Metro is a Must


We strongly encourage our readers to vote YES on the April 6 ballot initiative on the St. Louis County ballot, Proposition A, that asks voters to authorize a one-half of one percent sales tax increase for restoring and operating MetroBus, MetroLink and Call-A-Ride services. The Jewish Community Relations Council Board of Directors and its council of affiliated members have unanimously approved resolutions in support of the measure.

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One might ask, what makes public transit a “Jewish issue”? The primary answer is that a well-run, efficient and environmentally friendly public transit system enhances the well-being and quality of life for the entire community of which we are an integral part.

More directly, the 60,000-member Jewish community includes many users of public transportation, including those who travel to work, entertainment venues, sporting events and the airport. Jews of limited means, those with disabilities and those who are elderly, depend upon Metro.

Among the many Jewish institutions that depend heavily on Metro are the Jewish Community Center, the Cedars at the Jewish Center for Aged and Jewish Family and Children’s Service. In these difficult economic times, with many within the Jewish community among the suddenly unemployed, greater and greater dependency on good public transportation is a daily reality. We have a moral obligation to take action as the lack of adequate public transportation hits especially hard the poor, the elderly and people with disabilities. The JCRC has made this issue a priority of its poverty initiatives.

The JCRC last week hosted a panel discussion of transit officials led by former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl with leaders of local Jewish organizations to discuss the urgency of approving Proposition A. As reported in these pages last week by David Baugher, Matthew Cohen, director of internal marketing for the Cedars of the JCA, told the assembled officials that many Cedars/JCA employees depend on Metro to get to work. Budget cuts after the defeat on Proposition M, an earlier Metro initiative, were partly rolled back by the state legislature, restoring some of the routes used by the Cedars employees. Cohen warned that these routes could again be on the chopping block if Proposition A fails.

The temporary and partial restoration of public transit funds will run out in May 2010 unless Proposition A is passed. If additional funding is not available, Metro will be forced to make substantial cuts in transit services again, and urgently needed health care providers for the Cedars and other facilities will not be able to get to work. This is simply unacceptable from a moral point of view.

Some earlier opponents of support for Metro pointed to alleged poor management and cost overruns at the agency. These concerns have been met with a solid new management team headed by Bob Baer, former CEO of United Van Lines and a highly respected past public official with a record of sterling integrity. In addition, Metro is ranked near the top of the nation in efficiency, increased passenger use and satisfaction and the quality of its equipment and stations. What is lacking are sufficient lines and new stations to fully serve our community.

Another objection has been raised to the use of a sales tax increase to provide the funding for Metro. In passing its resolution of support, the JCRC urged Missouri officials to seek other sources of revenue for the future expansion of Metro, while pointing out that the sales tax increase is the only feasible option for the present. Passage of the new tax will generate about $75 million a year for public transportation and will trigger another $8 million in tax revenue from the City of St. Louis from a previous tax passed in 1997.

Back in 1927, a public study for the region was titled, “Why St. Louis needs Public Transit NOW!” While St. Louis studied its transit needs, other cities like Chicago, which replaced St. Louis as the top city in the Middle West, built first-class systems. We cannot afford to fall further behind yet again.

To assure the quality of life for all St. Louisans, and to make certain that the urgent needs of the poor, the elderly, the unemployed and the disabled in the Jewish community and general public are met, we strongly urge our readers to vote YES on Proposition A on the April 6 ballot.