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“Clowns” on Jury Award Metro Zip!

November 30, 2007 Events/Meetings, Public Transit, St. Louis County 32 Comments

The Post-Dispatch is reporting this afternoon that the jury in Metro’s case against four contractors reached a decision — Metro gets nothing out of the $81 million it sought. The contractors counter-suit against Metro? They get not quite half of their requested $6 million — $2.56 million. Ouch, that has to hurt.

Larry Salci, the head of Metro, must be a tad upset. He is probably calling folks more than just clowns. Earlier this month he said of KTVI’s Elliot Davis, “He fits right into St. Louis, he’s a (expletive) clown.” Salci later apologized.

Will this impact voters in St. Louis County in February when they are asked to approve a half cent sales tax to keep Metro solvent as well as raise money to extend the light rail system? Has Salci’s job security changed?

UPDATE 11/30/07 @ 7pm — link to article from St. Louis Business Journal.


Currently there are "32 comments" on this Article:

  1. Nick Kasoff says:

    Looks like the jury believed that the clowns were the folks at Metro. They would be the same clowns that built a light rail system, then discovered they couldn’t afford to run it, and have been in a financial crisis ever since. Of course, the jury only heard nearly a hundred days of testimony, and deliberated about it for five days. I’m sure you’d know better than they would.

    [SLP — I’m guessing here that you think I favored Metro?  I did not, nor did I favor the contractors.]

  2. dude says:

    Man you should’ve saved this post for Monday because a lot of us would loved to have been juror provided we weren’t actually part of the jury. Justice aside, a 100 day trial would brew resent towards the plantiff and sentiment to the defendent in the eye of a juror. From day 1 of the new extension, metro and civic leaders should have wanted ownership of the project and that doesn’t mean managing from 30,000 ft. Conctractors always do things to maximize their profit. If bi-state foolishly trusted them, the jury shouldn’t have awarded them a cent. I can’t believe the smiling bueracrats at metro didn’t realize that yes St. Louis and new line will still be here for a while, but the construction firms and their cached cheques will be long gone. A low balled street level street car nixing 2 lanes from 4 lane roads would’ve been money better spent. Retro fitting rail into an already built city like St. Louis is difficult from an engineering stand point and but exponentially more difficult from the political.

  3. john says:

    St Lou is a place where Tiffany prices are paid for Walmart quality. The clowns are not in the jury but have been in control, contracted with these firms, and have designed-built a transportation system that is inefficient, wasteful, and will burden the publics’ purse for years to come. What really hurts is Metro spending over $15 million of public funds trying to blame others for their mismanagement.
    The MetroExtension is only part of the problem. On one side of the political equation, we have leadership selling overpriced and poorly designed public transit. On the other side are leaders underwriting sprawl, more highways, more pollution, and more traffic. Both sides are making personal mobility more difficult and more expensive. The result is a disintegrated and inefficient system that fails to address the obvious oncoming problems with oil, pollution and how to build livable-prosperous communities.
    Not only should the heads of Metro be replaced but so should the enablers who allowed overpriced snake oil to be sold on credit. A group of closed knit leaders including a former Senator and County Executive along with the current Mayor and County Executive are also at fault. But so are the other agencies like East-West Gateway and advocate organizations that failed to speak out when each major Extension decision simultaneously lowered the quality of the product and raised the price, as warned.
    St Lou has become three ring circus of clowns managing the public transportation assets of divided communities that refuse to debate the principles of intelligent infrastructure design.
    Just last week we had to listen to the Mayor and County Executive defend the head of Metro…how insightful, how perfect. This is not a healthy transportation system nor a healthy climate for progress.

  4. Southside Tim says:

    you have to assume metro’s case was incredibly weak as the local jury would be favorably disposed to giving metro and the local community a windfall if at any way possible. instead zip. plus metro will be paying the defendants legal bills.

    let’s see

    award to winning side $2m
    defendants legal 10m
    metros legal 10m
    salsci exit pkg 2.5

    roughly $25m metro doesn’t have. they ll have to put 2 fare boxes on the bus. one for transport, one for legal.

  5. Nick Kasoff says:

    > SLP — I’m guessing here that you think I favored Metro? I did not, nor did I
    > favor the contractors.

    Steve – When you refer to the jury, which returned a verdict solidly for the contractors, as “clowns” how else could I interpret it?

    > Retro fitting rail into an already built city like St. Louis is difficult from an engineering stand
    > point and but exponentially more difficult from the political.

