filed under Activism

Activists at RIPTA Board Meeting

1:00PM ON 07/22/2008
BY Will Emmons

Most of Rhode Island is suffering from public service cuts in the wake of the Governor and the Democratic Leadership’s budget.  For instance, RIPTA’s budget is 12 million in the red.  This has the RIPTA board scrambling to make up the difference through service cuts and fare hikes.  In this spurious and probably futile attempt to balance the budget only nominal attempts have been made to reach out to RIPTA riders. This had community activists up in arms at yesterday’s RIPTA board meeting:  

A group from the northwest corner of the state came to yesterday’s meeting to defend the 9 Bus, which runs from Kennedy Plaza to Zambarano Hospital in Burrillville. . . .

The board [also] heard a demand from a student group, Students for a Democratic Society, that it drop consideration of service cuts to balance its budget and roll back a fare increase that took effect July 1, which is expected to produce $662,000 in additional revenue.

Brown University student Vale Cofer-Shabica said the group has interviewed more than 200 RIPTA riders in Kennedy Plaza and found most of them didn’t know about the possible service cuts. He accused RIPTA of considering the cuts “without involving the people who would be affected most.” 

 

I also have it on good authority from my peeps in Providence SDS that the Sierra Club and the Gray Panthers were there with their own axes to grind.

10 Comments on “ Activists at RIPTA Board Meeting ”

  1. RIPTA needs “zones”. People ride across the city pay the same as people riding across the state. That’s kind of silly when people riding across the state are causing RIPTA to use more gas.

    They need to do that before cutting service and raising general fares. I’m going to catch some grief for this, but they should perhaps consider rolling back some of their discount programs or at least increase those costs. The vast majority of riders are not paying full fare. While I can understand keeping UPass, they should increase the cost for the schools to join it.

    They should absolutely not be cutting service during times of record ridership.

  2. Wesli Dymoke

    Fare modifications affect riders most, and have little effect on RIPTA’s bottom line. I don’t know how RIPTA comes up with the above estimate of $662,000 additional revenue, but I tend to doubt it accounts for lowered ridership resulting from increased fares.

    The bulk of riders ride because they have to, not because they want to. This is because the service is already inadequate, and those with a choice will usually opt out. So a drop in ridership represents some portion of optional riders deciding it’s no longer worth it, but probably more represents those who need the service but can no longer afford it.

    Assuming this increased revenue figure holds against lower ridership, what will it gain? RIPTA’s total operating budget for FY2007 was $88.4M, against total fares of $23M, for a net offset just over a quarter. So a fare revenue increase of $622,000 last year would have represented a very minor additional offset, less than 1% extra — nearly 3/4 of RIPTA’s operating budget would still remain uncovered, as it surely is by this increase.

    So while the theoretical (and likely optimistic) net gain to RIPTA is minimal, the impact on riders is significant. If riders are seen as having any worth at all, then the cost/benefit product screams against this or any fare increase.

    Moreover, just looking at the assumed increased revenue is seeing less than half the picture: the operating cost is a moving target here, because RIPTA’s main revenue source is its portion of the fixed per-gallon gasoline excise. If people decide to ride instead of drive, then that means they’re buying less gas, which means less operating revenue for RIPTA. Adding insult to injury, RIPTA has to pay for its own fuel at real-time market rates, so while their revenue dips, their operating costs climb.

    So now you understand the chain of events that causes RIPTA to cut services and raise fares when they’re needed most, and why RIPTA has little or no control over this nonsensical system of cause and effect. And why raising fares and cutting discounts won’t solve anything.

    We need to change the way we fund transit, and that includes accepting that having good transit will mean higher investment and continuous state-level funding, which we’ll all have to help pay for. But the net gain is actually a large positive: we’ll all save a lot more money by not driving, and so will the state. We need to think about transit the same way we think about fire and police: the net community gain, even just in dollars, far outweighs the on-paper cost, and the larger intangible benefits also outweigh the costs.

    Rhode Island legislators lack the courage to make these changes, believing them to be politically unpopular. In a sense, they are: the people who need the buses most don’t contribute to candidates’ campaigns or PACs, and can’t pull any strings for them. And those who can help legislators directly are themselves loathe to support any measure diverting precious state funds to benefit the lower classes. The end product is that RIPTA and all her riders have to tighten our belts, while primary sources of state revenue such as income, revenue, excise, and capital gains taxes remain level or even go down.

    Stability and improvement of transit can then only come from a massive and sustained grassroots push. If you want better transit, the only way to get it is to demand it.

