December 7, 1997
P S 140
Instructor: Lisa DeLorenzo, Ph.D.
A CASE STUDY OF THE OPERATIONS OF THE BI-STATE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY
Table of Contents
I. The Context of Public Administration
+I. The Context of Public Administration
The Bi-State Development Agency (BSDA) has as its primary responsibility the operation of public transit facilities and services in metropolitan St. Louis, Missouri-Illinois. It also operates several public facilities as part of its regional development objectives.
BSDA's mission is "To meet the needs and priorities of the [St. Louis] region as the operator of the public transit system and as the consensus developer of public works and development projects as needed" (BSDA Annual Report 1996, cover). BSDA operates within the Bi-State Metropolitan District, which includes St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Jefferson County, St. Charles County, and Franklin County in Missouri; and Madison County, St. Clair County, and Monroe County in Illinois. BSDA is the single governmental entity in the St. Louis area encompassing both the Missouri and Illinois parts of the metropolitan area.
BSDA owns and operates the 31-vehicle MetroLink line, a fleet of 633 buses, and 64 "Call-A-Ride" paratransit vans. These operations also include the ownership and maintenance of: the 17-mile, 18-stop MetroLink right-of-way; eight MetroLink park-and-ride lots; the MetroLink maintenance facility at Jefferson and Scott Avenues; the dedicated busway of the #15 Hodiamont bus line in the West End of St. Louis; several bus turn-around facilities, most prominently the Wellston Loop on Martin Luther King Drive and the Hampton Loop at Gravois and Hampton Avenues; bus storage and maintenance facilities in Brentwood on Brentwood Blvd., on DeBaliviere Place at Delmar Blvd., and on State Street in East St. Louis; the main vehicle repair facility at Compton Ave. and Spruce St.; and other incidental properties.
BSDA public transit operation encompasses over 100 fixed bus routes, in "6 counties in Missouri and Illinois . . . [with] An average of 134,000 customers served daily" (BSDA "Who Are We," web site). It also includes the MetroLink line from Lambert International Airport to Downtown East St. Louis, Illinois; and the demand-responsive Call-A-Ride service, primarily "for St. Louis Metro area residents who are elderly or disabled," and who are registered for the service (BSDA "Who Are We," web site). Call-A-Ride can be used, however, by regular customers in areas of St. Louis County with little access to fixed route transit services, but only with advanced reservations and under specific geographic limitations. Call-A-Ride operates about 1300 trips per day. All transit services operate most heavily during the A.M. and P.M. weekday rush hour periods, with most routes providing service from 5 A.M. to 12 A.M. daily, substantially less on weekends and major holidays.
BSDA also owns and operates St. Louis Downtown-Parks Airport (formerly Bi-State Parks Airport) and the surrounding industrial-business park, located in Cahokia, Illinois. Downtown-Parks is the "Busiest airport in Southern Illinois, [and] third in the St. Louis Metro Area" (BSDA "Who Are We," web site). BSDA operates the Gateway Arch Parking Garage, and operates the Gateway Arch Transportation System, the tramway to the top of the Arch. "The Arch is the tallest national monument in the U.S. (630 feet) and the 4th most visited tourist attraction in the world" (BSDA "Who Are We," web site). Downtown-Parks Airport, the Arch Garage, and the Arch tram are classified as "revenue generating business and development activities," and are thus administered separately from the public transit operations (BSDA Annual Report, p. 13).
Most residents of the metropolitan St. Louis area hold a negative view of Bi-State. Buses, the core of Bi-State's operations, are generally seen as inconvenient to use, uncomfortable, and ugly. They often run late, the drivers are rude, and the only people who really use them are those with no other alternatives: the homeless, welfare recipients, and other low-income individuals. The few people who choose to ride the bus rather than drive to work only do it to avoid the high costs of parking in the congested areas of downtown St. Louis and downtown Clayton, Missouri. So goes the conventional wisdom about the bus system, which in the minds of many is Bi-State. Sometimes these feelings come from personal experiences using the buses Bi-State operates. Often, it is merely a view established based on hearsay--that 'everybody knows' the buses are lousy and so by extension Bi-State is lousy.
MetroLink, meanwhile, has been subject to rave reviews by the populus. Ridership on MetroLink has been reasonably high, although admittedly public transportation cannot replace the interstate highway system. Many people who would never consider riding the bus have been willing to drive to a MetroLink station, park their vehicles, and ride the train to work in downtown, sporting events and other special events. However, citizens do not wish to pay for it, at least not beyond the one dollar fare. This is illustrated by the failure of the November 4, 1997 referendum to provide a quarter-cent sales tax in St. Louis City and St. Louis County which would provide funds to BSDA. " 'Voters need to think twice before approving any more money for Bi-State,' said [state representative James] Murphy" (South County Times 10-24-97, p. 1). According to state representative Charles Quincy Troupe, "The primary focus at Bi-State should be to get those dependent on public transportation to work and to jobs . . . Spending hundreds of millions on MetroLink will not accomplish this" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 10-24-97, News). Such comments typified the opposition to the sales tax, which ultimately failed in St. Louis County and passed by a very narrow margin in the City of St. Louis.