    Putting rail into densely populated areas occasionally might make sense. For the most part, though, rail is an expensive way of creating transportation which would be better provided by good bus service. In St. Louis, we seem to believe that the only options are slow, dirty buses and clean, fast trains. This leads to stupid decisions about transit, and ultimately, a broke transit agency.

    > St Lou has become three ring circus of clowns managing the public transportation
    > assets of divided communities that refuse to debate the principles of intelligent
    > infrastructure design.

    I’m not sure how intelligent the infrastructure can be when you have people sprawling from Wright City to Belleville. My feeling is that a moratorium on highway construction would cause many good things to happen in America. If people want to live 50 miles from work, let ’em spend their life in the car. Ultimately, they will either move their residence, move their work, or find alternative work arrangements like telecommuting.

    [SLP — Nick my sarcasm and play on Salci’s words were lost on you.]

  6. dude2 says:

    Wow, “dude” is an engineer, a contractor, and an attorney. Impressed.

    Metrolink construction plus MBE awards.

  7. GMichaud says:

    Construction can be difficult in the best circumstances. Poor management can be a problem, as are change orders. But there can be difficulties even on a well run project.
    I don’t know the particulars of this project. It is more, in my mind, important to focus on the form of transit best for St. Louis. You have to know why a project lost money, yes, but what are the real needs of St. Louis?
    How many barrels of oil does St. Louis burn in a year? How many barrels of oil would a streetcar or train burn in comparison?
    Streetcars were privately owned, profitable businesses for a long time in St. Louis. What happened?
    Buses are a poor second choice. Streetcars (not trains) are a commitment to neighborhoods and communities that does not exist today.
    It is not so much what is, but what should be.
    In the end, with the jury deciding against Metro, it indicates Metro’s lack of understanding of the construction process. The suit should have never been filed. The fact they thought they could win indicates they have the wrong people advising them on construction related matters within the agency.
    And that is probably why the problem arose to start with.

  8. Turd Ferguson says:

    Hopefully Salci’s headhunters still think highly of him.

  9. Maurice says:

    Difficulties on a well-run projects?

    How many problems are here? Take your pick:

    Mismanagement by Metro for not controlling their contractors

    Contractors that continue to think any public-funded works project is a lottery ticket that keeps on paying and paying.

    Voters and politicians who are fooled into anointing a king who thinks we are all jesters in his court.

    Anyone who thought or still thinks that we are going to end up with a top-of-the-line system that will be flexible to meet our growing needs.

    Voters that continue to think we can get a gold priced transit system but are only willing to pay tin prices (and then still choose to drive)

    Didn’t anyone after the first 5 million in overruns ever ask: How are we going to pay for this?

  10. Jim Zavist says:

    Yes, the sarcasm in the headline was missed by many, myself included – quotation marks would’ve helped a lot, as in “Clowns” on Jury Award Metro Zip!
    Disclaimers – 30+ years of offering design advice professionally, 5 years of service on a transit board (not here), service as a juror on one local (3-day) jury trial, and a little contact with some Metro insiders. And like nearly all of us, when it comes to this trial, all I know is what I’ve read in the paper, a.k.a. filtered for public consumption.
    My take – One, don’t blame the jury, they’re not “clowns”. Devoting 3 months of their lives to a complex trial was a huge sacrifice. Both sides accepted their selection and agreed to abide by their decision. If you want to blame some one or some thing, blame a flawed process from the start, management “in over their heads”, new leadership and a “new direction”, and a legal system that rewards lawyers more than it helps either plaintifs or defendents.
    Two, the Post-Dispatch editorial this morning pretty much nails the situation from Mr. Salci’s arrival to today. Mr. Salci has apparently done a lot to turn around the agency. Unfortunately, his personality is abrasive, and in the case of this trial, it did not serve him well.
    Three, the fundamental problems with the project predate Mr. Salci and probably most current board members. When the project started, a basic decision was made, likely to increase the opportunities for “minority” participation, to break the project into seven segments, instead of one large project, with one contractor having complete responsibility. Imagine if the current Highway 40 project were being done that way – one contractor from 270 to Lindbergh, another from Lindbergh to Brentwood, another from Brentwood to Hanley, etc., etc. They’re still good-sized chunks of work, but the oversight and management requirements have increased exponentially! Metro’s construction staff isn’t large – it doesn’t need to be, it doesn’t build a lot of new rail lines on a consistent basis, not like MoDOT does with bridges and highways. Dump a project the size of this one in their laps, especially with 7 different contracts, and it’s no surprise that they were overwhelmed.
    Four, “design-build” is a good solution when it is well managed. It is not a “free pass”. Metro, with 20/20 hindsight, relied too much on skimpy preliminary work and was rewarded with substantial change orders. The other half of the equation, on any project, design-build or design-bid-build, is minimizing design changes once construction starts. Here, the Metro board, more than anyone else, should be blamed for these changes and their related costs, things like upgraded stations that were not part of the original “package”.
    Five, the end result is a lose-lose proposition. As voters, yes, we’re going to pay for this, whether we want to or not. County voters are likely to reject a tax increase for Metro in February. The ONLY way to end this will be signifcant cuts to existing services, making any future tax-increase requests even more problematic.
    Do I have a “solution”? No. Do I have a suggestion? Maybe. Denver’s transit district is (well) run with a 15-person elected board, not the smaller, appointed board that runs Metro here. If we had an elected baord here, maybe, just maybe, there would be more accountability. As Mr. Salci correctly points out, he reports to his board, not to the public at large. His termination (or not) will be left to these few people. Can you name any of them? Have you had any contact with or communication from any of them? Therein lies the fundamental “problem”. Like (too?) many things St. Louis, political decisions are made by a small, closed circle, with little real public input, and we get results like these, with little or no direct accountability . . .

