Opinion

Transportation funding crisis? Not a chance

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, Silverdale resident Jack Hamilton argues that Kitsap Transit needs to start operating more like a business and less than an entitlement.

Another government agency is in a “crisis” over funding.

Kitsap Transit has money problems. The increased fuel costs we must live with are more than the bus/ferry/rental car service can stand.

Before we panic, however, let’s connect the dots.

Kitsap County’s 100,000-person workforce makes two commute trips each day. In a 252-day work year, that adds up to about 50 million trips.

Kitsap Transit figures put commuter ridership of about 3.8 million a year.

About 7 percent of the workforce uses public transit, while 93 percent of the commuters are still in their cars. That doesn’t include all the bus riders who drive to and from home to the park-and-ride lot.

Average cost for each bus rider is about $4.70, while the fare is $1.25. That’s a $3.45 deficit for each ride, or $6.90 daily ($1,738 a year) for each commuter. The shortfall is covered by dedicated sales tax, with each person in the county “contributing” about $55 a year.

Taxing non-users to bear the major part of the cost does not seem appropriate. Whatever happened to American self-reliance?

Transit service is not close to meeting the planning levels that call for 50 percent use in the near future and virtual elimination of single occupancy vehicles by 2040.

With the 50 percent requirement, all would be paying increased fares and an additional $210 per person per year to subsidize ridership.

How about actual effectiveness of bus service? Looking at a few commuter bus routes reveals average ridership below what should be expected from this “vital” service. Route 92 with 17,511 annual riders has an average bus load of three riders. Route 85 averages seven riders per trip and Route 19 averages 13 riders per trip.

Perhaps the low ridership on so many runs explains the public perception of “empty” buses.

Kitsap Transit is considering some “corrective actions.” Transit is considering a major fare increase to $1.50. That reduces the deficit to $6.40 each day for each rider, made up by tax subsidy.

Kitsap Transit plans to cut some low-use service and even to curtail some ACCESS service. (One commissioner, however, made a campaign promise to preserve ACCESS service).

Kitsap Transit made no mention of curtailing the SCOOT car rental program, also subsidized by tax dollars, or to stop spending tax dollars on “fast ferry” studies.

Reality is that Kitsap Transit will continue subsidizing ridership costs at about the 83 percent level without correcting any of its bad habits.

If we the people are going to bear the brunt of Transit operating costs, perhaps we should “connect the dots” and give our board of directors (they represent us as shareholders) some guidance.

I could support these changes:

• increase fares so that riders pay at least 75 percent of the cost to operate and maintain the system. Vary fares by route.

• eliminate service that is not efficient or which could be more be more effectively served by private enterprise (taxi, etc), and demonstrate leadership in getting single-occupancy vehicles off our streets — start with SOV buses;

• cancel the SCOOT program and allow private enterprise to provide the service;

• cancel efforts to develop fast-ferry service and let the private sector make it a reality —?stop creating more advantageous ways for our work force to leave the County for good paying jobs and spend more effort bringing those jobs to Kitsap;

• stop planning mass transit as the answer for individual travel throughout Kitsap — the people clearly do not desire such service and our population spread cannot be supported by bus service; and,

• limit subsidized ACCESS to basic health and welfare service for handicapped and seniors.

Perhaps if Kitsap Transit operated more like a business and less like an entitlement program for the few, the funding issues could more easily be resolved.

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