The underlying principle of popular distaste for public transit is that citizens are unwilling to relinquish the feelings of privacy, comfort, and independence which accompany use of a private, single-user automobile. Since World War II especially, the car has become the symbol of American rugged individualism. Generally, support for public transit has been limited to environmental activist groups and advocates of the poor. Certainly, MetroLink has gained broader popular support, but the public refuses to give more money to BSDA because the funds would necessarily contribute to bus operations. Many citizens wanted a promise that 'Proposition M' dollars would go only toward MetroLink expansion. However, this contradicts the stated goal of BSDA of developing and implementing a multi-modal transit system. Overall, BSDA must overcome strong negative perceptions of its primary duties in order to achieve its goals successfully.
BSDA was created in September 1949, by an interstate compact passed by the state legislatures of Illinois and Missouri, thence approved by the governors of the two states. As required by the U. S. Constitution, the compact had been previously approved by the U.S. Congress and President Harry S. Truman. The compact created "the Bi-State Development Agency of the Missouri-Illinois Metropolitan District. . . The motivating force behind the establishment of the Agency had been the Metropolitan Plan Association, a non-profit corporation financed by private funds" (Metropolitan St. Louis Survey 1957, p. 75).
Under the terms of the compact, BSDA "plans, coordinates, and implements development projects in the St. Louis metropolitan area and plans, constructs, maintains, owns and operates public transit systems." BSDA also has power to develop, maintain, own, and operate "bridges, airports, wharves, docks, grain elevators, industrial parks, parking facilities, refuse or waste handling facilities, fuel, energy, air, water, rail or commodity storage areas. Another Bi-State role is to conduct studies and present findings to people in the community about public work projects [and] facilities that may affect them" (BSDA Annual Report 1996, p. 6).
The compact established a BSDA Board of Commissioners which administers the agency. This board has ten members, five from Missouri and five from Illinois. In Illinois, the commissioners are appointed by the governor of the state. In Missouri, the governor appoints commissioners based on the advice of the local governments. All commissioners serve a five-year term without pay, "are required to be resident voters of their respective states, and must reside within the Bi-State Metropolitan District" (BSDA Annual Report 1996, p. 7).
BSDA is an independent regional agency, operating in two different states. BSDA is not directly under any other entity's bureaucratic umbrella. "The agency is not a political subdivision of either Missouri or Illinois, but is defined as a body corporate and politic" (State Auditor of Missouri 1983, p. 8). BSDA collects fees-for-services, so is generally considered a semi-public entity. Meanwhile, its construction projects and transit planning are guided by directives of the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council, the regional transportation systems planning entity for the St. Louis area. The council is composed of representatives from each of the counties in the metropolitan area; East-West Gateway is not itself a governance agency, but a council of governmental entities which meet and try to establish a consensus.
Also, two 'transit districts,' Madison County Transit and the St. Clair County Transit District, operate specialized bus services within their respective Illinois counties. They receive separate funds for their programs, both from grants from the State of Illinois and from independent sales taxes within their districts. Each district has an independent board of trustees, and contracts with BSDA for certain transit services at the discretion of that board of trustees. Thus, in Madison County, most bus service is provided on buses owned and operated by Madison County Transit, centered on the Madison County Transfer Center in downtown Granite City, Illinois. Meanwhile, the St. Clair County Transit District contracts with BSDA for bus routes operating throughout St. Clair County, Illinois, utilizing the BSDA-owned Illinois Garage in East St. Louis, Illinois. All bus operations in Illinois are nevertheless still part of the Bi-State Transit system.
BSDA has the potential to have sweeping powers in the metropolitan St. Louis area. However, BSDA does not have taxation powers. This is the most significant part of its structural position, because this means BSDA funds must be appropriated from transportation sales taxes in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. BSDA also receives limited, declining federal funds, and some revenue from user fees. However, the State of Missouri has limited the activities of BSDA by refusing to commit to a long-term state funding strategy. Likewise, St. Louis City and County have held back some funds from BSDA in order to ensure their local interests are considered. Thus BSDA cannot do everything that it theoretically has power to do.
The power of BSDA is quite weak. However, to the extent to which it exists, it is primarily dependent on political support. Its weakness comes because BSDA often is unable to garner support from key elected officials. The public generally does not support public transit, as previously stated. Politicians must get support from a majority of the people in order to be elected; thus they will not be likely to support transit when the public is against it. In the case of BSDA, this means the agency functions and funding are limited greatly by the state and local powers. As a result, although BSDA gets its power from political support, there is little political support for funding the agency. It is expected to operate with limited funding, yet still accomplish its stated goals, which currently are narrow in policy area but vast in cost. Operation of the regional transit system, plus a few extra operations no other entity wanted to do, is the focus of BSDA operations. The name 'Bi-State Development Agency' has little meaning outside the realm of public transportation; the agency does not develop broad development plans for the entire metropolitan region, but is only called in to administer specific projects when other governmental entities do not desire to administer them. This is largely because individual municipalities and county governments refuse to relinquish control over such planning and development strategies.