    [SLP — Excellent points, and I added the quotes on clowns in headline.]

  11. Tom Shrout says:

    Jim’s points are excellent. I would underline the fact that the problems began on the Cross County project when was handed over to the Metro (Bi-State then) after preliminary design had been completed at East-West Gateway. Metro hired the Cross County Collaborative. The new consulting team was hired on a so-called fixed contract which Metro I belived felt would minimize their need for oversight. One of the first things the consulting team wanted to do was change the alignment that had judiciously kept utility conflicts to a minimum. The consultants wanted to increase speed and changed the alignment to achieve this, but in doing so created these conflicts that had to be addressed. The pre-Salci Metro management allowed this all to go on,thus the beginning of the problems. The consulting team was inadequately supervised at the time. Many people complained to Metro about this.

    Salci later was brought on and inherited a mess. His goal was to get it fixed which he did but the die had been cast by the fundamental design decisions of his predecessors and to get the project built would cost more.

    The decision to break the project up into several segments was at the request of the St. Louis contracting community who felt they would not have the capacity to undertake a project that big and would not put local people to work with local money. That decision was made pre-Salci as well. Look at HIghway 40, the lead firm is an out of town firm.

    Certainly there are many lessons to be learned, the first of which in my book is that the transit agency needs to be headed by a transit professional with experience in managing big projects and operating a bus and rail system. Salci fits that description and has done a wonderful job at Metro. Unfortunately, his judgment in pursuing the lawsuit has undermined his creditability with many people.

  12. john says:

    Another wasted opportunity? Can a fatally flawed Extension be remedied? Is the public sincerely supportive of auto alternatives or has Metro chosen a select group of riders to serve?
    – –
    The aforementioned recommendations are interesting to read but fail to address the underlying problems. An elected board would likely lead to more divisions between divided communities. The design-build approach only works on simple, agreed to projects and the New 64 is not a good example. Our transportation system, particularly alternatives to auto, remains undeveloped by design and Metro-New 64 are integral parts of this unhealthy system.
    – –
    Salci joined Metro in Jan 2002 and the Extension did not open until years later. To suggest that he didn’t have a major role in the final designs and station placements is misleading at best. Yes he inherited unfinished designs but failed to enlighten the public on key issues. He was hired even though he had a long history of being associate with failed transit and equipment leasing-building businesses (SEMTA, Budd, TGV,MK). One consultant stated “This poor guy may hold some kind of record for being associated with snake-bit transit organizations.” The list is now longer.
    – –
    But the rail advocates and East-West Gateway quickly sang his praises and the stations were located underground, above ground, at ground, in inconvenient and hard to find locations. In no way did the final designs truly create a friendly-usable alternatives for a substantial portion of the public. Even promised pedestrian-bike paths were eliminated and many bus routes were made less usable.
    – –
    As Salci has stated; “The only people I really care about that have any influence with me are my ten commissioners who hired me. And I care what Wall Street thinks about me. And I care what my headhunters think about me, in case I’ve got to go someplace [else]. Other than that, I just don’t care.” Then why should we?
    – –
    “I think rail transit is too expensive and too inflexible,” a local environmentalist and philanthropist has stated and further states: The region’s planners have been “making decisions based on helping Washington University and not people dependent on public transportation,” making reference to the numerous MetroLink stops that serve the university and hospital.
    – –
    Just imagine how valuable light rail could be here if our system was designed to serve the thousands who won’t be able to use highway 40 for two years or more. Just imagine the loss in business revenue and jobs for many others. This opportunity to convince locals of the value of mass transit, to change old habits, has been forsaken, forever.
    – –
    And we wonder why the region continues to languish…the answer is simple and obvious.

