ST. LOUIS — Bi-State Development commissioners on Friday approved putting nine St. Louis police officers on MetroLink as part of a coordinated effort to improve security on the light-rail system.
The approval was expected as the last piece of a plan that also includes patrols by 44 St. Louis County police officers and 15 St. Clair County sheriff’s deputies.
Bi-State Development CEO Taulby Roach said the agreements with the three agencies represent a joint effort that hasn’t been in place for years — a response to a spate of high-profile violent crimes that have roiled MetroLink in recent years.
“This notes a real movement in dealing with safety and security in a collaborative, cohesive way,” Roach said during the meeting.
Bi-State’s agreement with the St. Louis Police Department runs for three years for a total of nearly $3.56 million, with the possibility of renewal for another two years for an additional $2.4 million.
St. Clair County sheriff’s deputies are expected to begin patrolling MetroLink in the city of St. Louis in about a month, said Kevin Scott, Metro Transit director of security.
Meanwhile, St. Louis and St. Louis County are in talks to add 18 additional St. Louis County police officers to patrol MetroLink within the city, Scott said. He did not know more details.
A bill providing $1.8 million to pay for the additional staffing failed to pass the County Council as some members sought a different funding source.
Questions about G4S
Also on Friday, some Bi-State board members raised questions about the new contractor taking charge of Metro security guards on April 1, following national reports that alleged a history of employees committing acts of violence and managers looking the other way.
The London-based G4S Security Solutions was selected from six applicants for a five-year, $28.5 million contract to take over Metro security guard operations from Securitas.
The agency was the subject of reports late last year that the firm’s U.S. subsidiaries had hired or retained at least 300 employees with questionable records that included criminal convictions and allegations they went on to assault people while on duty. Bi-State officials have said G4S adequately responded to the agency’s questions and provided pages of material rebutting the reports.
But on Friday, Bi-State board members Justin Zimmerman and Derrick Cox asked for more detailed information about the contract negotiations ahead of a Tuesday meeting of board members looking at security concerns.
“For me, given how important this partnership is with G4S, I just want to make sure that we get off on the right foot with them,” Zimmerman said.
“This is good stuff,” Zimmerman said about G4S responses provided to Bi-State board members, “but it’s all generic. I would like to see the actual specific questions we asked them, the specific St. Louis, the specific Bi-State responses.”
Roach said after the meeting Friday that he did not have any remaining concerns about G4S. The firm, which has 560,000 employees in 90 countries, currently has four successful contracts with other major-city transit systems, and G4S security personnel won’t be carrying firearms on MetroLink, he said.
“A lot of the issues were with firearms,” Roach said. “So this is a different animal. It’s apples to oranges.”
The board also heard Friday from several transit advocates who called on Bi-State to add a mobile ticketing option and expand the Gateway Go card, which offered reduced fares for riders 13 to 25 years old each summer starting in 2018, to a permanent, year-round program. Metro has had half-price fares for children 5 to 12. Those younger than 5 ride for free.
Offering Gateway Go year-round is critical to empowering youths by connecting them to job and educational opportunities, said Jerica Robinson of the Regional Youth Employment Council.
The group, which pays for the cards for disadvantaged youths, offered Friday to fund half of the cost of expanding Gateway Go because trial runs had proven successful, she said. The cards connect youths “to summer jobs that could change the trajectory of their lives,” Robinson said.
Other speakers called on Bi-State to implement mobile ticketing that would allow riders to purchase tickets and refill monthly passes from a smartphone rather than be required to pay with cash at a machine.
“I have had to miss the bus so many times ... because I didn’t have $2 and exact change,” said Jake Villarreal of the Economic Justice Coalition.
Metro has been working on both programs in recent years as part of an overhaul of its fare collection system, said Jessica Mefford-Miller, Metro Transit executive director.
The agency hopes to offer Gateway Go again this summer and is in talks with St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County to approve the program year-round, she said.
While a test of a mobile payment application last year was successful, Metro couldn’t continue the application because the vendor left the U.S. market, Mefford-Miller said. But the agency plans to add mobile ticketing and is has approved adding WiFi capability across the system, she said. The agency is also exploring how best to retrofit or replace fare boxes on buses and ticket vending machines, she said.