SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Taxes and Bus Service
By Rodney Dial


March 20, 2007
Tuesday AM

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.


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 estimated $1,039,000

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 transportation?

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?

Rodney Dial
Ketchikan, AK

Received March 19, 2007 - Published March 20, 2007

About: " Someone tired of a local Goverment that doesn't listen to the people."




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Ketchikan, Alaska