the Transportation Development District could approach individuals who promised to help fund the trolley but backed out. 

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Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.