Statement from Eye on Sacramento to the Sacramento Transportation Authority

Statement from Eye on Sacramento to the Sacramento Transportation Authority

14 April 2016
by Greg Thompson, Chair, EOS Transportation Committee

EOS strongly opposes the proposed sales tax measure for the following reasons:

Regional Transit receives generous and growing sales tax subsidies that amounted to over $80 million this year alone, an increase of over 4% compared to the previous year, and over 9% over the past two years. RT’s existing sales tax subsidy is growing 3 to 4 times faster than the CPI, and yet RT management says that it is not enough to keep its system safe, clean and in good repair.

EOS thinks the existing subsidy is more than enough to do that, and in a report that we presented to the RT Board in March, we outline how (see link 1 below). We oppose any more tax revenues piled on top of those RT already is receiving until RT puts its own house in order. Without RT reform, its costs for running the existing system will continue to rise faster than its subsidies, and it will be back at your door, again and again to ask for additional subsidies just to keep the existing system running.

It is unconscionable placing this ever-growing burden on the backs of RT riders, not only asking them to pay among the highest fares in the country, but also high and ever-growing taxes.

An unreformed RT also blocks the region from having the discussion that we should be having now, which is about our vision for transit in the region’s future. EOS thinks that with RT reform there is an important role for transit in the region’s future. EOS hopes that regional leaders will support RT reform so that the region may start that conversation soon, and EOS will gladly participate in it.

1 Eye on Sacramento. EOS’s Recommendations on RT’s Fiscal Crisis: Avoiding Both Bankruptcy and a Transit Death Spiral, Sacramento, 14 March 2016.

Professor Gregory L. Thompson 
Secretary and Board Member, Train Riders Association of California
Chair, Transportation Committee, Eye on Sacramento
Professor Emeritus, Florida State University, Department of Urban and Regional Planning
Chair, Light Rail Committee of the National Transportation Board based in Washington, D.C.

Hikes Would Impose the Highest Bus Fare in the Country, Higher Than New York City

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release
Release Date/Time: January 25, 2016; 1:45 p.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President, Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Survey Data Show that Regional Transit’s Proposed Fare

Hikes Would Impose the Highest Bus Fare in the Country, Higher Than New York City

R.T.’s Growing Financial Crisis Cries Out for Governance Reforms To Control Escalating Costs

Eye on Sacramento (EOS) announced today that its analysis of survey data of bus fares charged by transit systems throughout the U.S. and Canada shows that the 20 percent fare hike (from $2.50 to $3.00) being considered tonight by the Regional Transit board of directors (6:00 p.m.) would, if approved, impose a bus fare on Sacramento residents that would be the highest in both the U.S. and Canada, exceeding bus fares charged by all transit systems in both countries.

EOS researchers examined the database maintained by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), specifically its 2015 Public Transportation Fare Database of fares charged by transit agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada. EOS analyzed the APTA Fare Database to identify regular base fares, exclude fares for intercity commuter service and to convert Canadian fares to U.S. dollars at prevailing exchange rates.

EOS’s finding that RT’s proposed $3.00 bus fare would be the highest in the U.S. is confirmed by the World Atlas, which published a report on November 17, 2015, which tabulated the highest transit fares in the world and identified New York City as the city with the then highest U.S. fare at $2.80 per subway ride, a fare which would be eclipsed by RT’s proposed $3.00 fare.

RT’s Unprecedented Proposed Fare Hikes Are a Sign of Deepening Crisis at RT

RT is facing a major financial crisis that has been a long time in the making. In the past five years its operating costs have risen by 29% (according to RT’s staff report on the proposed fare hike), while inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, over that same period rose only 8.7%. RT experienced such a major escalation in expenses despite the fact that energy costs, which have a major impact on RT’s bottom line, have declined significantly in recent years.

Raising fares to the highest in the nation to deal with such a crisis is a desperate and potentially reckless move that would punish low-income, seniors and transit-dependent Sacramento residents for RT management’s failure to rein in RT’s escalating costs of operation. It would push the price of basic transportation beyond the reach of potentially tens of thousands of people, leading to further revenue declines and a pernicious cycle of rate hikes/ridership drops that could very well lead to the system’s bankruptcy. (We take note of RT’s recently adopted board policy which calls for fare hikes every two years.) And the fare hikes would do nothing to address the real source of RT’s financial problems: its failure to control rapidly increasing operating costs.

RT’s Governing Board Needs Major Reform

RT’s governing board is comprised of 11 elected officials from the County of Sacramento and the cities that RT serves. “Historically and by natural inclination, politicians prefer to spend money to keep constituents happy rather than cut spending which makes constituents unhappy. Politicians are too often beholden to well-heeled special interests with agendas that differ from the broad public interest. Finally, local officials serve on an excessive number of boards, commissions and committees in addition to their primary duties as elected officials on their own jurisdictions’ governing board,” said EOS President Craig Powell.

“Sacramento city councilmembers, for example, serve on more than a dozen different governing boards, commissions, joint power authorities and committees (in addition to the city council), which stretches their ability to provide meaningful, informed, engaged and responsible oversight of RT and its staff beyond the capacity of even a superhuman,” said Powell.

“It is time for our local elected officials to recognize their human limitations and do the right thing by appointing experienced, independent and highly qualified individuals to serve on the RT board who will be better able to oversee RT management, as well as represent their jurisdiction’s interests in their place and stead. We support the Sacramento business community’s recent policy initiative which includes a recommendation that the Sacramento city council appoint experienced business men and women to represent Sacramento on the RT board. We encourage the leaders of all local jurisdictions to do the same, balanced with appointees who can represent the interests of all RT stakeholders, such as riders, seniors, the disabled and last, but by no means least, taxpayer,” Powell added.

“We recognize that such governance reforms may require charter and even legislative amendments. Given RT’s dire financial condition, there is no time to waste in enacting them,” Powell concluded.

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