  13. Jim Zavist says:

    john, I have to disagree. One, design-build can work on larger projects. In Denver, where their TREX project was completed a year ago, on time and on budget, D-B was successfully used on a project that combined our cross-county extension and the new I-64 project into one mega project. Two, I don’t know if an elected board would work better here, I’m just not impressed with the results the appointed board has delivered over the last decade, so trying something else can’t hurt. Three, on transit projects like this, design is fundamentally complete before the line opens. Mr. Salci did, indeed, “inherit” the station locations, the construction contracts, and much of the basic design when he started. And four, we’ll have to agree to disagree on many of your statements and assumptions about what role transit can and should play around here . . .

  14. 63101 says:

    John wrote:
    Is the public sincerely supportive of auto alternatives or has Metro chosen a select group of riders to serve?

    The E-W Gateway Council’s documents about a future westbound extension state that one of the priorities in planning is to ensure that reverse commuters have access to low-income jobs — that is, people who have no other alternative but public transit. In other words, it’s not clear that the intent really even is to take cars off the road.

    As long as Metro and the planners continue to plan public transit to be “what poor people take,” it will continue to languish here, and people will continue to drive.

    If they wanted to truly get cars off the road, there’d be light rail down the I-64 corridor all the way out to I-270, if not Chesterfield Valley. Connect it to the existing cross-county line at Brentwood and get the west county folks access to Clayton and downtown.

    Of course, this is all moot: at this point, after over a hundred million bucks in cost overruns charged to the taxpayer, and their failure to obtain a judgment to recover it, I can’t really see anyone wanting to give this agency more cash.

  15. Tim E says:

    I have yet seen a good overall timeline on this project in relation to management, from the funding vote (1993 I believe). to the agreed upon alignment (lot of politicians were involved). to the change to have it underground for most of Forest Parkway (which is where the major cost increased occurred, overrun is an unplanned or miscalculated cost), when the project was split into several contracts (I believe their is a one or two contractors that might have the bonding capacity in St. Louis – McCarthy, Alberici, but politicians were probably getting a lot of phone calls), when CCC was chosen as the project management team, and when construction finally started. I think people don’t understand that Salci came abroad Metro when the Cross County Extension construction already started with a pre-determined alignment.

    As far as an abrasive attitude, a reporter or journalist should have a thick skin or he/she is a clown. Heck, you guys can call me a clown if you want.

    Finally, my thoughts were with the PD editorial in a way (less the whining about name calling). However, It should have started with the fact that Salci has done some good things and got construction of the Cross County extension back on track. However, he and the Metro’s commission took a big gamble and lossed big time with the lawsuit. He will have to face the consequences.

  16. Jim Zavist says:

    Keeping construction contracts “local” is a tough political issue, especially on big, complex, specialized projects. The reality is that there are less than a dozen companies nationwide that can manage a project of this size well. The other reality is that much of the labor on any project is always hired locally. The choice boils down to hiring the best firm to do the job, even if they’re based in Minneapolis or San Francisco or Atlanta, with the assurance that they’ve done this before and actually know what they’re getting into, or “keeping the money local” and hiring someone who has contributed to your campaigns and who you see Rams games with, a buddy who you trust. Few contractors will admit they’re in over their head when there are a lot of zeroes involved in a contract, and even fewer will hesitate to add to those zeroes when they discover they were given incorrect or incomplete information to build off of (change orders). With the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, this project illustrates the downsides not using one well-qualified contractor and simply requiring them to subcontract a fixed percentage of all work with local, diadvantaged and minority subcontractors. The “profit” may flow out of the area, but the bulk of the expenditures will be done locally and the taxpayers won’t be left forking out hunderds of millions of dollars on change orders and lawyers. But, then again, maybe this is a mini-Halliburton scenario . . . the local contractors and the local lawyers all get rich and the taxpayers are the ones who get left holding the bag?!

