A closer look at proposed bus fares

Editor,

I am writing in regards to the proposed Island Transit bus fares discussed at the meeting held on May 21, 2018 in Coupeville.

As clearly stated in the Island Transit TDP 2016-2021, Resolution No. 12-16, the Board of Directors is charged with overseeing and managing the sole mass transportation system in the best interest of residents and communities of Whidbey Island. This was approved on August 26, 2016, by the PTBA Board of Directors.

Resolution No. 12-16 states the following points as part of the introduction:

• Economic Vitality – promote and develop transportation systems that stimulate, support, and enhance the movement of people and goods to ensure a prosperous economy;

• Preservation – maintain, preserve, and extend the life and utility of prior investments in transportation systems and services;

• Safety – provide for and improve the safety and security of transportation customers and the transportation system;

• Mobility – improve the predictable movement of goods and people throughout Washington State;

• Environment – enhance Washington’s quality of life through transportation investments that promote energy conservation, enhance healthy communities, and protect the environment; and

• Stewardship – continuously improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of the transportation system.

It should also be noted Island Transit TDP 2017 – 2022, Resolution No.9-17 (Approved August 25, 2017) also states the identical goals within the introduction.

Based on Resolutions No. 12-16 & No.9-17, the intent of the Board of Directors is clearly documented.

The data shared by the PTBA Board Members at the Public Hearing on May 21st at Island Transit, Coupeville disclosed a proposed fare hike. By Island Transit’s own analysis, the initial loss of ridership is estimated to be 30% to 40% as fares are implemented. The report goes on to state that ridership levels are likely to return to fare-free levels in three to five years.

The projected numbers provided by Island Transit showed approximately a 1.5% financial net gain after this time period when ridership levels return to pre-fare levels.

The data presented showed an operating budget of approximately $9.5 million, but the operating cost is approximately $10.5 million, leaving approximately a $1 million short fall.

A copy of the exact numbers and data presented at the meeting do not appear to be available on the website, so the estimates are based on information seen during the PTBA Public Hearing on May 21st, 2018. However, enough information is available to evaluate whether or not the proposed bus fares are in keeping with Resolution No.12-16 & No.9-17.

An evaluation of the proposed fares with respect to each of the bulleted items is presented for comparison:

• Economic Vitality – promote and develop transportation systems that stimulate, support, and enhance the movement of people and goods to ensure a prosperous economy;

The proposed fares will likely result is a 30%-40% reduction in ridership for the 3-5 years. The expected financial gain after the recovery of ridership is 1.5%.

The significant loss of ridership does NOT support the statement of economic vitality within the 2016-2021 time frame. In fact, it results in a significant deficit. Additionally, the gain of 1.5% is actually a loss when the average 2.0-2.5% annual inflationary rate is applied to the model.

There are also additional costs NOT accounted for by the PTBA bus fare study. For example, the loss in ridership will place a greater demand on the existing park and ride lot in Clinton which is already beyond capacity. One potential result will be the need for more public parking, which would require additional funds from State and local government.

The forecasted results do not stimulate, support, or enhance the movement of people and goods to ensure a prosperous economy.

• Preservation – maintain, preserve, and extend the life and utility of prior investments in transportation systems and services;

The likely result of the proposed bus fare erodes the life and utility of prior investments in the transportation system and services. The decrease in ridership of 30-40% would likely result in routes being cut back and necessitate a reduction in personnel and equipment to accommodate the changing economies.

• Safety – provide for and improve the safety and security of transportation customers and the transportation system;

The proposed fares will also lead to a degradation of safety to the very riders it was meant to serve. Bus fares will force those who cannot afford the fare to walk along the main roads and highways. Additionally, for many families in Island County, the bus is their sole means of transportation. Access to medical care, pharmacies, food banks, and other services would be jeopardized because many of these people will not tolerate having to apply for additional handouts when they are already at the bottom. There are also the elderly, the mentally ill, and those in altered states who will forgo the additional hassle factor of a bus when the fare is the same cost as gas and drive themselves.

• Mobility – improve the predictable movement of goods and people throughout Washington State;

The proposed fares are predictable only as far as negative consequences. The predictable movement of goods and people would likely shift away from the transit system and toward personal vehicles. The cost of the bus fare is approximately the same cost for fuel. The additional hassle of the bus schedule versus the flexibility provided by an individual car tends to point in the direction of commuters choosing personal vehicles.

• Environment – enhance Washington’s quality of life through transportation investments that promote energy conservation, enhance healthy communities, and protect the environment; and

The environment will be impacted by the fare hike at all levels. The loss of 30-40% ridership places more individuals in personal vehicles, which leads to a higher traffic congestion on Whidbey Island, in addition to a higher probability of accidents. On a global level, the average carbon foot print for the residents of Whidbey Island significantly increases with the decrease in Island Transit ridership.

• Stewardship – continuously improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of the transportation system.

The proposed fare system is completely the opposite of continuous improvement in terms of quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of the transportation system. It results in a severe disruption of the quality mass transit system that many residents rely upon for their transportation needs.

Regarding the Public Comments during the PTBA Public Hearing on May 21st, the response of some of the council members was basically, the State Legislature was forcing them to do this [charge fares] because grants were being withheld until they start charging fares. I am very troubled by this response on behalf of our leadership because it shows a lack of vision. Why follow the model of an organization (the State Legislature) that is continuously in deficit and unable to meet its own obligations with regards to public service?

I would offer up that Island Transit does a superior job with respect to serving the public transportation needs with a fraction of the budget of other metropolitan areas, such as Everett and Seattle. The fact that Island Transit does not charge fares is one of the main reasons for the tremendous success of this transportation system because it encourages people to ride the bus, thereby, removing additional cars and trucks from our roads. I will also go as far to say Everett and Seattle would also benefit significantly by following Island Transit’s model of not charging bus fares.

Lastly, the proposed bus fares system will destroy a very successful transportation system run by Island Transit. The proposed cure is worse than the disease itself. I would suggest the PTBA Board Members find a different path to continue building on a very successful transit system, rather than amputating major limbs in hopes of a temporary solution. There are other options available.

Thank you for your consideration.

Jim Dobberfuhl

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