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Metro’s Chair Seeks to Correct the Media

June 12, 2006 Media, Politics/Policy, Public Transit 17 Comments

Local rail advocacy group, Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT), sent the following out today:

In a letter to KMOX talkshow host Charlie Brennan, Hugh Scott, Chairman of the Metro Board of Commissioners, responded to inaccurate and unfairly critical comments made by Brennan on KMOX, and on KETC’s Donnybrook program. As a supporter of Metro and public transit in the St. Louis Region, we’re providing you with a copy of Chairman Scott’s letter to Mr. Brennan. These facts will help you respond to questions you might receive about Metro and its current MetroLink extension project.

Here is the letter to Charlie Brennan:

To: Charles Brennan

From: Hugh Scott

Date: 6/9/06

While I realize that your on-air comments on KMOX and Donnybrook need to be arranged in convenient sound bites, I have become increasingly bothered by your lack of knowledge on the subject situation.

When you say things like; “We all know Metro is a mess” and then back it up with comments about cuts in bus service and $28 million “in arrears” it shows that you have not really taken the time to look at what is actually happening at Metro. Likewise, your comment on the June 1 Donnybrook program that it is “dumb” that the new stations on the Cross County Extension do not have parking is simply wrong.

For your information, the actual facts are these:

1. The Cross County Extension is a year late and $150 million over budget due largely to poor and incomplete design work on the part of the engineering consortium hired to build the project. While it may be surprising that such large multi-national firms could do such shoddy work, the evidence speaks for itself. Obviously, we hope to recover a large amount of this overcost on behalf of the St. Louis taxpayers, in a lawsuit currently pending in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

2. Bus service has not been cut in the last four years. With the opening of the MetroLink extension, we will be eliminating bus routes where they duplicate the MetroLink expansion. Otherwise, bus service has in fact increased. I might add that ridership has increased significantly each of the past two years in spite of major fare increases.

3. The $28 million “in arrears” comment seems to refer to the fact that Metro has announced that without a tax increase or more subsidy from the State of Missouri or from the federal government, we will have a deficit in fiscal year 2008. Currently, Metro is not running a deficit and in fact finished FY ’06 with a balanced budget. Last month Metro’s board approved a balanced budget for FY 07, as well.

4. Metro has built large park and ride lots and/or garages at two of the nine new stations on the Cross County Extension.(Lansdowne and Richmond Heights) Further, there will be other (non Metro provided) adjacent parking opportunities offered at the Sunnen, Galleria, and Clayton stations. Remember also that many of the new stations are also transfer points where MetroLink connects with MetroBus service. Likewise, the parking lot at the existing Forest Park-DeBaliviere station will be re-opened in time for the opening of the Cross County Extension. You can be sure that as with the present alignment, Metro will be offering a great deal of free parking.

5. The stations without parking are in very densely populated areas where it can be expected that riders will arrive and depart on foot or by bus. Specifically, the Forsyth station exists to serve downtown Clayton workers and nearby residents, the Big Bend station serves the western portion of Washington University, and the Skinker station serves the eastern part of Washington University. While it would have been nice to provide parking at these locations, “park and ride” makes the most sense when it is adjacent to major highways and thoroughfares. This has been provided for in the new extension.

6. Metro is not a mess – quite the opposite. Larry Salci and the current management team arrived mostly after the Cross County project had begun. They realized quickly that the engineering consortium was not doing a good job and they fired them. Since Metro has taken over engineering and supervision, the project has gone remarkably well. Two years ago, Metro promised that the Cross County Extension would be operating in October of 2006. Today, it appears that this deadline will be met easily. While I am admittedly biased, I believe the present management represents the solution to the problem and not the problem.

I realize that the situation at Metro is baffling and frustrating to many in the community. As you can see from the above, it is difficult to summarize succinctly all of the issues here. To date, the media has shown little interest in understanding the actual issues and in reporting on them. Instead, print and broadcast media seem to “feed off” each other’s misinformation to create stories. While this obviously arouses the ire of already frustrated taxpayers, it does little to help the situation.

Pleased be assured that the Metro staff and I will be happy to meet with you and discuss this situation in detail at any time.