  3. Another group of self-agrandizing non-contributing weasels.

    Let’s ask taxpayers (real people who actually pay a real positive number of dollars for income taxes) whether they want to poiur more money into RIPTA’s losses.

    Oh, I forgot. They’re moving. What will the tax eaters do without taxpayers?

  4. I think I’m in love with Wesli.

  5. Bring Back the Street Car!

  6. I just looked at CT Transit’s fares and their local fares are only $1.25. However, their Hartford commuter fares are based on zones. Zones would be the best way to deal with it. Sure, people need to take the bus, but an increase in fare for someone riding from Narragansett wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of making it cheaper for the to take the bus than it would to drive in rush hour, especially if they buy a discounted weekly or monthly pass.

    It’s the fare structure that RIPTA needs to really look at. I understand that they can’t just raise fares willy nilly.

    The governor also needs to look at RIPTA not like a system for the poor, but as a system for economic development and give them more money rather than rely on the feds. After all, it is PUBLIC transportation. Just as people who don’t drive pay taxes that go towards repairing roads, people who do drive should be paying taxes that go towards paying for the bus system. They all help the state.

  7. Hey Theodore,

    Fun fact: in this state, thanks to regressive property taxes, and increasing tax cuts for the wealthy, low income families (i.e., people more likely to ride RIPTA) pay a higher percentage of their income into taxes than anyone else.

    Best,

    Will

  8. why does it cost the same for me to take the 42 or 99 or 17 as it does to take the 60, 66, or even the 30?

    zoning is needed.

    maybe instead of spending 600 million + on a worthless highway to east providence the state could have spent that on developing “real” trolleys and a light rail system.

  9. I feel I should point out that comparisons between RIPTA CT Transit are at best misleading.

    RIPTA is a standalone state agency, will full fiscal responsibility and reporting 100% of its direct costs and revenues. RIPTA also has 100% responsibility for all the aspects of the service, including all the rolling stock, administration, infrastructure, maintenance, and finance. When RIPTA reports that last year’s fares covered 26% of operating costs, it means exactly that: a quarter of all the money spent to run the service last year.

    CT Transit is subsidiary to ConnDOT (while RIPTA and RIDOT are entirely separate). RIDOT covers a lot of their overhead, and some other state offices handle other administrative aspects that don’t end up on their books, including much of the finance. They don’t own all the rolling stock, and municipalities are responsible for local infrastructure such as signage and shelters. Some transit in Connecticut is independent, some is purchased transportation (state-contracted independents), some is operated by the state but funded locally, and some is owned by the state but operated locally.

    It’s a very complex mishmash, and nearly impossible to unravel for any fair comparison to RIPTA, especially because each regional division reports separately as if it was independent of the others. This makes for some unreasonable comparisons. For example, last year Hartford Division reported that fares covered 28% of operating costs: sounds like quite a deal at $1.25, right? What are they doing right that RIPTA isn’t? But hold on: that figure only applies to what that single division is reporting against its own books, which are only a portion of overall costs.

    You don’t even have to have all the numbers to quickly realise that RIPTA is actually delivering more for the money, not less. RIPTA actually has the *highest* service effectiveness among identified peer agencies — meaning more passengers taking more trips per mile and per hour.

    Even so, I caution again that such comparisons are not very relevant. Because no two agencies are alike, and all have complex finance systems in context of unique governmental and geographic circumstances, any comparison between any two agencies is probably invalid.

    In respect to zones, I have to say that I’ve studied this for some time now, and concluded that it’s a bad idea. By which I mean that it won’t solve any problems, especially financial. In fact, it will probably end up losing money.

    Most people wouldn’t guess it, but fare collection is very costly in itself. There is no single, predictable rule here, but except for very rare cases, almost every transit agency has only a narrow range in which fares make money for the service. That 26% of operating expenses may look substantial, especially if you think of it as the $23M that it represents. But if you knew that all the operating costs related to fares accounted for a huge portion of that figure, it doesn’t look like so much after all.

    Studies find that when measured against fare-related operating costs, fares rarely make much real profit, often do little more than break even, and sometimes don’t even pay for the cost of having fares in the first place. Considered against the overall cost of the service, most agencies would run more efficiently and be more flexible and versatile if they ran for free. And because fare collection represents such a large part of operating costs, the operating costs — and thus the primary funding — would be about the same with or without fares.

  10. Theodore-

    Please join your brethren, and get the hell outta town. You goddam wasps who do nothing but complain are the worst thing about Rhode Island.

    I was born here, will raise my family here, and use public transit here. Hope the system will be improved, both for selfish reasons, and because it’s good for our environment and economy.

    RI: Love it, or leave it. PLEASE.

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