Metro still seeks funds to avoid service cuts
Metro is continuing its search for money that could help ease the pain of transit cuts set for later this month, despite disappointment over the Federal Transit Administration's rejection of a plan that could have funded nine new bus routes.
"We are disappointed," Metro spokeswoman Dianne Williams said of the rejection of a request to transfer $12 million in Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds already allocated for other projects to use for Metro operating expenses. Such money typically may be used for transit only on new routes that will help reduce congestion and improve air quality.
The FTA said the routes Metro wanted to use the funds for are not new transit service and therefore ineligible for the funds. Metro has announced it will shrink its bus, light rail and Call-A-Ride service by 44 percent March 30 because of a $50 million budget shortfall.
The FTA decision closes the door completely on Metro's hope to get the air quality funds, Williams said. "That was our last best hope."
Still, she said, Metro's search for money goes on. "That's not to say there won't be something that appears, but that was our best hope."
Metro President and CEO Robert Baer traveled to Jefferson City earlier this week looking for funding, Williams said. "He's talking to everybody he can about the state of transit in this region," she added. "There's no money identified at any level at this point but that doesn't mean we don't need to keep talking to people."
Some West County communities, worried about how the service cuts will affect their businesses, approached Metro last month about developing a public-private partnership but that effort "doesn't seem to be moving forward at this point," Williams said. "We're looking everywhere but right now nobody's willing to write a check -- or able to, in all fairness."
Ironically, the routes Metro proposed for air quality funding really were new routes, she said. "They were different than anything that exists today," she explained. "We hoped that when they (the FTA) reviewed them they would view it that way also."
If plans were not in the offing for the March 30 service cuts, the FTA might have approved the nine new routes, Williams said. "They probably would have looked at it more favorably because they were new routes," she added.
Instead, FTA saw the routes as replacing some that will be cut. "They saw it as an attempt to restore and that's not the intent of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality money," Williams said.
But the $12 million Metro was seeking from the FTA couldn't come close to restoring the cuts the agency has announced, she said. The buses wouldn't have traveled the same routes with the same frequency as current buses but would have served "some critical areas," Williams said.
The new routes were going to target areas that "really are highly impacted communities like the hospitals, the nursing homes and high density retail and then loop back into the main system," she said. "That's not something that exists currently."
The new routes would have served downtown and areas south and west, which will see drastic cuts in service, Williams said.
Call-A-Ride, which also will be cut later this month, would have seen some service restored with the air quality funds, Williams said. Federal law requires transit agencies to offer alternative service for people with disabilities within three-quarters of a mile of where transit buses and light rail travel.
Kathie Sutin is a freelance writer. To reach her, contact Beacon issues and politics editor Susan Hegger.