Hugh Scott, III


Metro Board of Commissioners

Not to be argumentative (well, OK, just a bit), here are some thoughts:

Metro blames the “engineering consortium” that was hired for cost overruns and delays. Who hired them? Metro did. As Scott points out in #6 above, “Larry Salci and the current management team arrive mostly after the Cross County project had begun.” That is a convenient excuse but it sounds a bit like the school board, “Oh yeah, that was the guys before us.”

I still have to wonder about the size of Metro. Some have suggested they are now a lean machine while others tell me there is fat to be cut. As a citizen it is really hard to get a grasp around such entities. I was thinking we should send the Alverez & Marsal team over to Metro but they’d probably cut all the bus & MetroLink drivers but retain everyone else, collect millions and then leave town before we realized what happened.

Metro needs money just to stay afloat. Not money for expansion, just operations. It will come in the form of a tax increase. I’m not sure how we can get them to prove they are fiscally responsible but I’d like your suggestions. If they want more money I’d like to know how the current funding level is being spent. I know part of the need for additional funding will the be additional operation of 8 more miles as well as some deferred debt. They need to start a really good sucking up PR campaign. I’m not sure bitching about the media is the best way to start…

– Steve


Currently there are "17 comments" on this Article:

  1. oakland says:

    I was surprised to find operations under Metro’s umbrella that do not directly relate to public transit. They run riverboats at the Arch as well as St. Louis Downtown Airport across the river. Their annual report shows they’ve operated the airport at a loss for the last ten fiscal years, and the riverboats appear to be losing, too.

    Running losing riverboat and airport enterprises don’t seem to me to be the mark of a lean public transit organization.

  2. jdstl1977 says:

    I don’t have any problem with them blaming the cost overruns on the engineering firm. They were dealing with large firms with whom they had no reason to believe . It wasn’t until engineers on the construction sites looked at the plans that they realized this and of course this is well after they had spent a lot of money paying these people for shoddy work. Add to that the fact that you have to go back to the drawing board and correct all their changes with a new team. That all costs money.

    Metro is audited by at least, what, 6 different agencies? None of them have found gross irregularities.

    Yes, they absolutely need to SELL SELL SELL transit to the region. They need to make it look contemporary, practical, hell, even sexy. Anything to lose the perception of transit as a fleet of “loser cruisers.”

  3. oakland says:

    jdstl1977 wrote
    I don’t have any problem with them blaming the cost overruns on the engineering firm. They were dealing with large firms with whom they had no reason to believe . It wasn’t until engineers on the construction sites looked at the plans that they realized this and of course this is well after they had spent a lot of money paying these people for shoddy work. Add to that the fact that you have to go back to the drawing board and correct all their changes with a new team. That all costs money.

    Someone at Metro must have had to sign off on the plans before anyone ever picked up a shovel. If the plans were not subject to any review, that’s a problem in and of itself. Why was the problem only discovered after construction began?

    I concede there’s a line between shoddy engineering and outright fraud, and Metro accuses the engineering firm of the latter. But there surely should have been better measures to identify both kinds of defiencies other than to discover them midway through the construction process.

  4. George says:

    I have been watching Metro for 20 years and finally the buses are running on time are relatively new and are clean. Ridership is up on both the train and the bus, customer complaints are down. We play less tax for public transit than such places as Denver, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco. Steve your complaints are not like, rather more like a St. Louis native.

  5. travis reems says:

    I was recently in the state of Washington, and had my first experience with a ferry system. The state maintains many ferry routes to not only Canada, but also the numerous islands in the Puget Sound. These ferries charge relatively little per passenger–typically under $5 or $10 depending on the route–and they run on-time between destinations every 30 to 45 minutes, depending on length of route. I found the system well run, the employees pleasant, the ferries clean and maintained. I am sure the ferry system must be heavily susidized by the state, as the fares cannot cover the cost of maintaining these behemoth boats. I am sad to say that I doubt visitors to St. Louis would have such glowing remarks about our metro-wide intermodal public transit system.

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    From what I know from several perspectives, it looks like Mr. Scott is accurately and succinctly stating the issues facing Metro. Public transit is easy to villify. It provides a needed service that many people rarely (choose to) use, yet we all pay for it. It’s staffed by hard-working employees, the bulk of which are actually truly out on the streets delivering a tangible service. Transit construction projects make even more convenient targets, since they’re typically large, visible and paid for with public dollars. Come in over budget and/or behind schedule and the naysayers come out of the woodwork.