Although BSDA powers are limited, nevertheless the agency potentially could have a very large clientele. Anyone who has ever used MetroLink, Call-A-Ride, a Bi-State bus, the Arch Garage, the Arch Tram, or Downtown-Parks Airport, has been a client of BSDA. In practice, the long-term, daily users of BSDA services are a comparatively small group, generally the poor and the frugal, who usually do not have a large voice in political discourse.
The clientele of BSDA are actually called customers. But, the long-term customers generally have no alternative means of transportation, and BSDA has a monopoly on bus and light rail services in the BSDA transit service area because such services are not cost effective for profit-motivated private-sector businesses. Although MetroLink users are a more diverse customer base, daily MetroLink customers who are not also daily bus customers generally use the service only five days per week, twice per day, to get access to their workplaces in downtown St. Louis and the Washington University Medical Complex. This customer base may be more politically involved, but it will not necessarily support BSDA activities not directly related to MetroLink, and is mobile enough that it could stop using MetroLink if the services were not of acceptable quality. Indeed, some may not even realize that MetroLink is run by BSDA. Still, the development of an integrated multi-modal transit system consisting of MetroLink, buses, and Call-A-Ride, has resulted in increases in ridership in all components of the system. The next step, development of sub-regional transit centers in Clayton, Downtown, South County, etc. should help encourage use of the transit facilities likewise. Thus, BSDA cannot yet depend heavily on its customers for political support, but must strive to please them in provision of services.
The BSDA compact was passed by the U.S., Missouri, and Illinois governments in 1949. The first major BSDA project, in 1953, was "the construction of a 600-foot wharf at Granite City, [Illinois] . . . Funds for the construction of this facility were advanced by the Granite City Steel Company; the loan was later repaid from the proceeds of revenue bonds" (Metropolitan St. Louis Survey 1957, p. 75). The wharf was sold in 1975 to the Tri-City Regional Port District.
In 1963, BSDA purchased and consolidated fifteen different private transportation companies under the umbrella of Bi-State Transit. "A $26.5 million revenue bond issue provided the funds so that Bi-State could assume control of the private bus companies. Bi-State's initial objective was the unification of the diverse operations of the private bus companies into a single transit system" (Mo. Dept. of Transportation 1978, p. 1). In 1964, BSDA purchased Parks Airport, renaming it Bi-State Parks Airport. This purchase involved selling $1.7 million in revenue bonds, "with assistance through grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and a $500,000 loan from the City of St. Louis" (State Auditor of Missouri 1983, p. 8). In 1984, BSDA renamed the airport St. Louis Downtown-Parks Airport.
BSDA financed the construction of the Gateway Arch Tram System "by issuing $3.3 million of revenue bonds" and has operated the tram since it opened in 1967 (State Auditor of Missouri 1983, p. 8). The Arch Parking Garage opened in 1986; it was also financed by revenue bonds, and has been continuously operated by BSDA since opening.
The modernization of the BSDA transit system continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s with updating of bus fleets and revision of bus routes to encourage ridership, although ridership generally declined. In 1987, Call-A-Ride paratransit services began operating. On July 30, 1993, MetroLink opened to the public, with thousands of passengers riding free just to try out the new system. In the future, new MetroLink lines will be built and bus routes will be reconfigured in response to changing travel patterns as part of the 25-year BSDA Transportation Improvement Plan. Like many agencies, BSDA has taken on new responsibilities over time. This is a manifestation of development of the 'administrative state,' in which governmental agencies, rather than elected officials or private interests, have the primary role in the operation of the state.
Intergovernmental Operations and Grants
Intergovernmental relationships are essential to the operations of BSDA. BSDA receives about $17 million per year (as of fiscal year 1996) from the City of St. Louis 1/2-cent transportation sales tax, or more than 90 percent of what the city collects from the transportation tax. This amount will fluctuate dependent on the total amount of taxable sales in the city; it is expected to increase along with increased sporting event revenues in downtown. BSDA also receives a fixed $33.5 million per year (FY 1996) from the St. Louis County 1/2-cent transportation sales tax. However, the county actually takes in approximately $60 million annually from that particular sales tax. The remainder of the funds are used for St. Louis County road-and-bridge programs--even though the county has a separate county road-and-bridge property tax. St. Louis County's rationale for withholding these funds is that the county does not receive enough transit service to justify its funding being any greater than twice that of the City of St. Louis. Meanwhile, BSDA receives the entire proceeds of the 1994 Proposition M, through the St. Louis County and City of St. Louis governmental bodies. Two-thirds of these revenues are invested, in order that they may be used for future MetroLink extensions; one-third is used to help offset operating expenses.
