There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chatting with Mike

I took part of my lunch to participate in Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley's first "Transit Talk with the General Manager." The conversation is billed as a chat but it's more a Q&A since there's no opporunity to reply Wiley's responses.

Here's my questions and Wiley's answer:

Sacramento, CA: Two-part question: 1. The availability of transit services increases the value of nearby properties. Has the district considered options for capturing the value of transit in order to create a more stable source of funding? Examples of value-capture include an assessment district within the service area; tax-increment financing for new projects such as the DNA and south line extension; joint development efforts similar to the Greenbriar DNA station; assessing fees against development projects with sprawl-inducing projects paying more. 2. The Regional Transit board contains representatives of each local government in RT's service area. What is the board doing to coordinate local government efforts to explore and implement value-capture ideas such as those mentioned in question one.

Reply: RT is developing a financing plan as part of our Transit Master Plan, which includes value capture mechanisms to provide funding for both capital and operating costs. We already benefit from developer fees in such areas as Natomas or Elk Grove-Vineyards (for capital purposes only), and other areas of Sacramento County. We are actively pursuing joint development opportunities at many of our light rail stations. Our Board is actively engaged in these funding and financing discussions, and will be adopting the financing plan as part of the Transit Master Plan in spring of 2009.
My unsent reply: I chuckled at the idea that RT takes capital funding money from Elk Grove, which it doesn't serve, and Natomas, which it poorly serves. That's probably the best argument opponents of additional funding for RT could make. The availability of transit, just as with the availability of public parks, is a community benefit and the community should pay a fee for that service. A districtwide fee similar to a park district is not unreasonable. As for "Our Board is actively engaged in these funding and financing discussions," I'd like to see some actions to match the words.
Sacramento, CA: Do you ride transit to work?

Reply: I ride transit to work occasionally, when my schedule permits. I ride buses and light rail trains to various meetings and appointments on a regular basis, usually several times a week. I enjoy riding the system so that I can talk to customers and employees and gain first hand experience on how our service is accommodating your needs. Many of RT's employees ride the system to work, with many more using the system to get around during the day.
My unsent reply: That is at least better than the members of the board. But "when my schedule permits" is just smoke to cloud the real issue: It's all about "When RT's schedule permits" and the sad fact is that RT's schedule outside commute hours is next to useless.

Those were my two questions. What surprised me was Wiley's response to this question:
Sacramento, CA: What is the status of the state budget regarding transportation? I'm still concerned about its effect on RT especially looking at the pending fare hikes/Paratransit cuts that may or may not be in effect in the future.

Reply: I regret to say that although the budget for fiscal year 2009 has been passed, it was also "blue penciled by the Governor, removing transit funding that had been replaced by the legislature. In the end, RT faces a deficit of State funding of just over $11.3 million. This is forcing us to implement the fare increase that was discussed in the public hearings in July and August. We have identified a combination of revenue enhancement and cost cutting activities that will allow us to balance our budget without cutting service.
After I read this, I tried to do a Google news search to read more about the governor's handiwork. Nothing. Why hasn't there been any discussion of the fact that the governor is solely responsible for the rate hikes and other damage that will be done to RT by his cuts in transit funding? As a yellow dog Democrat, I was relieved to find the Democrats didn't cave on this issue. Of course, I'm not holding my breath waiting for a veto override. That would be too much to ask.


Anonymous said...

Well, here's at least one report on "the Governor's handiwork" -- only a summary version, but there have been others, both by this reporter and others. Not sure where this reporter gets the "nearly a billion" figure. In fact, the total raided from Public Transportation Account funds this year is $1.7 billion, on top of $1.25 billion diverted in the 07-08 budget.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the Democrats are hardly blameless. That $406 million originally included (which the guv slashed to $306 million) is still well short of the $559 million recommendation that was included in the budget conference committee report, which, as referenced above, is but a tiny fraction of the state money to which transit is legally and rightfully due.

John said...

I agree that the Dems are not without fault. Face it: They caved.

However, where is the media on this? This new world of information we live in is damn poor if stories like this get ignored. As far as I can tell, The Sacramento Bee has done NOTHING on the topic of the budget and transit and Sacramento Regional Transit has been put in a real tough spot because of its reliance on state funds for operating revenue.