Mass transit sales tax wins by a wide margin

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

St. Louis County opened its wallet to mass transit.

By a wide margin, county voters approved a half-cent increase to the transit sales tax to restore lost bus and Call-A-Ride service and, eventually, expand the reach of mass transit farther into the St. Louis suburbs.

"This is not a political issue," said Metro President and Chief Executive Robert Baer. "This was a matter of the whole region coming together — the north, south, central, west."

Metro transit officials had warned that the agency would have to dramatically scale back bus and Call-A-Ride service. MetroLink trains would likely have run less often, too, putting jobs and classrooms out of reach to thousands who depend on public transportation.

Instead, Baer said, the agency's work begins today on restoring bus routes, possibly as soon as June. Bus drivers will have to be hired and certified. Metro will take its restoration plan to its governing board later this month and will then hold public hearings.

The sales tax is expected to generate about $75 million a year in St. Louis County, which will be used to restore lost service and expand MetroLink and bus rapid transit. Metro officials said passage of the measure also would trigger collection of a transit sales tax that voters in the city of St. Louis approved in 1997.

St. Louis County voters had defeated similar tax increases in 1997 and 2008.

If the measure failed, service would have been scaled back to about half the level it was before Metro's first round of service cutbacks in March 2009. Metro suspended bus service to 2,300 of the 9,000 bus stops and bus shelters in the Missouri half of the transit system.

MetroLink trains ran less often on both sides of the Mississippi River during times when commuters needed them the most: rush hour. Federal stimulus money helped restore some of that lost service in August, but that money soon will run out.


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