BSDA anticipates receiving $3.7 million from the State of Missouri, through the Department of Transportation, in FY 1997. However, this state funding will not be ensured for future years. It is intended to cover the losses incurred by decreased federal operating subsidies. For FY 1996, federal operation subsidies administered by the Federal Transit Administration were about $6 million. They are expected to fall below $2.5 million for FY 1997, and hopefully stabilize at that figure (BSDA Strategic Plan and Budget FY 1997, p. III-A5). The state of Illinois does provide direct transit operating assistance through the Illinois Department of Transportation; however, these funds go directly to the two transit districts. BSDA will receive many millions of federal dollars for capital expenditures, but these must fit into specifically designated categories such as: Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality; Liveable Communities; Formula grants; and Discretionary funding, which includes the St. Clair County MetroLink extension. The St. Clair extension project is also expected to be funded by an additional 1/4-cent sales tax administered by St. Clair County and approved in 1994; and by funds from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Given these long-term funding uncertainties, BSDA has begun administering some programs in partnership with other governmental agencies. Paratransit services similar to Call-A-Ride are provided by the federally-funded Care Cab Transportation agency of greater St. Louis. This helps lighten the load for Call-A-Ride services. The Liveable Communities project surrounding the Wellston MetroLink station is being undertaken in partnership with the City of Wellston, the St. Louis County Economic Council, and the Cornerstone Partnership, a non-profit group. BSDA cooperation with the two local transit districts in Illinois is very important to successful transit operations in their service areas.
Other long-standing partnerships are important to BSDA operations. BSDA uses the guidelines of the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council for many projects; however, BSDA also has a vote on the Council, thus this is not a totally independent body. As part of its consensus builder in development projects role, BSDA has administered projects on behalf of the St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic, most recently the Lackland Road Bridge in Charlack, Missouri. The Arch Tramway and Parking Garage facilities are located on property owned and managed by the National Park Service; the Garage staff currently shares office space with park rangers in the parking garage. BSDA must have cooperation from local municipalites and counties in order to undertake projects within their boundaries. Thus intergovernmental operations are a requisite for the proper functioning of BSDA.
It is definitely in the best interest of BSDA to have active citizen participation in bus and MetroLink route planning, so that ridership will be encouraged and to build a long-term customer base. BSDA recognizes this, and holds public hearings frequently to gauge input about specific plans. It also investigates citizen suggestions and recommendations for its transit activities. However, budgetary constraints are substantial for BSDA; thus most citizen suggestions cannot be implemented. Funding for BSDA is determined substantially by the people, through sales tax referenda. However, BSDA has been accused of deception in the campaigns for these tax proposals; people have not seen new MetroLink lines under construction, so they assume BSDA has broken its promise to build more MetroLink. In fact, the agency did not administer these campaigns. The campaigns were run by private citizens groups, backed primarily by the Citizens for Modern Transit, a group which promotes light rail development in St. Louis and which in the 1997 referendum camapaign received substantial financial support from Civic Progress, Inc.
Because of all these factors, citizen participation in BSDA operational decisions can be severly limited. There is no permanent citizens' advisory council for BSDA. Based on the "Ladder of Citizen Participation," BSDA is best placed at the level of placation: the agency tries to make citizens feel they have power, but ultimately planning decisions are made by professional staffers. This is not always the fault of BSDA itself, because it must operate under conditions set by various other governmental agencies.
Unlike traditional bureaucrats, most employees of BSDA are blue-collar workers and are union members. Of 1,983 employees, 1,605 are hourly-wage union members (BSDA Personnel Report Sept. 1997, Staffing Level Chart). A little less than half of these workers are female. BSDA staffing is primarily in positions which could be held by 'average citizens': bus driver, bus mechanic, bus mover, electrician, secretary/clerical, etc. Thus many BSDA employees come from minority groups, and generally reflect the composition of the metropolitan population. In BSDA, the cultural backgrounds of staff reflect society as a whole moreso than the typical public agency.
Given its funding structures, BSDA is absolutely dependent on the City of St. Louis Board of Alderman and Mayor; and the St. Louis County Council and County Executive. The St. Louis area representatives to the Missouri and Illinois legislatures are also important individuals with whom BSDA should court favor. The same is true of the local Congressional members. Support of a majority of the citizenry is also needed in order to pass sales tax referenda. Unfortunately, BSDA often is caught in conflicts between political leaders, and other times its needs are vigorously opposed by these leaders.
One example of conflict over BSDA needs is the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council decision about which route to use for connecting Clayton, Missouri to the existing MetroLink line. The council operates by consensus, and as a result the most important voices in the decision came to be St. Louis County Executive 'Buzz' Westfall, and City of St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon. Westfall favored a route following Forest Park Parkway, running directly from the Forest Park MetroLink station to downtown Clayton. Harmon initially favored a line starting at a new station on the existing line at Boyle Avenue in St. Louis, thence running via the I-64/U.S. Highway 40 corridor to serve the St. Louis Science Center, turning northwest under Forest Park itself to serve the Zoo and Art Museum, then finally running parallel to Forest Park Parkway into Clayton. After much public discussion, the ultimate decision to which Harmon assented was to build the Westfall-backed 'direct' line via the Forest Park Parkway corridor from Forest Park station. BSDA, of course, will be forever criticized for building this route when indeed the agency had minimal control over this decision.
