ST. LOUIS — The financially strapped Loop Trolley will shut down Dec. 29, the head of its nonprofit operating company announced Thursday.
But trolley backers hope that the 2.2-mile line can resume sometime next year under new management.
The Bi-State Development Agency, which operates MetroLink and the Metro bus system, is the only option under serious consideration now, said two local officials, speaking on background about the matter Thursday night.
The agency’s board could take up the issue as soon as its next meeting on Tuesday.
John Meyer, president of the Loop Trolley Co., said after a meeting of the firm’s board Thursday afternoon that “we hope a plan will come to fruition that may allow the trolley to resume operating at some point in the near future.”
But Meyer said he had no details. “No one at this point knows what will happen,” he said. Meyer in October had made an unsuccessful plea to St. Louis County and St. Louis to get some additional operating money.
Bi-State’s president and CEO, Taulby Roach, said that he and his staff are reviewing the trolley operation “in an effort to figure out how it can be a viable transit option in St. Louis.”
“The goal is avoiding default on the federal grants because we feel that would be dangerous in the long term,” he said, referring to the metro area’s chances of getting future federal transportation aid.
Default could mean having to return some of the $36 million in federal aid that was part of the $51 million needed to build the line and make related street improvements.
Roach said he will submit a report on the trolley to Bi-State’s board at its Tuesday meeting, probably during a closed executive session.
He wouldn’t comment on whether he would recommend for or against a Bi-State/Metro takeover or something else. In any event, he said, it will be up to the board to decide.
“My job is to go over details,” he said.
At the trolley board meeting, treasurer Don Moschenross said “we’re in very serious fiscal shape. Our capability to continue on with funding through sales tax and fares … does not look any better and is not going to look any better” in the near future.
The streetcar line, which links the western end of the Delmar Loop commercial area in University City and the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, opened in November 2018 after years of construction and other delays.
Since then, ticket sales and farebox revenue have lagged significantly as the line operated on a limited-hours, four-day-a-week schedule with just two of its three cars in service.
Ticket revenue has averaged less than $3,000 a month since the trolley began operating in November 2018, and last month fell below $2,000, Loop Trolley Co. records show.
In 2017, an operating budget released by trolley officials had projected annual farebox revenue of $394,433 for the first year of operations.
There were lengthy delays in the renovation of the trolley line’s third car and in testing it and, more recently, the need to repair a defect in the car.
Refurbished wheel and axle components aren’t expected to be delivered until next month.
“Even then, several weeks of testing will be required before the car can be put into service,” Meyer said in a letter in October to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and other local leaders.
If all goes well this time with that car, he said, full seven-day trolley service could begin in late winter or early spring of next year. At that time, trolley backers say, the enterprise could begin to operate as it was expected to from the start.
But extra money is needed to keep the trolley going until then, he said.
In October, Meyer said the line needed to come up with $200,000 by last month and another $500,000 to operate into next year.
Then last month, the nonprofit trolley firm said it would keep running at least through the end of the year following a $90,000 loan from the special sales tax district that helped fund the line’s construction.
Meyer on Thursday called that “a short lifeline to keep operating through the end of this calendar year, which we plan to do. But we will not operate after that.”
The trolley also has reduced its service hours to between noon and 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
If Bi-State ends up taking over the trolley, the sales tax district — formally known as the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District — would continue raising money to help fund it.
“This is a wonderful asset,” Meyer said. “It deserves a chance to prove its worth and I’m hopeful it will have that opportunity.”
The Loop Trolley Company will end its operations of the trolley system on Sunday, Dec. 29th. We thank everyone for your support, and encourage you to experience the trolley (Th-Su, noon to 6pm) and visit the many great businesses located along our alignment. pic.twitter.com/DW4IuFAqAn— Loop Trolley (@LoopTrolley) December 6, 2019
Loop Trolley Tickets and Revenue
Total does not include rides for free days, special tickets, donated tickets or repeat boardings on the same ticket. Source: Loop Trolley Co.
|Year||Month||Total tickets||Total revenue|