Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Train Nut

Correction: Thanks be to Tom Shrout for pointing out the last transit tax election was in 1997, not 1998.


Most readers know that I'm a transit geek, despite that -- gasp! -- I've been driving to work for almost a year now.

I can console myself for this treachery against transit, only because:

  1. Since June, I've been carpooling, thanks in part to the handy-dandy RideFinders website operated by Madison County Transit (AKA the green buses).
  2. In my current gig, I gotta go to meetings in St. Charles and other places outside the reach of the transit system, so there's not much choice. I know it's a cop-out, but believe me, once you've tried walking to St. Charles across the very narrow, wind-blown shoulder on the Discovery Bridge (MO 370), you don't try it again! And the problem with the Page Ave (MO 364/Veterans Memorial) Bridge is that, although it has a separate bike route, there's no bus service anywhere near the St. Louis County end. At least 370 has the 34 Earth City bus stopping relatively close by, on Earth City Expressway at Corporate Woods Drive.

At least it does for now, anyway. I am dismayed at the proposition that Metro will have dramatic cuts in its service capacity without yet another sales tax increase.

For what it's worth (not much), I already said "yes" to this particular tax increase -- in 1997. At that time, I was living in St. Louis County, where that Prop M failed. It passed in St. Louis City, where I live now, so we don't have to worry about voting this one. If County voters ok it, the City will start collecting, apparently. Of course, that will make the total tax rate on some items (prepared food at Loughborough Commons, for example, where there's an extra Transportation Development District sales tax), approach or even pass ten percent. That's just crazy.

I wasn't contributing much to the financial health of the system anyway, since for most of the last few years I was literally a "free rider" thanks to the largess of Washington University.

And yes, the use of the word "literally" in the preceding paragraph was brought to you by Joe Biden. ;-)

Biden, I must inform you, is reputedly a daily Amtrak rider. That's just cool beyond words in my book -- although must be a tad expensive. I'm pleasantly surprised it only takes 1 hr 35 min to ride from Washington Union Station to Wilmington, Delaware.

In Missouri, sometimes it can take that long to get from Warrensburg to Sedalia (although the schedule says it should only take 30 minutes...).

We clearly need a stronger State and Federal commitment to bus, light rail, subway, commuter rail, and intercity rail transportation in this country.

Will it happen? I'm hopeful... yet skeptical.

After all, the next administration will have a few, somewhat bigger issues to address.

Anyway, if you are a train and/or transit nut like me, consider joining some like-minded groups. Online, there are several St Louis and Missouri oriented Yahoo! Groups about trains. In real life, there's two local associations I joined earlier this year:

St. Louis Chapter, National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) -- meets 1st Wednesday of each month, 7:00 PM, at Brooking Park retirement community, way way out on MO 141 across from St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield.

St. Louis Railway Enthusiasts -- meets 2nd Thursday of each month (so this month, it's this Thursday, Sept. 13th), 7:30 PM, also at Brooking Park. This is the streetcar-oriented group.


CMT said...

Hi Joe,

The last transit vote was in November of 1997. Readers may wish to check out www.moremetrolink.com which is the website for the Greater St. Louis Transit Alliance, a coalition of organizations working the pass Prop M. The Coalition is separate from the Campaign Committee -- Citizens for Better Transit.

The U.S. is ripe for a new transportation policy that focuses more resources on transit and intercity rail. The public is ahead of the elected officials on this one.

Brian said...

And that vote was for only a quarter-cent levy, when now County voters are being asked for a half-cent. But while transit's popularity is on a strong upswing these days, I imagine added taxes are not.

My prediction is the tax fails narrowly, and only narrowly due to the Obama turnout (otherwise it would fail by a landslide). Then the County faces a battle with Metro over the existing half-cent revenues in place since the 1970's. In other words, Metro will tell the County to pay up or face cuts. But then, the County could further reduce what it gives to Metro from that intended source.

The only glimmers of hope in my book are if Kansas City voters simultaneously vote for rail and a pro-transit administration is elected to Washington, though quite possibly without the help of MO's electoral votes. The former builds cross-state support for Missouri to actually acknowledge its urban transit needs, while the latter helps bring the goal-posts back to where they should be for prioritizing transit projects.

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