Congressional Jurisdiction, Congressional Oversight and Subsystems Involvement
Activities of the U.S. Congress have little direct influence on BSDA operations, but they are very important in establishing funding. Although Congress does have to approve any major amendments to the compact, it likely would do so if local and state leaders had already assented to the change. Federal funding for mass transit is determined by Congress; in practice, this is the most significant connection between BSDA and Congress. However, Congressional decisions on funding transit operations are generally very broad. Project grants are important; i.e. the apportionment of discretionary funds to specific transit projects. These funds are apportioned by a transportation subcommittee in Congress, but usually the political power of a few key representatives from the St. Louis area is more important. These representatives can insert funding for a transit project into a bill without significant objections from other members of Congress.
BSDA does not come under direct review of a Congressional oversight committee, nor is it part of an established political subsystem. BSDA is a member of the American Public Transit Association (APTA), which attempts to lobby in Congress on behalf of transit agencies, generally regarding federal funding mechanisms such as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Act. The APTA does not have strong, long-term connections with a particular subcommittee or committee of Congress. There are few other prominent interest groups representing public transit; most are small, like the transit workers' unions and contractors or subcontractors for specific local projects. Likewise, the Federal Transit Administration has a relatively small budget, so although it does support actions of the APTA, there is not a strong connection in political endeavors. This is primarily because of the strength of the highway lobby, which sees any dollars headed towards public transit as a threat to its own needs and thus vigorously opposes any diversion of transportation funds from highways to mass transit. The highway lobby is a very strong subsystem, one which the highly fragmented, internally competitive transit industry has little hope of overcoming.
Technical Needs and Power
Because most of the employees of BSDA are blue-collar union members, their technical expertise (bus operation or maintenance) was generally obtained in a three-month on-the-job training program, or possibly in a vocational-technical school setting. These skills are important to the daily operations of the bus system, but are not conducive to establishment of political power. Thus the technical knowledge of BSDA employees does not have much influence on the power of the agency. Even in the planning division, much of the activity is directed toward route design and scheduling, which alone does not require extensive training. Outsiders could do much of the work of BSDA employees, although without as much finesse, after only a few months of training. Anyone could plan a bus route and schedule, if one so desired. It does not require extensive technical knowledge, but only basic information: where is the area to be served, how many buses are available for this route, etc. Of course, budgeting is a reasonably technical matter; but only a few employees of BSDA are engaged in budget planning. Overall, the technical expertise of BSDA employees is not conducive to attaining political power.
BSDA is a distributive policy agency; it uses funds received from a variety of sources to provide the necessary public services of transit and project planning. However, because many of the customers of BSDA transit services are low-income, the agency is perceived as being redistributive--the money BSDA gets from purchasers of products in local stores is used to provide extremely inexpensive transportation to the poor. Of course, since the sales tax is regressive, meaning that the poor pay a larger share of their income in sales tax than do the middle-class and the wealthy, this argument has little basis in fact. BSDA is a distributive agency, and although its services do require a user fee, they are available for anyone to use. Even in its project management objectives, BSDA is providing a service which benefits anyone who uses that facility or roadway. Thus BSDA policies are purely distributive in nature.
II. Life in the Organization
Weberian Structures, and Hierarchy
BSDA has a flat hierarchical structue inasmuch as it is managed by a ten-member Board of Commissioners, with five members from Missouri and five from Illinois. This often creates tension because board members generally represent first the interests of their home state. Below the board of commissioners is an executive director, and adjuncts to the executive director are the director of equal employment opportunity and the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise liaison officer. Below the executive director are the special assistant for strategic planning, the director of government affairs, and the deputy secretary to the board. The placement of these positions reflects the importance of planning and intergovernmental relations in the agency's operations.
Below these officials are the four equal divisions of BSDA: Operations, Administration and Finance, Engineering and Facilities Management, and Business Development. Each of these divisions has a deputy executive director and a general manager who are equal to each other in status. Below them is an executive secretary, and below that position are the offices encompassed within each division, departments which are each equal to one another. Within the Operations Division are the departments of: Illinois Service Area; Brentwood Service Area; DeBaliviere Service Area; Central Operations Services; MetroLink Operations; Safety and Training; and Product Management. Within the Administration and Finance Division are the departments of: Finance/Controller; Marketing and Planning; Human Resources, Budget and Grants; Administration; Internal Audit; and Equal Employment Opportunity. Within the Engineering and Construction Division are the departments of: Arts in Transit; Real Estate Acquisition; Design and Construction; Facilities and Right-of-Way Maintenance; Rail System Maintenance; Real Estate Management; Contract Administration; and Rail Extensions (BSDA Strategic Plan and Budget FY 1997, Sect. II). Within the Business Development Division are: the Arch Tramway and ticket office; the Arch Parking Garage; and St. Louis Downtown-Parks Airport.
