On any given day there are hundreds of different reasons why hundreds of different people hop on the MetroLink. But recently, there’s one reason some people are choosing not to ride it.
“There is a lot of violence,” said 17-year-old Tatyana Danos, who says she has witnessed that violence first-hand. “A couple people started to fight, and started throwing trashcan lids, picking up knives, throwing cans and everything.”
That violence is why government and law enforcement leaders from both sides of the river are calling MetroLink safety a top priority. They came together in a meeting Wednesday afternoon to form a comprehensive plan to improve safety on the Metro.
In just the past three weeks, two shootings have killed two people riding metro link. And over the past couple of years, there have been a series of headline-grabbing security incidents on and around the trains.
“I do think it’s very important that we provide a safer transportation system for all of the people who need transit to get to their jobs, to get to school, and they have a right and we have an obligation to try to make that system as safe as possible,” said St. Louis Mayor-Elect Lyda Krewson.
Now St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger is leveling criticism directly at the man in charge of Metro, Bi-State CEO John Nations.
Stenger says Nations is failing when it comes to Metrolink security and he's called a meeting between the leaders of the three jurisdictions that fund most of Metrolink.
"We've seen the security issue reach, I think, it's all time worst," says Stenger. "And, yet, there is still this lack of cooperation I believe all three jurisdictions are experiencing with Metro."
Stenger describes the "lack of cooperation" as "general" in nature, but did give one example - a contract for police services with the county that remains unsigned.
"We're coming together because he's not doing his job," Stenger says of Nations, the man in charge of Metro.
"I think what Steve is feeling is the frustration that a lot of us have for some time," says Nations. "This patch work approach to policing does not produce results the public expects."
By law, Metro is required to contract policing of the Metrolink to St. Louis County, the city, and St. Clair County.
As for the contract for policing in question with St. Louis County, Nations says it was changed from previous years and communication about resolving the changes seems to have stalled.
Accomplishing a safer system, leaders say, will involve turnstiles at Metro stops, and more police officers in addition to security officers. Those police will come from several departments working under a united command.
“These are things I think the public that rides Metro should expect from us as we move forward,” said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar.
Both Nations and Stenger agree that Metrolink security is not at the level the public expects. But they differ on what to do about it.
Nations says an officer on every train and platform would immediately make the Metrolink system safer. Currently the security guards he employs do not have the authority to arrest on either side of the river and can only write tickets for unpaid fares in Illinois.
Stenger believes Metro wants its own police force to replace the contracted coverage with the three jurisdictions.
Nations denies that's his goal.
"I believe it could be made safe the way it is," says Nations. "However, if the region wants to turn over total control we will take it and we will make the system safe."
Stenger is calling for turnstiles and facial recognition cameras at every stop. Ideas he says he plans to discuss with St. Louis Mayor-elect Lyda Krewson and St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern.
Both men say the other's plan is too expensive.
St. Louis County officials say they are hoping the new plan will fit under the current budget, but they are still ironing out the details of the plan. There will be a follow-up meeting after Mayor-Elect Krewson’s inauguration.