St. Louis’s Metro (formerly Bi-State) seems to be seeking the title of nation’s worst-managed transit system, an honor the Antiplanner has previously accorded to San Jose’s Valley Transportation Authority. After carrying 55.6 million trips in 1998 — the highest level since 1983 — ridership in the St. Louis area declined to a low of 46.7 million trips in 2004.
The Antiplanner previously featured Larry Salci, the head of Metro, when he lost a lawsuit over cost overruns with light-rail contractors. It turned out that particular failure — or his big mouth — cost him his job, as he “left effective immediately” by mutual agreement with the agency’s board a week after the court decision.
He did not go quietly, instead giving an interview with St. Louis Magazine blaming enemies on the board, the press, and just about anybody but himself. Previously, he had a reputation as a “transit turn-around” artist, having successfully managed several other transit agencies and companies.
Salci claims that ridership recovered after he took over. In fact, it still declined for two years after he became CEO in 2002, and while it has grown since 2004, the system is still carrying fewer riders than it did in 1998 (51.1 million in 2006). Even if this counts as a success, his arrogant attitude did not make friends in what is essentially a political job.
Now St. Louis blogger Tom Sullivan points to another Metro failure. The Missouri Department of Transportation planned to close parts of highway 40 (AKA I-64) in early 2008 for repairs. Metro promised that it could help relieve the resulting congestion if it were given millions of dollars for new buses. “People might even forgive the $126 million cost overrun on the Cross County (light-rail) line if Metro can keep traffic moving,” suggested the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Metro managed to persuade state and regional governments to give it $9 million for new buses. What has been the result? When they closed the freeway, people found alternate routes so there was little congestion.