  17. john says:

    Having participated in Metro meetings beginning in 1999 through 2002, station locations were moved. In key critical pedestrian areas, walkways were not built, bike lanes were not installed, and bus routes were changed. But anyway you attempt to describe it, Salci had numerous opportunities to correct the station locations and these other shortcomings but failed. These are not opinions but facts.
    Using the Denver example is not indicative of D-B for the New 64, a disaster in the making.
    The end result is a dysfunctional and inefficient system. Congratulations, the advocates got exactly what they wanted at Tiffany prices and Walmart quality. I can understand why some are defensive about this but cannot understand why the same are against a transportation system which serves a wider audience at lower costs. Of course to be successful, to change old habits, a Metro has to offer usable-friendly alternatives to auto travel. Most transit board members understand and appreciate these basic operating-design principles.

  18. Nick Kasoff says:

    63101 – Metro isn’t planning transit to be “what poor people take”, it is simply developing a product to satisfy its market. The fact is that a non-driver is three times more likely to use transit than a driver, an urban black is twelve times more likely to use transit than a suburban white, and a household earning less than $15,000 is eight times more likely to use transit than one earning over $50,000. With odds like that, only an idiot would spend billions running transit to Chesterfield, while cutting services to areas that actually depend on transit.
    And don’t bother telling me that “It works in New York and Chicago.” I know all about that, my late grandmother lived in the Bronx and my family lived in Highland Park, a northwest suburb of Chicago. For a lot of reasons, St. Louis isn’t New York or Chicago, and it isn’t going to magically turn into Chicago if we spend another billion on light rail.
    Our transit agency does a great job of providing bus service in densely populated areas, to people who depend upon the service for their daily survival. Cannibalizing bus service, jacking up taxes, and spending a billion dollars on a shiny new train may appeal to construction companies and a few advocates, but the rest of us should see it for the foolish idea that it is.

  19. Brownie D. Light says:

    Sorry guys: too many of you keep referring to the Cross County Extension Project as a “design-build” project, and the CCC as “contractors.” To fully understand this case and its implications, it’s important to get the basic facts down right: The CCC was hired by Metro as its project management consultant, i.e., to provide project design and engineering, and to perform construction management. The CCC did no construction on the project; all construction was performed by local general contractors (Webbe, McCarthy, Tarleton, Comstock).

    In a design-build project, the project is designed and actually constructed by one firm.

    Metro initially entered into a fixed fee contract with CCC for project management, then split the construction management services into a separate, cost-plus contract.

    Metro knew (or should have known) when it gave CCC a very preliminary design to work from, then made numerous changes in the alignment and in the design to appease stakeholders such as local residents, politicians, and municipalities, its design costs were sure to escalate; they assured the CCC it would be paid for the additional work. When Salci arrived, he tried but did not succeed in allowing these design changes to continue, and, predictably, the schedule and budget grew.

    The jury recognized that Metro’s management was inadequate from the project’s inception, and that the CCC was not to blame for Metro’s failure to say no to Wash U, Parkview residents, City of Clayton, etc., and others who kept demanding design changes long after the budget was established.

  20. GMichaud says:

    I have to agree with JZ, elected officials in place of the current Board of Directors for Metro and Bi State would be more accountable to the public. He says Denver has such a system.
    Sounds like a best practices moment to me.
    Rather than Metro, the Denver Transit District and its elected officials may be more similar to electing officials for the East West Gateway Council of Governments. They have elected officials on their board, Mayor Slay and Charley Dooley for instance, but no one with any expertise in transit.
    A new elected board could include traffic engineers, architects and urban designers who could give voice to a vision for transportation in the region. East West has a few regional citizens thrown in for effect, but it is an insulated little club right now.
    Elections of government officials directly by the public can only be a good thing.
    I feel America must radicalize its thinking about transit. Security and energy independence are a must.
    East West Gateway is behind the times. From the inefficiency of the Highway 64 closing, to the cost overruns for the latest MetroLink project it should be clear the current system is not working.
    In fact, in reading the above posts I can see Salci has a totally inept construction department for even considering filing the lawsuit. It follows then he is inept for not recognizing that fact.
    Nor can his arrogance be ignored, clowns?
    New leadership cannot advance in this town. Decisions are determined by what makes the most money for the insiders.
    Free elections for a East West Gateway board would cure some of these problems. At a minimum they could at least have the six regional citizens stand in a free and open election.
    There is no excuse for not opening the process up. It’s time for some fresh voices.

  21. BeanCounter says:

    As someone who knows extremely little about East West Gateway and its governance, I would be wary of an elected board. The contractors will have their candidates and they will back them and there will some greased palms, and projects will be approved based on campaign contributions rather than merit.

