Jeffco Express buses parked, web.jpg

Jeffco Express will stop running a dedicated route in the city of Arnold.

The route will stop running Feb. 7, according to OATS Transit Inc., which took over Jeffco Express, Jefferson County’s nonprofit bus service, on Dec. 1. The 10-year-old bus line previously was owned and operated by the Jefferson County Community Partnership (JCCP).

Currently, the Arnold route, which began operating in 2011, circles the city five times a day, with more than 30 stops per run.

OATS will continue to operate two cross-county routes, which mirror each other, completing three loops a day.

One of those cross-county routes, the blue route, starts in De Soto and travels north to Arnold. The green route starts in Arnold and travels south. Both routes have stops in Hillsboro, Pevely and Festus, said Jill Stedem, administrative and development director for OATS, which is based in Columbia and provides transportation services in 87 counties in Missouri,

Right now, riders who use the blue or green routes are able to travel to Arnold and receive a transfer slip to use the buses dedicated to strictly the city of Arnold without paying an additional fare.

The cost for a one-way ticket to ride one of the buses is $2 for adults or $1 for those 60 or older or with a disability, a spokeswoman at Jeffco Express said.

“This (eliminating the Arnold bus) is unfortunate for city riders who relied on transportation to get to work, essential shopping and business errands,” said OATS executive director Dorothy Yeager in a Jan. 10 written statement. “The city of Arnold route provided 500 to 600 rides each month and stopped at more than 30 business locations throughout the day. These cuts not only affect our riders, but also the businesses who rely on our buses to bring customers to them.”

OATS drivers who were operating the Arnold route will be moved to other routes where there are driver shortages, the company reported.

The elimination of the Arnold bus route was spurred by the Arnold City Council’s decision to no longer provide funding for the service.

On Dec. 19, Arnold City Council members voted 7-1 against extending a contract with Jeffco Express. The contract had been in place since Arnold got its own dedicated bus line in 2011.

The contract called for Arnold to pay up to $69,104 in operating costs for the bus service in 2020. That price tag would have increased to up to $70,486 in 2021 and $71,895 in 2022, the city reported.

“I think (council members) felt ridership and usage of the service didn’t justify the increasing amount of money that we were spending on it,” City Administrator Bryan Richison said.

Arnold’s route also was partly funded with a Bi-State Development grant, which required a 50 percent match from a local entity.

The two cross-county routes are funded with money from the Missouri Department of Transportation; Developmental Disability Advocates; the Jefferson Foundation; Aging Ahead; the Missouri Elderly and Handicapped Assistance Program; and Medicaid Waiver and rider fares, OATS said in its press release.

Richison said Arnold officials were proud to be the only city in Jefferson County to provide a bus route.

“The more services you can offer your citizens, the more you can be a more well-rounded city,” Richison said. “Services like (the bus route) really help do that and help you feel like you are trying to reach all parts of the community. I liked that we were able to provide that, and it said a lot about us as a city. But money matters, and the cost kept going up. Ridership never became a broad-based service where we had a large section of the community using it. I think that’s ultimately what did it in.”

In past years, Arnold did not have to pay any funds, or at least not the full amount it had budgeted, for the Jeffco Express grant match because the JCCP received grants from the Jefferson Foundation that covered the local match.

In 2017 and 2018, the foundation provided $200,000 in grants to help fund the bus system each year, and from 2014 to 2016, the foundation awarded JCCP $1,070,237.29 to help fund the bus system.

However, the Jefferson Foundation has been providing less grant money for the system recently. For example, it awarded OATS a $100,000 grant in the second round of grants this year to help fund the system.

“The difference was the JCCP got grant money from Jefferson Foundation to pay the city’s 50 percent match,” Richison said. “As a condition of the federal grant, they had to have a guaranteed local match. We didn’t pay it because the Jefferson Foundation was paying it. The Jefferson Foundation stopped doing that for the last two years, so we have been paying the 50 percent.”

Arnold Ward 3 Councilman Vern Sullivan was the only council member who voted in favor of continuing the contract with Jeffco Express.

“The council made a decision they felt was best for the city in the long run,” Sullivan said. “I voted because I was on the transportation committee, and we talked to several of the elderly people in town who just had no other way of getting around. In support of them, I wanted to vote for them. They need some kind of transportation to get around town.”

Councilmen EJ Fleischmann (Ward 1), Jason Fulbright (Ward 1), Brian McArthur (Ward 2), Tim Seidenstricker (Ward 2), Mark Hood (Ward 3), Butch Cooley (Ward 4) and Gary Plunk (Ward 4) voted to end the contract.

“We want to make sure we are using our city tax dollars to benefit the entire city,” said Seidenstricker, who chaired a committee that studied the bus service in Arnold. “Because of the cost, we were concerned that it wasn’t fair to pay for something like this that wasn’t benefiting more people. The cost is almost $70 to $80 per person per ride when you calculate what we are paying versus the ridership.”

In 2019, City Council members cut back on other services the city has been providing. The council voted to stop running the Arnold Golf Club, which the city took over in 2007 when it was called Pomme Creek Golf Course. In addition, the city is closing Corridor 55, a shared work space that opened in 2014.

“We have been redoing a lot of things,” Fulbright said. “Like with the golf course, Corridor 55, we have been taking a hard look at the programs that we have to see if we are making the best decisions and if there is something, we can do better.”

Stedem said the Arnold route was the most used of the three routes Jeffco Express operated in the county.

She said in December 2019, there were 450 trips taken on the city route, and for the year, there were 6,545 trips recorded for the route. Trips indicate how many fares were collected to ride a bus and do not indicate each individual use or rider.

In December, the blue route had 329 trips, and the green route had 265. Stedem said she did not have the totals for the year for those two routes.

“The Arnold route is the most heavily used. We have about 1,800 riders a quarter,” Stedem said. “That has tripled since it started in 2011.”

In 2018, the Arnold route had 5,998 riders, the JCCP reported. The partnership said 5,402 used the green route and 4,022 used the blue route that year.

In 2017, 5,463 riders used the Arnold route, 5,276 used the green route and 4,702 the blue route, the JCCP reported.

There was a route that operated in the west part of the county, which was established in November 2015 and ceased operation after the first six months of 2018, and that route had 1,533 riders in 2018. In 2017, 1,678 riders used the west route, according to the JCCP.

In Jefferson County, OATS also runs the JC Transit service for the Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities Resource Board. OATS also has its own transportation service, primarily for seniors and disabled people. For questions about those services, call 636-933-9380.

“I think the public transportation was a good thing for our community,” Arnold Mayor Ron Counts said. “I understand the council’s feeling about it, but the fact is, it is a really difficult position. If you look at the amount of money they were spending to support this thing for a ridership that was not very much, it can be hard to keep doing.”

Stedem advises people who use the Arnold bus to contact Arnold officials.

“The big thing we can tell local residents is the City Council needs to hear from them so they know what impact this is going to have to them in getting to work and various other places they need to go and use public transit for,” Stedem said. “It is one of those things that until you need it, you don’t think about it. If residents are unhappy about that, they need to reach out to the City Council and let them know how important transit services are to them and the city of Arnold.”