Metro tries to prepare riders for service cutbacks starting March 30
Metro today announced a joint initiative with three local organizations -- RideFinders, Paraquad and Transportation Management Association -- to tell riders about other options when the agency dramatically shrinks bus service March 30.
Metro is encouraging riders to contact RideFinders, a group that matches commuters to carpools or vanpools to work.
Metro plans to eliminate all service including Call-A-Ride service west and south of Interstate 270, abolish express bus routes and reduce MetroLink service. There will be longer intervals between MetroLink trains and no additional service for special events.
Disabled and low-income wage earners will be especially hard hit by the cuts. In addition, businesses in the Chesterfield Valley are worried about worker shortages when the service reductions kick in. Many of their employees depend on Metro to get to work.
Joe Wright, director of RideFinders, said that the organization is hoping to match Metro riders with commuters who can offer them rides.
Those who use the free matching service need not have cars, he said. Instead of taking a turn driving, they can pay drivers for rides, he said. Some 9,500 commuters already use RideFinder services, but not many of them drive to Chesterfield from points east, Wright said. He is hoping to find more drivers who commute to Chesterfield so the organization can help find rides for Metro users who work there, he said.
RideFinders also offers a vanpool option where a group of 10 plus a designated driver can pay $800 a month plus gas for a van to transport them from a meeting point to a single destination, Wright said. The driver makes the arrangements and rides for free, he said.
As part of the initiative, Paraquad, a private, not-for-profit organization helping people with disabilities to live independently, will hold a series of meetings about ride options. The first will be at 1 p.m., Wed., Feb. 18 at Paraquad, 5240 Oakland Ave.
Metro riders can also contact Transportation Management Association (TMA), which provides curb-to-curb van service in St. Louis city, St. Louis County and St. Charles County and large-group transportation for special events. The TMA fleet includes fully accessible vehicles with wheelchair-lifts. Fares are similar to those for taxis, they said.
Public insight network
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Metro president and CEO Bob Baer said volunteers will be handing out brochures outlining the schedule changes so that riders aren't waiting for buses that won't come on March 30.
Signs informing riders that their bus stop is out of service will go up at the 2,300 bus stops that will be defunct when the cuts are implemented, he said.
The agency needs a "minor miracle" to stop the dramatic service cuts resulting from the failure of Proposition M in November, Baer said. He said he was looking at "every possible source" of funding but without success. Baer met with officials in Jefferson City last week. They gave him encouragement "but no check," he added.
President Barack Obama's proposed economic stimulus package might provide funds for capital improvements but not operating funds, he said.
Baer said he has contacted Pete Rahn, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, who last week indicated he had a "couple of ideas," but the two haven't spoken yet this week.
In answer to a question, Baer discounted claims that Metro has $71 million it could use to continue its current operating schedule. That money is already committed, he said.
Kathie Sutin is a freelance writer in St. Louis. To reach her, contact Beacon issues and politics editor Susan Hegger.