It must be an immovable article of local governments that they must provide nonsensically subsidized, uneconomical city and countywide bus transportation.
The intention is noble — to provide easily accessible transportation just about everywhere in the city and county for people who cannot afford to buy cars, tourists who don’t want to rent a car or people who can’t or don’t want to use a car.
That would be only 5% of American households.
Yes, 95% of American households have at least one car. Eighty-five percent of working Americans take cars to work. That leaves only 15% of the work force that walks, rides its bikes, takes a bus, train or plane.
Given the incredibly small percentage of people who ride public transportation — which by the way, is even lower in Sarasota County than it is in similarly sized markets — it should be shocking to learn what Sarasota County commissioners learned the other day: The county is woefully short of covered bus stops, and it would take about $74.48 million to eliminate the shortage. Here are the statistics:
• Total county bus stops: 2,000
• Bus stops with bench or roof: 138
• Better bus stops needed/wanted: 1,862
• Cost to install nice bus stop: $40,000 per stop
• Total cost for 1,862 stops: $74,480,000
The county commissioners, we hope, would never think to construct 1,862 covered bus stops for that kind of money. They were rather slack-jawed at the cost themselves. But judging from the tenor of their comments at a recent meeting, you can bet they’re going to spend more than they should to build more covered bus stops.
Stop the stops.
Get a grip on this.
First of all, even by its own measurements, published in the Sarasota County Transit Development Plan, the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) system is a subpar performer compared to its peers nationwide (see box).
And just to give you a little more perspective on this system, in the county’s 2013 budget plan it shows:
• Total cost of SCAT: $26,004,140
• Total revenues: $23,274,212
• Total fare revenues: $2,786,995
Fare revenues bring in only 10.7% of the cost.
Mind you, as noted in the summary in the table below, county commissioners keep bus fares extraordinarily low to keep bus service affordable. But all that means is other taxpayers are contributing 90% of the cost to keep those mostly empty buses rolling for a miniscule segment of the population. To be specific, local taxpayers are carrying 71% of the system’s cost, with federal and state taxpayers providing 17% of the cost.
Surely, there must be a better, less costly, more efficient way.
Here’s one way to find out: Shut SCAT down. Sell the buses. Shutter the entire operation.
You can imagine the consequences.
First, block out of your mind all of the predictable sob stories you’d get from the mainstream media of poor people who would have no transportation to their jobs, doctors, etc. These would be short-term inconveniences. They would find alternatives.
Instead imagine the ingenuity and entrepreneurism that would fill the vacuum.
It’s already happening. Two weeks ago, we extolled the creative entrepreneurism of David Krbec and Patrick Green, who started Siesta Shuttle Transportation, a bus service that will shuttle beachgoers to and from Siesta Key beach and the Westfield Southgate Mall. They saw a need that public transportation is not servicing and are filling it.
All kinds of other transportation options would pop up as well. Some are already here. Forbes magazine reported in a Feb. 11 edition on the explosion of “the share economy” in the United States. All over the United States, individual consumers are renting out their cars, bicycles, garage tools, bedrooms, you name it, to others who have a need.
In the transportation sector, there is GoLoco.org, “the ride revolution.” This web site community matches drivers and riders, with the parties sharing costs. The number of car-sharing sites is multiplying rapidly — RelayRides.com, Zipcar.com, to name two. And if you’re a smartphone user, try “side.cr,” a car-sharing application for your phone.
If you go to RelayRides.com and ask for cars in Sarasota, you can rent “Steven’s Ford,” a 2005 Ford 500 for $7.25 an hour or $36 a day.
Look at how the private sector has filled the transportation need in health care. Take Care Sarasota, a home-health company, operates its own transportation concierge service for its customers.
Surely, the point is obvious.
In spite of the immovable belief that local governments must waste millions upon millions of dollars a year on inefficient public transportation, if they had the courage, the commissioners could get out of the transportation business and let the private sector and not-for-profit organizations fill the gaps. They would.
There would still be a role for the county and city governments. You can imagine their being involved in some regulation. But when has it ever turned out that the government can operate a business better than the private sector. Don’t sink a dime in more bus stops. Put the breaks on SCAT.
Click here to read about how SCAT compares to its peers.
NEW LETTERS POLICY
As Sarasota’s City Commission election campaigns gain momentum and attention, it’s an appropriate time to introduce the Sarasota Observer and Pelican Press’s new policy regarding candidate-endorsement letters to the editor.
Effective with this edition, the Sarasota Observer and Pelican Press will now require a small payment is instituting paid letters of endorsement or opposition to candidates in all elections.
Letter writers who wish to endorse or oppose a candidate will be required to pay $25 for up to 100 words, plus an additional 50 cents a word beyond 100 words in advance of the letter being published and posted on YourObserver.com.
The letters will be published under the heading: Paid Election Letters.
Paid Election Letters are to be paid for by the letter writer or the sponsor of the letter. Paid Election Letters must include the writer’s name, city of residency and contact information.
Paid Election Letters will be edited for grammar. The Sarasota Observer and Pelican Press will reserve the right to reject letters containing personal attacks.
Why are we doing this?
While we encourage debate, there are occasions when candidates’ campaign teams engage in letter-writing campaigns. If all of those letters are published, they become the equivalent of free advertising for the candidate. If the letters are not published, the newspaper is likely accused of being biased, or of only allowing its own endorsement to be published, another form of bias.
Paid letters will discourage obvious letter campaigns and defuse accusations of bias.
To submit a Paid Election Letter, send it to Randi Donahue, assistant managing editor, firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your contact information to be reached for payment. In a few weeks, YourObserver.com will accept credit-card payments for Paid Election Letters.