BSDA requires specialization of task and division of labor as is typical in Weberian hierarchies. However, BSDA lacks a strict traditional chain of command; there are instead different divisions with equal footing, and at the highest level there are ten commissioners appointed largely on a political basis. BSDA does keep records and have formal procedures and rules which are meant to ensure predictability, but does not require all its employees to work full-time. Hiring of vehicle operators is not always based solely on merit; transit union officials can influence the decision.
One major objective of BSDA is to improve customer satisfaction. As a result, the agency utilizes principles of Total Quality Management to "bring about performance improvements and create a work force capable and qualified to carry out the agency's mission." Part of this is the Prepare 21 initiative, which "focuses on providing employees with the necessary information, skills and capacity to contribute to the success of the Agency." This process is to consist of employee retraining and orientation to the concept of hospitality-style service, like that provided by customer service employees at hotels and conference/convention centers. Coupled with this is "A re-engineering of processes and systems . . . The overall goal is to have an Agency, which as a team is working smarter, responding to customer needs faster, and being proactive" (BSDA Strategic Plan & Budget FY 1997, intro. letter). This language is typical of Total Quality Management endeavors.
Centralization of Decision-Making
Although the appointed Board of Commissioners makes many important decisions, other decisions are delegated to the respective divisions and departments to which they pertain. Decision-making is sufficiently decentralized at BSDA that the agency operated effectively during a nearly six-month period in mid-1997 when it had no permanent executive director. Indeed, the current executive director Tom Irwin has held the position for only about three weeks. He has no past experience in public transit management, but extensive experience as an upper-level administrator in state and local governments. Thus he likely has not exercised any significant controls over the agency as yet; he is still trying to figure out his place.
Former BSDA executive director Jack Leary, now head of the transit authority in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was a strong and vocal figurehead representing the agency in front of the public and the media. During his term, the agency completed, opened, and successfully operated the MetroLink line, redesigned the bus system to tie in with the light rail, and instituted new special events services. He was a strong leader despite that the agency is officially led by a commission and is broken into diverse units. Only time will tell the direction BSDA will take under Tom Irwin; right now it is just too early to guess.
Policy at BSDA has been incremental in evolution because the agency's scope of activity has increased incrementally. The agency has taken on new tasks and opened or purchased new facilities as time has progressed. As a result, it has had to find new funding mechanisms for these projects. Most of the time the initial developments were funded by revenue bonds. Later, sales tax money and federal funds came into the picture as part of the improvement, consolidation, and upgrading of the public transit system. This has been an incremental process also; more funds and different types of funds have been utilized gradually. The redesign of the bus system is generally to be incremental as well: first those routes with easy access to MetroLink, and later other routes, are to be modified using a multi-hubbed transit center plan. This is part of the incremental policy shift to catch up with the changing commuting patterns in metro St. Louis. Currently, the bus system still has a distinct suburb-to-downtown focus. However, the dominant overall commuting pattern is from suburb-to-suburb; second is from the central city to the suburbs; and third is into downtown St. Louis. This process has been ongoing since before BSDA commenced transit operations. Only now is BSDA trying to actually catch up with this pattern, and at least theoretically compete with the automobile as a viable commuting option between suburban communities.
Employees of BSDA could certainly find themselves with 'dirty hands' given that BSDA policies and decisions are intensely political. Because most of the employees of BSDA are transit operators, political involvement may not noticeably affect their job performance. However, if they feel their jobs are ensured because of their own political connections, they would likely perform poorly. Planning and development department employees at BSDA must be especially careful to prevent their political leanings from interfering with their work. All BSDA employees must commit themselves to impartiality in the exercise of their work by refusing to grant political favors, such as increased bus service in a particular elected official's district or municipality, for any reason. Meanwhile, the board of commissioners is expected to be politically-motivated in its decisions; the board members are politically appointed so they must vote on behalf of the area they represent. Fortunately, the commissioners are not paid for their work on the commission; unfortunately this may make them even more susceptible to political forces.
Organizational Culture and Job Categorization
Of 1,983 BSDA employees, 1,605 are hourly-wage union members. These employees make up the bulk of the agency staff; they keep the buses, vans and trains in good operating condition, run them on schedule usually, and provide other operational support. BSDA is a union shop for vehicle operators, maintenance personnel, clerical workers, and electricians. Operators and maintenance are members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 788, clerical workers are part of the A.T.U. Clerical Unit, and the electricians are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (BSDA Personnel Report Sept. 1997, Staffing Level Chart).
Because most BSDA employees are union members, they expect high wages, good benefits, and fair treatment as ensured by their union contracts. This keeps BSDA compensation costs very high. These employees have technical positions, although some require more training than others. The remainder of BSDA employees are salaried professionals, primarily mangers, accountants, planners and analysts. There are 365 such employees as of September 1997. The 1,983 employee figure excludes 250 security officers, primarily working on the MetroLink line, many of whom are part-time and some of whom are employees of subcontracting companies.
