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Poll: Prop A transit tax passed, now what?

Last week voters in St. Louis County approved a half cent sales tax for transit:

ABOVE: unofficial results for Prop A

In November 2008 the same measure was narrowly defeated by a narrow margin (48.45% to 51.55%).  Now what?

“The sales tax increase will generate about $80 million a year for Metro. The measure also triggers a previously passed 0.25 percent tax increase in the city of St. Louis.

By the end of the year, the bus and light-rail agency will restore all the routes and service it had to cut last year, said Metro President and Chief Executive Bob Baer. Metro will also be able to maintain and add jobs, he said. “Instead of a loss of 600 jobs, we’ll be adding 125,” he said.”  (full story: Voters approve Metro tax – St. Louis Business Journal)

So the poll question this week is what would you like to see in the way of changes & improvements to the system.  Obviously the prior level of service will return but I think we should expect more. Some of you have said you’d like route maps and schedules posted at bus stops.  I’d like to see Metro add GPS to buses and display at bus stops how long until the next bus arrives. For the poll in the right column I’ve listed a few items but feel free to add to the list.  As always, share your thoughts in the comments below.

– Steve Patterson


Have you ever ridden a municipal bus?

In the last week it came to my attention that I know many people, including some supporting Proposition A, have never once ridden a city bus.  That was me well into my 30s. So my poll this week is trying to see if readers here have actually ridden a bus or not. The poll is in the right column.

I’m still no daily rider but I’ve ridden the bus in several cities so I feel I know enough to give a general overview.  Hopefully more experienced riders will add their tips in the comments below. The route number for the bus is show at the top and on the sides, #13 in the above example.  Where you have more than one bus using the same stop this is helpful so you get on the correct bus.  All our buses here have bike racks on the front. I was very nervous the first time I went to place my bike on the rack.

In these examples the rack is folded up since it is not in use.  Loading your bike just requires you to pull down the rack so you can load your bike.  Each rack will hold two bikes in opposite directions from each other. The rack has trays for the wheels and a bar to hold it securely in place.  For more information see Metro’s Bike-N-Ride FAQ page.

Regular adult fares are $2.00 and $2.75 with a transfer valid for a connecting bus.  Bus drivers do not give change so if you use three singles to buy a pass w/transfer you will not get any change. Unlike our light rail where you buy a ticket and just walk on, with a bus you pay as you enter.  The fare box accepts bills and coins.  Riders with passes just swipe their pass as they enter. See the Metro Fare Chart for all the details.

Riders are asked to exit the set of doors that are midway toward the back.  That allows new passengers to begin entering the bus.   Unlike our light rail, or commuter rail/subways in other cities, a bus doesn’t automatically stop at every stop.  A pull cord runs along each side of the interior of the bus.  You pull the cord to alert the driver you wish to stop at the next stop.

If you are among those that has never ridden a municipal bus I encourage you to do so.  I still prefer modern streetcars but the bus has a place in most transit systems.

– Steve Patterson


Show your support for transit

March 6, 2010 Politics/Policy, Public Transit, St. Louis County, Taxes Comments Off on Show your support for transit

On Tuesday April 6, 2010 voters in St. Louis County will vote on a measure to help fund transit operations in the region. Voters in the City of St. Louis approved a companion measure years ago and it will begin once the county approves their measure.  Myself and others have changed our Facebook profile pictures to show us using public transit:

ABOVE: Steve Patterson riding a St. Louis MetroBus; photo by Courtney Sloger
ABOVE: from Steve Patterson's Facebook profile; photo by Courtney Sloger

There are some rules about photography but they don’t prevent snapping a quick pic such as mine above:

Photography on the Metro system is permitted with the following limitations. Photographers and videographers who plan to take photos or video for commercial use, or who need to set up tripods, lighting or other equipment need prior approval. For approval call 314-982-1440 or e-mail [email protected] Please be advised that security personnel may approach photographers and videographers to inquire about their purpose. Activities may be limited for security, safety or customer convenience. Photography of critical infrastructure including MetroLink tracks, bridges, and tunnels is not permitted.

So get out there on our transit and get a picture of yourself using the system so your friends in St. Louis County will realize that even if they personally don’t ride transit, they know folks who do.

– Steve Patterson


Conservatives can support public transit on April 6th

ABOVE: Parsons Place East St. Louis
ABOVE: Residents of Parsons Place in East St. Louis can walk to MetroLink

Liberals do not hold a monopoly on supporting public transportation.   Thanks to a post on Sprawled Out I learned of an interview by Street Films with conservative author William S. Lind.  Some of his points include:

  • Auto dominance in the U.S. is not a free market outcome
  • Liberal transit advocates should not mention reduction of greenhouse gases when talking transit to conservatives
  • Libertarian anti-transit critics use wrong measurements
  • “When you tax one competitor and subsidize the other the subsidized competitor wins.”

Here is the video (3:21 minutes):


I often find myself agreeing with fiscal conservatives — and disagreeing with Libertarians.

