St. Louis officials have announced a plan to use $1 million dollars to build low income developments near Metrolink stops. While few oppose promoting transit access for those without personal vehicles, the need for such a costly plan is the result of misguided and distortionary transit policy.
In St. Louis, lower income residents are the main users of public transportation. While some of these residents prefer transit, many cannot afford a personal vehicle. Some of Metro Transit’s main goals (page xiii) are supposedly to help low-income, elderly, or disabled maintain mobility and employment. Many believe transit systems should be subsidized to support these goals.
But instead of focusing on the system that most people use, the bus, the St. Louis region has spent far more tax dollars on its rail. In fact, 84% of all capital investment over the last two decades has gone to rail.
Planners have done this to provide more travel options for high income commuters and purportedly increase economic development. While the lite rail generally fails to increase city growth or convince high income earner to give up their cars, huge tax incentives and government investments inevitably follow the rails. These dollars raise surrounding property value, predictably pushing out lower-income residents. At the same time, the buses that go where they can afford to live are starved for investment.
The city of St. Louis, along with St. Louis County, spent hundreds of millions to subsidize wealthier transit users at the expense of people who need transit the most. But instead of rectifying the problem by correcting policy mistakes, the city has decided to institute further subsidies. Simply put, the city would rather spend more money than fix the policy they helped create.