    As I understand it (and can discern from discussions from employees both here and in Denver), one underlying problem here is that there truly was no single point of responsibility. For political reasons, the project was broken into multiple sections / parts / pieces, to give smaller contractors a greater chance of getting “a piece of the pie” / “in on the action”. For a design-build project to work well, a certain number of “unknowns” need to be(come) known before contracts are signed – that doesn’t seem to be the case here. It seems like everyone assumed that the Collaborative would be psychic, and no mere group of mortals can be. Combine that with inadequate research into hidden utility and geotechnical conditions, plus allowing non-transit politicians too great a say on enhancements within their jurisdictions, it’s no wonder that costs spiraled. Introduce multiple points of responsibility (for political expediency) and you create a situation ripe for finger pointing. The engineers will say their original information was bad, complicating their designs. The politicians will say they were just looking out for their put-upon constituents. The contractors will blame the drawings and each other. The current board will blame the previous one.

    Compare that with Denver’s current “TREX” project (which is actually on time and on budget). The transit district paid to develop the project to a 35% complete stage, answering many questions about subsurface conflicts, before a) taking the project to the voters and b) soliciting contracts. That design was frozen at a point in time, and any “enhancements” requested after that point were either paid for directly by the entity requesting it or put on hold, along with all the other requests, pending determination of the availability of extra funds, if any, at the end of the project. A single contractor was hired to both design and build the project, so finger pointing was significantly reduced. Incentives were included to promote creative thinking on cost savings. And participation by smaller and minority subcontractors was encouraged through several programs. The biggest difference remains, however having just one point of responsibility for the actual design and construction – it’s a lot harder to blame yourself if and when screw-ups inevitably occur!

    Bottom line, while Larry Salci may not be the most popular man “in these parts”, the results speak for themselves. The buses are clean, the staff is responsive, the Cross-County project is (finally) getting completed (and looking good) and ridership is increasing. You’re right, the next big challenge will be changing perceptions. Fortunately, much like the new Busch, many people’s memories are short once the “new kid” is up and operating. Honestly, my biggest fear is that the new line will be too successful – filled park-n-rides, packed trains and few options for short-term fixes. Unfortunately, about the only way we’ll know if the “taxpayers got screwed” is when the case goes to trial. It’s bound to be nearly as messy as the actual construction was, and we can only hope that it doesn’t take as long to complete. PR can only go so far (saying that we’re actually a good, competent organization). Actual results speak volumes, and my take is that Metrio is likely headed in the right direction now. Still, only time will tell . . .

  7. John says:

    There are some interesting points about the Cross County Design errors and the relative responsibility Metro has for the the cost overruns. I guess that a jury decision will determine who is right.

    There are a few points that should be made however. In the past 10 years, Metro has nearly tripled its Call a Ride program (as essentially required by the ADA regulations.) Metrolink track mileage will increase to approximately 45 miles. Metrobus revenue miles will increase on weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays when the Shrewsbury Extension opens. Metro will bring in 25,000 students and employees of Wash U to a University funded Universal pass program.

    Looking backward, the net cost per Metrobus passenger has declined the past three years in a row and will drop again this fiscal year. Few transit systems have accomplish that.

    Fares paid by the users have increased two years in a row and will increase again with the start up of the Shrewsbury extension. While this may be perceived as the wrong thing to do, it may be effective in helping convince the 95 % of the taxpayers who are not regular transit passengers that the transit riders are paying an increasing share of cost increases. This increase in user responsibility is happening while ridership has continued to increase..8% on bus this year so far and 7 % on Metrolink. The fare and service cuts in 2001 resulted in double digit declines in ridership.

    Metro has reduced many many areas of expense. Maintenance, for one area, has obtained cost savings that have been literally amazing. This has not been accomplished by reducing maintenance efforts, but in fact by focusing very intensively on preventative maintenance to avoid the major costs of breakdowns. The actual performance measures for maintenance including mechanical complains, breakdowns per 100,000 miles, and cost per mile of maintenance, have all declined to industry leading levels.