“Conservatives And Public Transportation”Conservatives and Public Transportation” is a collection of studies originally published between 1997 and 2009 in booklet form by the American Public Transportation Association. The book includes a previously unpublished report on the activities of the National Surface Transportation Commission, appointed by Congress in 2005 to examine the infrastructure needs of this country. Weyrich served on the commission and wrote language that strongly supported public transportation for the commission’s final report. That language, which had been adopted on a 9-3 vote, was excised from the final report.The studies helped conservatives understand why transit should be an essential part of the conservative agenda: because it enhances national security, promotes economic development, helps maintain conservative values including a sense of community, and provides welfare recipients with access to jobs.”  (Reconnecting America)


“The Free Congress Foundation has established The Center for Public Transportation under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to offer a re-balanced vision of the national transportation system in which rail and highway travel complements each other. Some journeys will always be more convenient by car. But Americans should be able to travel from any point in the country to any other point without using a car, if they so choose. They had that option as recently as the 1950s. By re-creating it, we can ensure that America is not held hostage by crises in the Middle East or other oil-producing areas.”  (Free Congress Foundation)

Conservative or liberal, there are reasons to support good mass transit.

-Steve Patterson


Readers on earnings taxes

January 13, 2010 STL Region, Taxes 15 Comments
Excess baggage needing to be processed.

Last week I posted about an effort to eliminate local earnings taxes (The question of earnings taxes). The discussion in the comments was deep, diverse and divided.  This post introduced the reader’s poll for the week.  First the results and then I’ll share my thoughts.

Q: Should Missouri take away the authority of St. Louis to collect individual earnings taxes?

  1. No, too critical to the St. Louis’ budget to eliminate 94 [42%]
  2. Yes, phase out over a 10 year period 39 [17%]
  3. Yes, where there is a will there is a way 27 [12%]
  4. Yes, new taxes would make up the difference 18 [ 8%]
  5. No, just keep the earnings taxes in Missouri 14 [6%]
  6. Yes, St. Louis should cut city services to deal with loss of revenue 10 [4%]
  7. Unsure 8 [4%]
  8. Other answer… 8 [4%]
  9. Yes, if they give us back control of our police dept. 5 [2%]

The “other” answers given were:

  • With specific authority for the replacement revenue source(s).
  • phase in a $100 K cap.
  • Stop giving tax abatement to $800K houses on the Hill
  • No. In fact, expand it to cover all of Missouri!
  • Phase out over a three year period
  • Jane Jacobs prefers cities tax themselves, not divert the money to rural places.
  • implement an earnings tax in St. Louis County
  • find alternative funding source first

In my 19 years in St. Louis the 1% never once bothered me.  But as the poll and comments show, the views on the issue are wide-ranging. These different views are the significance of the topic.  More than half the 223 respondents favored a change.

Slay said he’s opposed to any statewide ballot proposals that would do away with the 1 percent tax, even with a 10-year phaseout period, unless the matter is left up to voters in the city of St. Louis.“If it allowed the voters of the city to decide the matter, and if voters subsequently decided they wanted to replace the tax with something else, and if it gave us a decade to come up with a solution, I would support it,” Slay wrote in a lengthy entry today on his blog.

He also made clear that he opposes one tax alternative — a land tax — that has been floated by wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield, who is behind the various initiative-petition options that have been approved for circulation by the secretary of state’s office. The aim of Sinquefield and his allies is to collect enough signatures to get at least one of the proposals on this year’s November ballot. [St. Louis Beacon, Slay says regional changes necessary before city earnings tax could be ditched]

Eliminating the city’s right to collect the tax without any other changes would certainly be a recipe for disaster.  Revenue, city services, population and jobs, would decline.  But doing nothing continues to set the City of St. Louis apart from the rest of the region. So what do we do?

As I see it we have several courses of action:

  1. Change nothing, keep everything as is.
  2. Begin phasing out the earnings tax and deal with the consequences (other taxes, reduced services)
  3. Or restructure the City of St. Louis top to bottom

#1 above is the likely route favored by St. Louis natives as it doesn’t involve change.  The anti-tax types would go for #2.  My preference is #3. a complete restructure.

What does a restructure look like? In my view we’d look at every policy, procedure, and position in every aspect of city government.  We’d toss out everything and start anew.  We might bring in some of the old but only after exploring all choices and determining the old way is the best way based on current conditions.  Given this approach, we might emerge with an earnings tax.  It might be be reduced for non-residents.  It might be expanded throughout much of the region (huge task).  We need to get rid of the city’s excess baggage.

Why such a radical restructuring? As we can see from the nearly 20 audits conducted by Missouri Auditor after a petition by the Green Party, all sections of government have oversight issues:

I don’t for a minute believe then men that governed the city 50-60 years ago made decisions that we should be expected to keep around long after they have passed. Ongoing evaluation and change to adjust to new circumstances is logical.  We don’t do that, unfortunately.  Instead various interests pick away one issue at a time.

The word “Mayor” is etched in stone above the door to room 200 in City Hall so I’d keep the office of mayor, besides every city has a mayor.  I don’t recall if Board of Aldermen or other offices are also etched in stone.  Even if they are, we are still be free to change how our government is structured, including the names of elective offices.

So no, I don’t want to pluck out one tax and call it a day.  I want to get a fresh start for the 21st century.

– Steve Patterson