The dichotomy of professional versus union employees at BSDA means two distinct cultures exist. The union members are typically blue-collar, 'average' working-people, and based at the garages and repair facilities. Meanwhile, the professional employees have a college education and thus are expected to have different tastes and expectations from their jobs. The two groups are geographically remote: although sometimes professional staffers do field work, they usually work at the agency headquarters at 707 N. First Street on Laclede's Landing. Union employees, except for a few headquarters clerical staffers, are based at Brentwood, DeBaliviere, Illinois, Main Shops, or MetroLink. Then the vehicle operators travel throughout the metropolitan area on various routes. Thus MetroLink operators do not stop the train at Laclede's Landing to say hello to their friends in the main office; but they do wave to each other as they pass while traveling along the right-of-way.
Executive Relationships, and Executive Branch Reorganization
BSDA is not especially important to any initiatives of the Clinton administration, nor of past presidential administrations. It is a federally-chartered agency because it serves two states; if the metropolitan St. Louis area was only within one state, the agency could be a division of the state government. Thus the President has never attempted to reorganize BSDA.
III. Core Functions of Public Administration
BSDA has 1,983 employees as of September 1997. This employment figure has been reasonably stable during recent years; even as bus routes have been revised and deleted, bus drivers have been retrained to operate MetroLink. Thus this employment figure should remain stable unless budgetary constraints require BSDA to cancel substantial degrees of bus service and thus layoff operators, as occurred in the late 1970s.
Professional vs. Patronage
All employees of BSDA are long-term; their positions are not directly affected by political patronage, although sometimes the preferences of transit union officials can determine hiring of union employees. Thus BSDA is ensured a great degree of continuity in decision-making, because most employees both professional and unionized have been with the agency for a number of years; only the executive director is a highly mobile position. The institutional memory of BSDA is vast as a result, both in the professional and in the union sectors. The agency can function well without an executive director. This does, however, insulate the agency employees from accountability to elected officials. Staffers are expected to maintain a professional manner, and thus their jobs are generally secure from political intervention. The agency also is not part of any local government, making any local politician's attempts to reorganize it difficult indeed.
BSDA has classification of job positions based on cost centers (CCs). These indicate in which division an employee works, indicate what the general job duties are, and serve as a general pay scale guideline. Specific pay ranges for union employees are set by union contracts, and for professional employees by the job description.
As previously mentioned, collective bargaining is essential to BSDA operations. The agency finalized all three union contracts in FY 1996. Thus the operation of the agency is stabilized for the next several years. At BSDA, 1,505 employees are members of the A.T.U. Local 788 main unit; 83 employees are members of the A.T.U. Clerical Unit; and 17 employees are members of I.B.E.W. Local 2. Union members constitute the bulk of the employment at BSDA. (BSDA Personnel Report Sept. 1997, Staffing Level Chart)
The employees of BSDA generally reflect the diverse composition of the St. Louis metropolitan area, although exact figures were not available. The agency places a high priority on Equal Employment Opportunity, employs a large percentage of African-Americans especially among bus and MetroLink operators, and has other cultural backgrounds represented in the union and professional staff. BSDA also has an active Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program for awarding of project and service contracts. Overall, BSDA strives to be as inclusive as possible in its employment and contract awarding practices.
BSDA has no taxing powers, so is dependent on funds from user fees; revenue bonds; and federal, state, local and private agencies. In particular, sales taxes are collected in St. Louis and St. Louis County; and in St. Clair and Madison Counties for use by the local transit districts. BSDA has been receiving less federal funding every year for the past decade; meanwhile the State of Missouri refuses to commit to a long-term funding program. In fiscal year 1996, BSDA revenues totalled approximately 118 million dollars. FY 1996 expenses were approximately 116 million dollars. Although this represents essentially a "break-even" status, this is misleading. The Arch Tram, Arch Garage and Parks Airport divisions all do make noticeable profits based predominantly on service revenues. However, the transit system is the bulk of Bi-State's operation. Transit farebox revenues accounted for 23 percent of the 112 million dollar revenues of the transit division--a percentage typical of transit systems in major metropolitan areas.
Transit is subsidized substantially by sales tax funds from the participating counties, yet had only a nominal eleven thousand dollar operating net income in FY '96. This has been a consistent problem for BSDA, particularly in the 1970s when base fares remained at twenty-five cents, after being set at forty-five cents in the 1960s when ridership was somewhat higher but there was no sales tax subsidy. Although some new riders were attracted by the lower fares, the 1980 jump in fares to fifty cents, and 1982 increase to seventy-five cents, generally coincided with sharp decreases in ridership. Today the fare is one dollar for local, express and MetroLink service. Meanwhile, local bus service in outlying areas of St. Louis County has generally been decreased, because of the high cost-per-rider on routes with extremely low ridership in low-density suburban areas. Instead, BSDA has chosen to concentrate on major trunk-line service to employment centers, some of which are in suburban areas but generally quite distant from residential population concentrations. BSDA must stabilize its funding structures in order to survive. As the agency plans major expansions and redesigns to its inter-modal transit system, it must simultaneously strive to find new, innovative funding sources, rather than solely looking for more money in the "garbage can" of sales tax referenda. Historically, BSDA budgeting decisions have been quite incremental. The agency needs to be innovative, developing new funding sources while retaining existing ones.
