Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cost of Public Transit

Recently, the Columbian chose to publish a letter to the editor entitled "Bus transit preferred."

The author of the letter makes a closing statement that, "buses make a lot more sense and are more cost effective (than light rail)." This statement is based on an uninformed understanding of operating efficiencies of public transit, as suggested in the letter. My purpose for responding to this letter is not to advocate for a transit option...but to simply provide a factual background for decision making.

The letter states that light rail ridership will only produce enough revenue to cover less than 25 percent of (the) operating costs. Because of that low percentage of cost recovery, the author insinuates that politicians are making a bad decision to support light rail and instead should support buses.

The argument presented is without merit and nonfactual.

So, let's get it straight:

#1) The national average fairbox recovery for bus transit systems is around 20%. That means that on average, BUS systems recover 20% of the operating costs from the rider. Locally, C-TRAN does BETTER than the national average, recovering around 23% of the operating costs.

#2) If a light rail transit recovers 25% of it's operating costs from ridership, then it is MORE efficient in cost recovery than bus systems nationwide and in comparison to our own C-TRAN.
In the scenario detailed by the author, light rail transit should be the preferred option for politicians wanting to support more efficient (by cost recovery) public transit.

#3) In the DEIS document for the CRC project, a comparison of estimated operating costs for light rail versus a bus rapid transit system provided. Please refer to Page 3-72 and Page 4-39. As noted on Page 3-72, the cost of operating a bus system is between 30-42% higher than a light rail system. Furthermore, as noted on Page 4-39, the cost of operating a bus system for an alignment to Clark College is $2.2-2.3 million more per year than a light rail system to the same destination. The cost of operating a bus system is MORE than operating a light rail system!

Clearly, the author prefers a bus system over a light rail system. I don't argue the opinion, just the incorrect basis for the opinion. There are other reasons to support a bus system over a light rail system that do have substantive merit...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

School Bond Measure Lacks Support

News today that the Evergreen School District Capital Improvement Bond measure was defeated was disappointing, although not entirely surprising.

Indeed, the economic conditions don't lend well to tax-payer support. However, the support campaign couldn't just "pull the plug"...once the machine is started, there's really no turning back.

As I mentioned in our recent joint meeting with the Evergreen School Board, I viewed their measure as the litmus test for our community under these current economic conditions. The support campaign worked tirelessly, and there has been significant public support for the school district in recent years. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the current proposed capital improvement measure should have passed. However, the current economic conditions clearly have the attention of the tax payer, and even supporting schools and our children's education is not enough to part with the pocketbook.

Other local public agencies should take seriously the message from the resounding defeat of the school measure. In addition, the recent defeat of the public safety communication sales tax increase (CRESA) and the Port of Vancouver property tax levy are also both messages to be heeded. It's hard to believe that until the economy improves, until the public's perception of and satisfaction with government (particularly federal) inproves, until food prices come down, and until gas prices come down (if ever), there doesn't appear to be room in the checking account to pay more taxes.