Turnstiles are part of $52 million in security upgrades envisioned for MetroLink

Turnstiles are part of $52 million in security upgrades envisioned for MetroLink

The board of the Bi-State Development Agency — Metro Transit's parent agency — voted Friday to authorize president and CEO Taulby Roach to seek funding for the project, which also would include gates and improved camera monitoring.
November 21, 2021

By Annika Merrilees, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In a reversal of its longstanding policy, the agency overseeing MetroLink hopes to add turnstiles at all 38 stations in the light rail system as part of a new $52 million security plan it is pursuing.

The board of the Bi-State Development Agency — Metro Transit's parent agency — voted Friday to authorize president and CEO Taulby Roach to seek funding for the project, which also would include gates and improved camera monitoring.

MetroLink officials have come under pressure in recent years to boost security on the 46-mile light rail line that runs through St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County following some incidents of violent crime.

Roach said he hopes that the project will signal to the public that Metro is committed to responding to residents' concerns about safety.

Roach, in a briefing paper submitted to the Bi-State board, said that ridership has decreased sharply because of the pandemic "and a major effort must be undertaken to restore and attract new riders."

He also noted that Metro's security manager, Kevin Scott, has said the perception of safety is one of the biggest issues facing the light rail system. He said Scott has advocated that Bi-State "must do something profound to change the dynamic."

"This is a new vision for public transit in St. Louis that is responsive to the needs of the public," Roach said in a statement. He added that the improvements could be a catalyst toward "long-awaited expansion" of MetroLink.

Since MetroLink began operating in 1993, it has not used turnstiles. Instead riders are required to produce their tickets or passes when asked on the trains by fare inspectors and police.

Bi-State officials over the years have noted that most other light rail systems in the United States have similar practices.

In 2018, the East-West Gateway Council of Governments hired consultants from New York-based WSP USA Inc. to study crime and security on the MetroLink.

The consultants ultimately recommended increased patrols on the trains and better coordination with area police departments, among other things, but did not recommend turnstiles. At the time, consultants said there was not much correlation between fare evasion and serious crime.

According to documents from Friday's board meeting, the $52 million plan would be paid for with $10 million from bond refinancing, a mix of local funding and federal aid — and $13 million in private donations.

Roach said during the meeting that $5.25 million in private sector funding has already been committed but that he needed the board's approval in order to begin accepting those dollars for the project. He didn't identify any donors.

Roach added that he believed the agency could have commitments for the full $13 million in private aid early next year. Once construction began, he said it could take 24 to 30 months to complete.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern — who head the three local governments that send millions of dollars in sales tax money to Metro every year — signed a joint letter in support of the plan.

The letter says the new security systems "will signal to the public that Metro is committed to taking proactive steps in response to safety needs and resident concerns."

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden and Acting St. Louis County Chief Kenneth Gregory also signed letters of support.

"Using the concepts of environmental control and detailed camera systems will deliver a public transit system with the highest degree of safety," Gregory wrote in his letter. "I think this is just what our citizens have been asking for."

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(c) 2021 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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