Taxes and Bus Service
By Rodney Dial
March 20, 2007
A poll on the Ketchikan Daily News webpage indicates that over
80% of the local public surveyed wants local government to reduce
the tax burden. Despite the overwhelming outcry regarding this
year's significant increase in taxes, your elected officials
appeared poised to do nothing.
In all communities there are examples of wasteful spending.
In Ketchikan, there is one area where the taxpayer is getting
fleeced to a level that borders on being obscene. That area
is public transportation. The following facts concerning local
bus service come from the KGB FY06/07 Borough Budget, and The
Ketchikan Transit Development Plan.
KETCHIKAN BUS SERVICE / PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
2006 Bus ridership 154,765
As many as 1/3 of all yearly riders are not residents. Based
upon the seasonal/monthly change in ridership.
Total transit operating costs are expected to increase from the
budgeted $581,700 in FY 2004, and rise sharply in FY08 to an
Number of riders per hour of service, 9 or less.
The productivity of the system is rapidly declining. In the
prior years productivity decreased by 34% while the number of
annual service hours has increased by 105%.
The number of riders surveyed who said that they would not make
their trip if the bus were not available only 4%. Forty percent
would walk as an alternative to taking the bus, 20% would take
a taxi, 16% would arrange for a ride with a friend or family
member, and eight percent would hitchhike.
When KTNs bus service was compared to others in Alaska and Canada
it fared poorly. Ketchikan was nearly dead last in the number
of riders per hour with only one other community having a lower
number of hourly riders. For example in nearby Prince Rupert,
their bus service cost per revenue hour was $9 less, fairbox
recovery was two times higher, and they had more than 3.5 times
the passengers per hour. Juneau also has more than 3 times the
number of riders per hour than Ketchikan does.
There are indications that transit funding levels nationwide
may decline slightly from the last several years under TEA-21.
Revenue trends are not positive for Ketchikan Borough Transit.
The Borough subsidy is expected to rise sharply in FY 2008.
Between 2001-2006 the population of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough
decreased, yet spending on public transportation increased by
nearly 100%. At the projected FY08 funding level, if 100k local
rides (tourist/non-resident excluded) are provided, the cost
each time someone steps on the bus will be over $10. This cost
does not include the expense of replacing buses that cost several
hundred thousand each, or providing related infrastructure such
as bus shelters.
Federal/State funding and fares do contribute to the cost of
local public transportation, however over 53% of the cost of
each ride is provided by local taxpayers. It is important for
the local taxpayer to understand that we as a community are subsidizing
transportation for thousands of non-residents yearly.
It is also important to remember that only 4% of those surveyed
indicated that lack of public transportation would prevent them
from taking their trip. Simply put, this means that we will
soon be spending more than a million dollars per year, to provide
6 thousand rides (based upon 4% of 150K yearly rides) for those
who would not travel otherwise (how many of those 6 thousand
are locals?) Six thousand divided by FY08 Budget of $1,039,000
= $173.16 per ride.
Let me try to anticipate the arguments of local government and
issue a preemptive response. I expect that they will say
Government: Ridership is increasing
Reply: Depends on how you look at it. Any increase in ridership
comes at the expense of reduced productivity, and increased costs.
Last year bus service was expanded to the Totem Bight area.
As a result a few more people are riding the bus, however the
rides provided per hour of service has dramatically decreased
in recent years, and costs are skyrocketing. Local government
is well aware of this. They recently enacted a Ride the Bus
for Free program to boost ridership. The loss in fee revenue
will be replaced with taxpayer funds. This is an attempt to
cook the books so that supporters can claim bus service in
Ketchikan is working.
Government: Bus service provides an essential public service.
Reply: According to your survey (taken on city buses) 96% would
disagree key word being essential.
Government: Federal / State funding help fund the bus.
Reply: At least 53% of the cost of each ride is paid by the LOCAL
taxpayer. That amount is sure to increase now that the Borough
has enacted a ride for free program.
Government: Bus service guarantee used to lure business to the
Ward Cover industrial Park area.
Reply: Aren t those supposed to be high paying jobs? How many
people making $30+ an hour do you expect will be riding the bus,
and why is it the taxpayers responsibility to subsidize their
Bus service may be appropriate in Anchorage, L.A. or some other
large community, but is wasteful spending in Ketchikan. I would
like to end this letter by saying that if local bus service were
eliminated, the borough would have enough excess funds to completely
eliminate the sales tax on all food purchases. Which would you
consider the greater good?
Received March 19, 2007 - Published March 20, 2007
About: " Someone tired
of a local Goverment that doesn't listen to the people."
Note: Comments published
on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.
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