    If there could be restrictions on campaign contributions and such, it would be worth a look, but I am suspicious.

    I hate it when I am anti-democratic!!

  22. Jim Zavist says:

    Denver has had an elected transit board for many years. In its early years, it drew little attention, and by the early ’90’s, the “dysfunctional” board was elected, and all was not good. It included a cast of charcters, including several members bent on destroying the system from the inside (see SLPS). The antics of the dysfunctional board drew increased media attention, as well as the attention of other elected officials, and the board now draws qualified candidates.
    The biggest difference between here and there is accessibility and accountability. Here, you can go to the Metro website and find out who serves on the Metro board, and whether they represent Illinois or Missouri. What you can’t find out is who, individually, represents “your” part of the world or how to contact them. In Denver, each board member represents ±350,000 people in a defined area, and there are several ways of contacting them directly:
    http://www.rtd-denver.com/ (then click on Board of Directors)
    Bottom line – is it perfect? No. The Transit Union continues to run candidates, and yes, it does draw more than its fair share of idealists and transit wonks. But, because of past “challenges”, its decisions are now vetted and publicized, and in general, seems to be doing good things. A successful tax increase effort in 2004 gives RTD a full 1% sales tax stream that they’re leveraging to build $2 billion in rail transit. Compare that to here where we have a tax increase request coming in 10 weeks with no positive efforts to get it passed(!) – voters need to be convinced to raise their taxes, and it’s not happening, for whatever reason . . . if I were cynical, I’d say it was a passive-aggressive way of dealing with an unpopular issue . . .

  23. GMichaud says:

    It appears Denver transit is closer in function to Metro except for the fact Denver has elected officials. Compare this to East West Gateway Board of Directors, http://www.ewgateway.org/aboutus/BOD/bod.htm
    especially note the regional citizen representatives at the bottom of the page, there is limited information with no photos,
    I feel like East West Gateway is the place to change. They make the major decisions along with MoDot and IDot that have created the current conditions. Metro is simply implementing what East West Gateway decides. Don’t get me wrong, an elected board at Metro would be great, and improvement in the transit system is certainly needed.
    But the real policy decisions are being made elsewhere, the ones that determine the shape of the region.
    At a minimum the regional citizen representatives at East West Gateway Council of Governments should be elected. As JZ points out, it is not perfect, but it is better than we have now.
    And BeanCounter, I understand your frustration, the distrust in the government is widespread. This is how far American democracy has fallen. I agree, government is run for the benefit of corporations. Hopefully some accountability and transparency will occur with open elections.

  24. Jim Zavist says:

    What’s probably most interesting is the disconnect between taxation and representation. St. Louis City has a ±$435 million budget and multiple elected representatives that are accessible to the taxpayers. Metro has a budget in excess of $250 million, yet has no direct voter “input”. I checked several suburban cities’ websites, but wasn’t able to locate any of their budgets. If we, as a region, take pride in our “local representation” / fragmented governmental structure, I find it interesting that we’re willing to cede total control of a government budget that’s bigger than most, if not all, suburban city’s budgets to a very small group of appointed males . . .

  25. Jim Zavist says:

    By definition, East-West will be made up of elected officials, that’s what a “council of governments” is. My experience with COG’s is that they’re cumbersome, good at accepting and approving policy, and not so good a creating a new vision. In the case of Metro, they provide some guidance, but Metro gets to do all the dirty work (studies, etc.) and implement what their board views as most important at the time . . .

  26. john says:

    Three cheers for open and efficient democracy. However, the StL region is divided by legal boundaries. Elected officials who serve both a municipality and on other agencies, like EWGC, are conflicted by any definition of a fiduciary. Does an elected trustee-fiduciary sacrifice his(hers) constituents in order to serve a more important-wider community standard-need? Virtually every agency (whether it’s EWGC, Great Streets, MSD, etc.) in this region has leadership which is conflicted by design. Good luck on having more elections to solve these inherent conflicts.
    Throughout the region, these conflicts become major obstacles in creating prosperous and livable communities. Clayton, which has previously opposed tax incentives, passed its first TIF this week. The previous mayor of Clayton said “We have to stay competitive in this world.” In other words, the lower standards of other communities will become ours too…welcome to the StL region and how democracy is implemented here.
    The solution? Hard to say, but open public debates, supported by leadership which can define common goals and rally the public to the mutual advantages, should be the first step.

