Friday, March 14, 2014

The Reality of Omnitrans' Proposed Fare Hikes

Proposed Omnitrans Fares
Source: Omnitrans

Omnitrans has proposed a fare increase and major route changes effective September 2, 2014 as part of a 6 year short range transit plan. The agency is now receiving public comments through April 7. The good news is Omnitrans has proposed no wholesale service cuts with the exception of cancelling the OmniLink general public Dial-A-Ride service in Chino Hills and Yucaipa. In fact, there are some good service improvements being proposed. We'll analyse those next week but first, let's cover the proposed fare hikes. 

A Government Budget Shortfall...Yet Again.

Omnitrans has projected a $12.8 million funding shortfall. We know what you're thinking: Here we go again...

With this troubling news said, here is the outlet to submit comments related to the fare increases and service changes now through April 7:
Mail:  Omnitrans Planning Dept., 1700 W. Fifth St., San Bernardino, CA 92411
Email:  Tembi.Morales@omnitrans.org
Phone:  909-379-7250

Now before anybody begins ranting anger or dissent toward Omnitrans' Planning Department, here are some facts that concerned bus riders should note:

Generally speaking, situations where a local transit agency is faced with budget problems are likely due to a cause that is no fault of its own. Omnitrans has limited power of what goes on outside of transit-related matters in San Bernardino County. This includes policies and regulations on economic growth; land use decisions; crime, street gangs, and vandalism; and state law that polices how funds are to be spent and how workers and crews are to be hired and paid. That means the agency's financial staff is often forced into a corner in deciding what needs to happen in order to get them out of the red.

Omnitrans Monthly Passes
Source: Omnitrans
The top solution a local entity can do of course is to curb unnecessary internal waste from the top down within the Agency. It has been proven to work. In 2010, then-CEO of Metrolink John Fenton instituted a simple shutdown policy that eliminated a whopping $3-4 million per year of government waste caused by idling locomotives. Omnitrans should review how it spends its money, line by line and cut out any waste it finds.

We are aware that $12.8 million is a lot of money and internal cost control will only be a fraction of the solution. Once the internal work to curb costs is done, the two options left at the local level are to cut service or hike fares. Omnitrans was correct in proposing the latter, striving to "balance the budget without cutting service."

Bus riders will dissent the proposed fare hikes without question, but if the same riders were told that their preferred bus is going to be cut, paying more to ride the bus wouldn't sound so bad. 

Photo: © George Lumbreras 2012 CC-BY-SA
Comparing Omnitrans' Fare Hikes with Other Transit Systems

Omnitrans' proposed bus rates actually lean around the average of what other transit agencies are charging, although to be fair, RTA bus riders are paying far less. A few examples of general local fares:

Omnitrans Proposed Fares for Late 2018:
Cash Fare: $2.25
Day Pass: $6.75
Monthly Pass: $69

LA Metro Proposed Fares for 2020:
Cash Fare: $2.25 (up from $1.50, but with free transfer)
Day Pass: $9 or $13 (up from $5)
Monthly Pass: $135 or $180 (up from $75)

RTA:
Cash Fare: $1.50
Day Pass: $4
Monthly Pass: $50

OCTA, Orange County:
Cash Fare: $2
Day Pass: $5
Monthly Pass: $69

NCTD, San Diego County:
Cash Fare: $1.75
Day Pass: $5
Monthly Pass: $69

Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake City UT:
Cash Fare: $2.50
Day Pass: $6.25
Monthly Pass: $83.75

Valley Metro, Phoenix AZ:
Cash Fare: $2.00
Day Pass: $6
Monthly Pass: $64

RTC, Las Vegas NV:
Cash Fare: $2.00 (Outside the LV Strip)
Day Pass: $5.00
Monthly Pass: $65.00 

Montclair TransCenter
© Wikimeida/Amerique CC-BY-SA
Getting to the bottom of Omnitrans' $12.8M deficit problem

Again, we must restate that increasing the fares is much more desirable than tearing apart productive bus transit lines. With that said, fare hikes must be the last resort. That's where elected officials can and should take a leadership role in solving this $12.8 million deficit from its roots, solutions that go way beyond what Omnitrans planning staff can do or propose. Here are three proven solutions that elected officials should debate and agree upon in order to get a first-rate, crime-free transit system in San Bernardino County that is fully paid for:
  1. Cut the Government Waste at the state level:

    Get all inflated costs down to the market rates which includes transportation infrastructure. That's going to require some hard-ball debate with labor union leaders.

    We should not be paying $131 million for a mile of high speed rail infrastructure when it cost Japan $63 million per mile for a similar HSR system. Likewise, taxpayers should not have to pay $3-4 million for a railroad grade crossing upgrade in Box Springs that would have cost $250,000 to build in other states. Nor should a 157-space proposed Park & Ride in Temecula be allowed to balloon to $2.36 million or $15,000 per space when the market rate to construct a parking lot is about $2,000-6,000 per space. Where is all that excessive money going? Who is going to be courageous enough to solve this problem by defending the truth and stopping this out-of-control money fountain paid for by us?

  2. Rid the crime and rebuild the family:

    Crime and gangs obstruct the transit system simply due to vandalism and lack of economic growth.

    Stop kids from joining gangs by spreading a firm message of rebuilding the family unit and impose better discipline at schools. Get troubled or undisciplined youth without caring parents to a positive mentor. Network with the law-abiding citizens, flood the streets of troubled neighborhoods with law enforcement to stop the violence, and lock up the criminals and vandals. Work with those incarcerated who desire to turn away from the criminal culture and offer rehabilitation programs so they can reintegrate back into the community and find good work in the marketplace once their sentences are served.
  3. Support policies that would improve the market economy without harming the environment.

    A significant reason why Omnitrans is broke is because the cities in the transit agency's service area are generally not enticing the private sector to invest in good jobs in order to generate the necessary tax revenue to pay for the majority of its bus operations--at most 80% comes from taxes; at least 20% comes from fares.

    We know we're generalizing and there are some exceptions: Loma Linda is a powerful medical employment hub and logistics is growing in the Ontario and southeast San Bernardino areas. However, where are the smart growth marketplace investments in places like downtown Fontana, Colton, Grand Terrance and Rialto that would put residents to work? Those regions can be robust job hubs which generates the tax revenue. Productive employees electing to ride the bus also help pay for the system through their fares.

If you want to take an active role in Omnitrans' public hearing on the fare hikes, get your comments to Omnitrans. However, the transit agency alone cannot adopt these three solutions on its own. Elected officials from all levels must take a leadership role to cut the waste, rid the crime, and get San Bernardino County's economy back into a robust state. If government officials from all levels work on these three areas, Omnitrans will be robust once again with a healthy budget out of the red.

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