Executive Budgeting (OMB) Relationships
BSDA really has no involvement with the Office of Management and Budget. Funding for the Federal Transit Administration is administered through OMB, but BSDA is receiving less and less money from the federal government, because of Congressional desires to decrease federal spending on transit.
BSDA is responsive primarily to the governmental entities which provide it with funding. The appointed Board of Commissioners makes some important decisions on a rational, mainly financial, yet short-term basis because of the politically-established funding instability of BSDA. The Board members probably are most often politically motivated in their decision making. Meanwhile, BSDA itself cannot make the decision to increase the sales tax support for its transit operations; only St. Louis County and St. Louis City separately choose to place such issues on a referendum for their voters. The executive director of BSDA takes a substantive leadership role, and staffers may have specific planning, administrative, or operations management roles; however, the Board of Commissioners must approve most decisions.
Because of its long-term financial constraints, BSDA often makes short-term decisions to revise its transit operations. Because East-West Gateway Coordinating Council sets the priorities for MetroLink, and because the Arch, Arch Garage, and Parks Airport operations are budgeted and managed separately from transit, shortfalls in the transit division cannot be covered by other divisions' funds. Thus BSDA struggles to pull from the garbage can as many funding mechanisms as are feasible. Indeed, a 1994 loan made by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Department to BSDA in order to keep MetroLink running, was challenged by State Auditor Margaret Kelly (Post-Dispatch 7/12/94, News). BSDA has also curtailed service on bus routes serving low-density suburban areas, particularly far West St. Louis County and South St. Louis County. These decisions were reactions to low ridership and resulting high cost per rider, which BSDA simply cannot afford. Every BSDA transit rider is subsidized; no bus route "breaks even" based on farebox revenues, nor does MetroLink, nor does Call-A-Ride despite its noticeably higher fares. So BSDA often scrambles to get more money to meet short term operating expenses, while long-term goals substantially are set by outside entities, particularly East-West Gateway.
Program Evaluations and Audits
When BSDA is evaluated or audited, it is generally done by state or local entities. The agency has not been comprehensively audited recently by the Missouri State Auditor; a 1982 study cited previously reflects managerial problems the agency has largely resolved by construction of new bus maintenance facilities and locating a modern headquarters facility. The agency uses internal auditing and periodic reviews by commercial accounting firms to assess its activities and finances.
Rule-Making and Adjudication
BSDA is solely a distributive agency and does not make rules for others to follow. When it is involved in litigation, it is usually because of its liablility towards employees and customers, particularly if its vehicles are involved in accidents. This is not an example of adjudication, but instead shows BSDA's role as a corporation which can be sued for damages in liability cases.
The Bi-State Development Agency provides generally high-quality public transit services to the metropolitan St. Louis area. The 25-year Transportation Improvement Plan, including expansion of MetroLink and increased flexibility of the bus system, will build upon successes in these realms. The agency should concentrate on transit operations, while recognizing that its specific development projects (Downtown-Parks and the Arch facilities) are complementary to a complete transportation system. BSDA must find innovative funding sources, including but not limited to: partnerships with universities, foundations, business associations, corporations, and non-profit organizations; a permanent formula for funding from the State of Missouri; and grants from individual municipalities for special services within their boundaries. BSDA must improve customer service in order to retain current customers, realizing that many individuals will never be willing to use the current bus system. BSDA has garnered great favorable publicity because of MetroLink; now it must build upon its success by improving bus service and solidifying operations funding mechanisms.
Antonio, James F. Special Review of the Bi-State Development Agency of the Missouri-Illinois Metropolitan District. State Auditor of Missouri: Jefferson City, May 1983. Report No. 83-49.
Bi-State Development Agency. 1996 Annual Report. Bi-State: St. Louis, 1997.
Bi-State Development Agency. Personnel Report: September 1997. Bi-State: St. Louis, September 1997.
Bi-State Development Agency. "Who Are We," internet address: http://www.bi-state.org/who.html. Bi-State: St. Louis; accessed 12-1-1997.
Metropolitan St. Louis Survey. Background for Action: The Report of the St. Louis Metropolitan Survey. Metropolitan St. Louis Survey: St. Louis, 1957.
Missouri Department of Transportation. Public Transit in Missouri: An Update. Mo. D.O.T.: Jefferson City, Nov. 1978.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Auditor Takes Aim At MetroLink Loan," by Virgil Tipton. July 12, 1994. News section.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Cities Plead Their Case for Shifting of Page Avenue Funds to MetroLink," by Phil Sutin. October 24, 1997. News section.
South County Times. "Opposition Mounts to Nov. 4 MetroLink Vote," by Kevin Murphy. p. 1.
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Last modified 1 March 2001 ~~ Please direct all comments and questions to: Joe Frank.