  27. Todd Plesko says:

    The elected board I observed in Denver during the late 1980’s and early 90’s certainly had many anti transit individuals or at a minimum a strong Wendell Cox following. There were times it was unclear that the system would hang together.

    The current board in Denver seems much more committed to the mission of public transit and certainly the system they are building is a quality system.

    It is NOT just an urban system advocated by some here in St. Louis. Transit for the poor and transit dependent. RTD is very much an evolving suburban system. It looks like the desire for a transit alternative is coming from the suburbs as much as Denver itself.

    Denver however operates within a single state. Metro operates across two states with a federal bi-state compact. Changing that will not be a short term proposition.

    You might also consider another reason for RTD’s success. RTD in Denver has consistent, long term management. I have worked for three public transit systems over 32 years. The first had the same Executive Director for over 20 years, an appointed board, was well regarded by the community, and financially stable at the time. The second system I worked for had an appointed board and a single managing director for at least 20 years. Its public image, financial stability and political support remains very good.

    I have worked for Metro twice in a span of 10 years. In that period we had four executive directors and soon to have a fifth. Of the leaders, Larry Salci was the longest serving and brought to best results to the Agency (minus the law suit and Elliot Davis saga). From 1986 through today, Metro has never had a stable, predictable source of public funding.

    My point is that it is unlikely that a totally new board or transit district structure will be possible. It is possible to have an effective, stable transit system with an appointed board. It depends upon who is appointed and the leadership provided by the appointing officials. It also depends upon, to some degree, the financial stability of the system. ( A politically divided, elected board, can result in extreme instability as the board fights over who controls the management.)

    I don’t know if RTD is the direct recipient of its local taxes. Metro is not the direct recipient of anything other than farebox revenue and some federal grants. The local sales taxes are provided each year to Metro by the City Council, County Council, and the St. Clair County Transit District.

    If an elected board was the direct recipient of the local taxes, it might be an effective structure because it would be the steward over a specific tax.

    Couldn’t today’s elected officials who provide funding to Metro be held accountable? The officials could develop a contract with Metro and specify exactly what they wanted and are willing to pay for.

    St. Clair County Transit District (an appointed board) has done exactly that. It plans the routes, it meets with local officials, it deals with their customers. Metro merely operates what is requested.

    In Missouri there appears to be little interest in taking on that responsibility for transit. In fact it is convenient to have a “metro” around to insure that the elected officials are not held directly accountable for the consequences of their decisions.

  28. Jim Zavist says:

    RTD is a quasi-governmental agency, governed by an elected board, with a dedicated 1% sales tax funding its operations, similar in concept to, but much larger than, the many local “improvement” districts around here. I don’t know if an elected board is better; my observation is only that its members are more accessible and more responsive to Joe Citizen. The board here appears to be well insulated from the average citizen – there is no contact information for the board provided on Metro’s website, and the following statement is posted:
    “Those wishing to address the Board must submit a Metro public comment card that is received by Metro at least 48 hours prior to the scheduled start of the meeting. Completed comment cards may be mailed to Metro’s headquarters at 707 N. 1st Street – St. Louis, MO 63102, delivered to the Security desk at the Metro Headquarters Building, or faxed to 314-923-3073 or 314-923-3034. The amount of time for public comment may be limited to 3 minutes per person or organization.”
    In contrast, RTD has “Public Participation” as a standing part of the agenda of every board meeting – the only requirement is that you sign up to speak when you enter the room, primarily so that staff has contact information for any issues a speaker may raise. And yes, each speaker is limited to 2-3 minutes of speaking time.
    Three points – one state versus two states is a red herring. Yes, it’s more difficult operating in two states, but it’s the least of Metro’s current problems (but Todd’s last paragraph probably nails the biggest local “issue”). Two, the local political climate plays a much bigger role in what happens than having an elected or an appointed board. The appointed board here reflects the behind-closed-doors way of doing politics here. The appointed board members, as stated in the Post-Dispatch this weekend, are responsive only to the politicians who appoint them, not to the public at large. Both ways of doing things are “answers”, the results will ultimately speak for themselves. And three, the bottom is the bottom line – Metro’s funding stream, and thus its $250 million budget, is miniscule compared to many other systems around the country. Every transit operation gets to keep the money it generates from the fare box and from advertising – both sources are limited and somewhat driven by the size of your fleet, and fares are limited by market realities. The poor/transit-dependent can only spend so much on a trip, and the daily commuter is less inclined to use transit when its cost exceeds the cost of paying to park – you can’t charge $5 next year for a trip that cost $2 this year, even though that may be the only revenue source available.
    RTD in Denver has a dedicated 1% sales tax, funding a $425 million annual budget. Metro, in Missouri, typically receives the equivalent of a ¼% sales tax from its local counties and the city of St. Louis. The end result is that for two metroplitan area of roughly equal sizes, Denver has twice as many buses on the streets, a more robust and diverse commuter bus system serving the suburbs, a $2 billion rail expansion program and a much better perception of their transit agency. Yes, stability talks, but so does dedicated funding – that’s why I’m both pessimistic about February’s proposed tax increase and more than a bit mystified about how it’s being “marketed” (or not) to suburban voters. It took Denver ten years and three tries to raise their transit sales tax from 0.4% to 1.0% in 2004 – St. Louis doesn’t have ten years to convince St. Louis County voters of the wisdom of funding transit . . .

