Thursday, April 29, 2010

AC Transit's second set of cuts this year, MTC's transit sustainability

Eric at the Transbay Blog is reporting that AC Transit has scheduled a public hearing on May 26 on another series of service cuts to be implemented in September. AC Transit originally planned to cut service by about 15% last month. Because of some funding shifts, the agency was about to reduce the service cut to about 8%. However the worsening budget situation is forcing AC Transit to propose additional cuts.

Because AC Transit essentially redrew its bus network in March to reduce service impact on transit dependent population, this series of cuts will be more painful since the agency already made much of the painless cuts.

Two major bus cuts in the same year is truly disappointing. What is more disappointing is that we as taxpayers and transit riders haven't get the same value for our transit dollars. Last week, MTC issued its annual report showing that since 1997 (after adjusting for inflation), transit costs have gone up by 52%, while revenue hours and ridership have increased by 16% and 7% respectively. Transit services in the Bay Area are also more heavily subsidized than their counterparts in Los Angeles and New York.

MTC is taking the lead trying to control that trend through the transit sustainability project. So far it has identified some strategies like work rule changes and reduction in administrative costs. On the other hand, labor agreements limited cost-savings options at most large agencies.

Because most of the cost increases is not the result of service addition or enhancement, increased spending on transit over the years provided little if any added benefit for riders. MTC should take a look at various internal factors particularly healthcare and control those costs. Transit riders should not have to pay more and get less service.

MTC could possibly recommend consolidation of transit agencies, but that could be a wrong step to take. One of the reasons why transit agencies are suffering because MTC so far hasn't done much to control cost or provide additional funding for transit operations. Also, most of the transit advocates are distrustful of MTC given its record of backing BART expansions at the expense of cost effective transit. However there are opportunities to consolidate overhead (like San Mateo County, where the same office staff work for both Caltrain and SamTrans) that can keep front line operation intact and decision making process local.

The increasing cost to provide transit, without much increase in service or ridership, is disturbing. It weakens taxpayers' confidence and has harmed transit riders with fewer services and higher fares. With our growing senior population and changes in land use trend, we cannot afford not to have cost effective transit.


arcady said...

Don't forget the MTC's other great success: Translink (soon to be Clipper), which is a decade late, only partly functional, and, at least in my experience, fairly poorly designed and implemented, and with little news on when, if ever, it will finally fulfill its promise of being accepted on all 20-some local transit agencies. Anyway, this data on rising costs is pretty worrisome. Where does all that money go? Do other agencies in other areas have the same problem? How much of this is due to Muni and their Charter-guaranteed second highest in the nation pay?

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with consolidating transit agencies? Contra Costa county has FOUR different public bus systems serving different parts of that county! Surely there would be cost savings by combining them.

accountablevta said...

Merging agencies means you would be merging different workforces. Some agencies are more expensive to run than some others. Unless merging it would somehow translate into lower operating cost (which probably won't) than it doesn't really benefit passengers.

Some merges are good though, like some smaller contracted operations. Larger agencies like AC Transit, Muni, or VTA are poor candidates for mergers.