    The service implementation scheduled with the Shrewsbury expansion will reduce total miles but actually increase revenue miles. Revenue miles are the miles passengers can board the vehicle. Peak vehicles will drop but service coverage and headways will increase in many areas.

    Rail On time performance, once the single tracking ended, now averages 98 % on time performance measured at every station on every trip. Metrobus on time performance in December 2001 was less than 75 % in Missouri and was declining. Today, Metrobus ontime performance is just over 90 % (which high for urban transit) On time performance is measured at every timepoint measuring both early and late trips.

    This last year, once Metro was unable to balance its budget with a fare increase and other overhead expenses, froze all wages for the current fiscal year and will most likely freeze wages for all employees for the next fiscal year. Health insurance premiums have been increased, and other elements of compensation eliminated.

    What isn’t so good is funding. The elected officials that were in power at the beginning of the Cross County project said..go ahead and build it using 100 % local funds and we will take care of operation expenses later. Since then Missouri cut its limited operating assistance to Metro from $3.5 million to $1 million (and taxes that $1 million back in fuel excise taxes). Metro lost all its federal operatiing assistance (originally around $25 million) between 1982 and 1998. Only the State of Illinois replaced these loss of federal funds at Metro. Missouri did nothing.

    From 1986 until 1998 Metro’s funding from the County’s half cent sales tax was frozen at around $34 million. Its tough to absorb that loss of inflationary growth for that long. The City’s 1/2 sales tax has had nearly no growth. Recently tiff diversions are actually reducing funding to Metro.

    Cross County bond payments will increase by $9 million in the next fiscal year when Metro must start repaying bond principal. The cost of the new extension is temporarily propped up with CMAC funding for three years, and then another $8 million in annual funding goes away.

    Funds for capital funding (bus replacements, radios which will be inoperable by 2013, and funding for almost anything other than Metrolink and safety critical items has been shifted to funding the operating budget.

    Metro’s challenge is to convince Missourians that public transit is worth investing significant new funds in. If we decided the answer is no…there will be cuts in the neighborhood of $36 million by the point the CMAC funding goes away. Cross County will operate only as a shuttle. Midday headways will be every 15 minutes even in downtown. Evening service will be no more than every 30 minutes or even every 45 minutes. No special trains for special events. Sorry Cardinals and Rams.

    Bus service will be cut by nearly 100 peak buses (1/3 of total fleet) Call a Ride will be cut by 25 % or more.

    We can rant, rave, and demand retribution. So ok fire everyone not driving a bus or turning a wrench. But you are still left with a funding system that will still require cuts of over $50 million from the Missouri side of the operation to match the revenue growth available from the funding provided by the Missouri funding partners.

    PS..the primary losses of the airport and the riverboat are from depreciation which have generally funded by grants. If Metro was unable to obtain FAA grants and others to maintain the riverboat operation, you would have a point on the non transit operations. Its worth evaluating but its more of a perception problem rather than a financial drain on the transit system.

  8. bprop says:

    Now, if only we as a region scrutinized MODOT with the same level of dollar-by-dollar precision as we do Metro, the organizations would be funded far more proportionately.

  9. john says:

    Pathetic and sad that such a new and potentially valuable asset to the community is already a source of divisiveness. Poor leadership leads to poor results.

    Yes METRO is a mess. Misleading the public with town meetings and then building something else is just the beginning of a long list of problems. Poorly located stations, inefficient route design, lack of quality oversight, etc. guarantees a bad product.

    Spin does not erase facts.

  10. Jim Zavist says:

    Which gets back to educating the public and catering to the non-riders to convince them that increasing taxes actually “buys” them something. The smartest thing Metro can do is increase (and market) special services to Rams and Cards and Blues games (and even charge more for them), not cut them. If I live “out in the County” and only use Metro to go to sporting and special events (not to commute downtown every day), why would I vote for a tax increase? Regular riders are a captive audience – it’s in their best interest to support any tax increase, but they remain a minority of the overall voting population. You gotta give the “non-users” something positive to sink their teeth into. Fares paid cover less than half the cost of any ride, so increasing ridership is actually a mixed blessing. Metro is efficient and getting better, but a limited tax effectively caps any growth at today’s levels. You can shuffle the seats between various modes, but there’s a finite limit to the amount of service that can be put out on the streets given existing revenues (and there’s a limit to fare increases). In the end, it’s all about convincing the voters that they should increase their funding of public transit.