  29. john says:

    Metro only serves a select minority and therefore fails to serve the broader interests of the larger community. When 64 is closed, Metro will not be able to deliver suitable alternatives and the majority can only laugh about “dontgetstuck” as they inevitably will. Local leadership, including Metro’s, were warned about these obvious and predictable problems before and after 2001, but conveniently ignored the inevitable.
    – –
    Argue all you want about funding, political boundaries, etc. but the one and overriding fact is the public’s need for alternatives to autos has not been met or properly addressed. The County Executive wants more money “to shore up” Metro, Rahn wants more money for MoDOT as the “outlook is bleak”, Slay wants more money to fund police pension funds,…
    The irony is that each of these entities have mismanaged their budgets for years and overspent for so called “needed infrastructure”. In support of the proposed tax increase, Dooley’s spokesperson claimed that the new revenues would free up other funds to expand highway 141 and to make Hanley Rd more like 141. Who really wants more traffic, more noise, more pollution, more accidents,…?
    – –
    The tired, old, and traditional ways of wasting public funds for more of the same has shown to lead to more sprawl and depopulation. Confused leadership, especially one exhibiting multiple blind spots, is a major barrier to increasing capital investments to the region. Yes we are heading toward “the perfect storm”, by design.

  30. GMichaud says:

    While I agree that Metro only serves a minority of the population, success or failure has much to do with the design of the system. As JZ points out a heavier investment in tax revenue allows for a more thorough fabric of routes and planning of the transit system.
    From what I have seen, transit systems that are complete allow riders to embark and disembark with short walks and are easy to integrate into various lifestyles. Systems that run frequently and are multi layered allow for numerous travel options. In fact transit systems that are not only complete within a region but also within the boundaries of a country or state are much more appealing to use in general.
    The biggest failure of transit in St. Louis, and in Missouri, is this incomplete system, requiring autos to use the transit system (evidence is the huge 1000 car parking lot at the Metrolink Hanley station).
    Thus it is difficult to build a commitment to transit among the populace.
    The solution is a comprehensive system funded by smart dollars. A radical change of thinking, kicked off by allocating the Billions spent on highways nationally to transit is necessary. It is time for radical change: war, energy shortages and global warming are on the horizon. Nay, they are here.
    The Presidential candidates, Congress and the local state and regional political realm lag behind the will of the people.
    Yes the back room politics of St. Louis must come to an end. Debate about issues, although imperfect, through elected officials should replace secretive dealings.
    Notice how, in spite of the obvious problems with Metro, neither the Post Dispatch, or any major media have undertaken analysis that calls for a new way of doing things. Major media is part of the problem, they are part of the good old boy system that prefers war and profit for a few over solutions.
    The reason there is not support for a 1/4 cent tax hike comes back to the lack of vision and leadership this region is burdened with. It is a deficiency whose power prevents new leadership and new thinking and maintains the status quo for a few insiders who benefit financially from the way everything is currently run.
    The health, welfare and security of the region is being compromised for the few.

  31. john says:

    Media conspiracy in StL? Metro claiming that media destroyed their case!
    – –
    – –
    A transit system must have credibility to be effective and must be committed to the community in its design and management. In many ways, Metro has proven that it cares little about these issues and is rapidly destroying all trust.

    [SLP — As always, the links to STLToday only work for a short time — don’t blame me in the future for a bad link.]

  32. Jim Zavist says:

    Greater Minneapolis “gets it”: http://www.startribune.com/local/south/17189436.html Until we can convince the counties surrounding St. Louis to get on board and either increase their current funding levels or to contribute to growing a regional system, we’re going to struggle with declining revenues and continued reductions in service.


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