Four bonds will be presented to voters during Anchorage's municipal election to take place on April 6th, 2010. Information on all bonds and candidates is available HERE. Although the bonds have not yet been finalized, one of them will ask us to pony up $932,000 for improvements to our public transportation system. Passage will impose an annual increase in property taxes of approximately $0.23 per $100,000 assessed value. The language of the draft bond is contained in AO 2010-6, and a list of proposed projects, highlighted below, is available on the first page of this reference.
-- BUS STOP IMPROVEMENTS
-- IMPROVEMENTS TO EXISTING FLEET - FARE BOXES, LOCATOR SYSTEMS
-- ITS/AUTOMATED OPERATING SYSTEMS
-- MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEM
-- CAPITAL MAINTENANCE/VEHICLE OVERHAUL-ENGINES, TRANSMISSIONS
-- PARATRANSIT/TRANSIT VEHICLES
-- MAINTENANCE SUPPORT VEHICLES
-- TRANSIT FLEET EXPANSION & REPLACEMENT OF EXISTING VEHICLES
It should also be noted that transportation bonds have been matched by Federal funds in the past at approximately a 4-to-1 ratio (four Federal dollars to one local dollar).
But public transportation is not an easy sell in Anchorage, particularly among some conservatives. On February 10th, the Anchorage Daily News published a letter from Ted Moninski, who stated that although he is generally supportive of funding public transit initiatives, he will be voting "no" this time. Too frequently he sees these large, oversized buses virtually empty -- and on some occasions, completely empty.
However, on February 16th, Patricia Baysinger tells a different story in her letter to the editor:
Non-users of People Mover don't realize their "informal" surveys of ridership are in reality only a tiny snapshot of one route at one moment in time and location. Moninski apparently believes that passengers embark on their trips all at once and stay on that bus for its entire journey. This 12-year user of People Mover can show you how it really works. This morning I kept a running account of passengers on and off. It looks like this: 6 passengers+2 (getting on near Turpin)+1+3+1+2+1+1-1-1+1-1-1+1+1-1-1-1-1 (disembarking at Fifth and Barrow). That's 20 vehicles off our roads. People Mover conducts surveys several times a year with real people doing ridership counts. Their numbers are accurate, not "informal."
To this I will add my own observations. Every bus I see stopping at the Northway Mall along Penland Parkway is usually one-third to two-thirds full. I've seen as many as 10 people waiting to board a bus. So the usage varies according to the part of town where one lives. The most recent People Mover Ridership Report I can find is from 2008.
Public transportation is particularly useful to those who cannot afford a roadworthy vehicle, may not qualify physically for a driver's license, or has had the driving privilege legally curtailed for one reason or another. Having public transportation available increases their mobility - and their employability. There's also the occasional yuppie or greenie who takes the bus for environmental reasons. Paratransit is indispensable to many with disabilities who may not have a relative available to wait upon them hand and foot.
Those of us who advocate for public transportation need to be upfront about the fact that public transportation is unlikely to ever pay its own way and still be affordable for its users in a horizontal city like Anchorage. It is difficult enough for public transit to pay its own way even in a densely-populated vertical city like New York. But must we as conservatives be such cheapskates and pinch pennies all the time? Must we endlessly slap a price tag upon every breath of air we take? Is life only about profitability?
I don't vote Yes on every bond presented. I occasionally vote No on a school bond. And I routinely vote No on recreation bonds, and will continue to do so until we pass a municipal sales tax designed to reduce residential property taxes, stabilize commercial property taxes, and diversify our revenue stream. But I have always voted Yes on public transportation bonds - not because I use the People Mover, which I never have, but because I want it available should I ever need it.
I expect to vote Yes on this public transportation bond as well.