  11. Adam Charnack says:

    Educate yourself on Metro’s mission statement and its organizational purpose in order to understand why Metro operates the seemingly ancillary ventures that it does. These businesses generate important income for the organization. Also understand that the State of Missouri does not fund Metro or other urban public transit anywhere close to the degree that other states do. If you’re upset at Metro asking for a tax increase, you should be upset with the State.

    Considering this situation, it is imperative that St. Louis support Metro’s increase of a 1/2 cent sales tax. Without an increase, the system would exist in a “bare bones” state — essentially no regular service outside of Lindbergh; trains, which will run on 5 minute intervals, will be cut to 10-15 minutes during the day; the ability to take a train from downtown directly to Clayton, which the Cross County alignment will offer at its inception, will no longer be possible as the Cross County train will service as a ‘shuttle’ line only traveling between Shrewsbury to Forest Park and back; many nighttime and weekend routes will be eliminated; etc.

    Summarily, without an increase in Metro’s funding, the system WOULD be a disaster at this critical time when, with the opening of Cross County and 5 minute train intervals and well connected bus routes, the system is remarkably well connected and increasingly viable to non-transit-dependent users.

    Metro’s Mission Statement:

    Metro’s Annual Report:

    Metro made (net income):
    $1.35 million operating the Arch tram
    $1 million operating the Arch parking facility
    $121,000 operating the Gateway Arch Riverboats
    $315,000 operating the Downtown St. Louis Airport

    (after writing this I noticed that this appears to mimic “John”‘s post from four posts ago. Nonetheless, this should reinforce the point and add additional value to the argument of increasing funding for Metro).

  12. Chris says:

    A lot people seem to blame Metro for MetroLink route choices, but isn’t the route decided by East West Gateway. Just wanting to clarify that.

    Metro is better than it was but I know there is still room for improvement. The culture of the organization is still quite intransigent. “We’ve always done it this way” and “cover your ass” seem to be frequent refrains. This seems to crush the spirit of a lot of employees such that they either conform to the culture or leave the organization. Interdepartment coorperation seems forced rather than accepted.

    Just my oberservations.

  13. bprop says:


    “Fares paid cover less than half the cost of any ride, so increasing ridership is actually a mixed blessing.”

    The marginal cost of adding another rider is zero. You don’t think that Metro incurs an additional cost each time a passenger boards a bus or Metrolink, right?

  14. Jim Zavist says:

    The marginal cost is zero up to the point where you have to add another vehicle, then it becomes huge to accomodate that “one more rider”.

    Realistically, when buses or light rail vehicles get too full, especially on a daily basis, complaints increase and the transit agency looks at adding service which does cost money.

    The inverse is also true – there are many marinally-productive routes that have few riders, yet anytime routes are shortened, eliminated or changed, those few riders howl.

    Is increasing ridership good? Yes! It improves the overall perception of the system and it gets more people out of their SOV’s. It also can generate more funding from the federal government. Still, if transit were truly “elastic”, you’d find our buses packed like those in third-world countries, and we all know that ain’t gonna happen!

    One major challenge for Metrolink are the existing stations downtown that can accomodate only two-car trains. Physically, the system can handle 4-car trains, which would be a great way to increase capacity economically (same headways, twice the capacity), but the only way this can happen would be to rebuild all (or at least several) of the existing stations, which will cost substantial dollars (no small marginal cost).

  15. Tom says:

    You can see the political compromises throughout the MetroLink system from station locations to too much expensive tunnelling and bridging on the Cross County alignment. Having said that, the system handles 50,000 to 60,000 people a day, depending on special events as well. It is one of the most successful light rail systems in the country. What we have serves as the spine for what I hope to be an expanding MetroLink system. If we want a transit system option with $5 per gallon gas, we need to start taxing ourselves so we have another line or two by 2016.

    [REPLY – Agreed! Clearly Metro takes the brunt of a lot of blame even when we should be upset at say the Missouri legislature for how they allocate funds. – SLP]

  16. Steve Menner says:

    Metro has their budget posted on their website under annual reports then click on stragtic planning and budget and it will give you a link to read fy2007 budget. I take the bus almost everyday and their on time performace has improved since two years ago.

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