July 8, 2011

Government: Where Popular Services Are a Problem

Justin Katz

Here's an excellent indication that something is askew in our way of government operation:

Charles Odimgbe, chief executive officer of RIPTA, said he was aware of the problem [of insufficient beach-bound buses] but that his hands are tied.

"We have a deficit of $4.6 million," Odimgbe said. "I do understand there are way too many people wanting to go to the beach. But the riders need to understand about the funding constraints we are going through."

Odimgbe said reserve buses would cost money. "I don't see how we could compound our deficit by adding more service," he said.

"It's a beautiful day, sunny. People want to get to the beach, I understand that," he said. "But this is about all we can afford."

So, a government agency offers a service with predictably high demand, but since it loses money with every person who uses the service, it must ration it to stay within budget. Perhaps RIPTA should partner with a private company that is able to charge able-bodied, employed people for their charter to the shore.

The article mentions a federal grant that "reimburses" RIPTA for offering free bus rides on days of poor air quality but doesn't explain why that wouldn't apply to reserve buses. Readers can only guess why it is better to leave people standing at the curb for hours on such days than to charge them for the bus ride for which they're waiting.

And then there's the curious coincidence of a week-old cessation of reserve buses with a week-old doubling of parking fees for state beaches. Conflicting currents of distorted interests is big government.

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The dirty little green secret is that all mass transit systems are money sponges with no return. The govt.has to subsidise them to lower costs enabling them to become "automatic losers". Witness AMTRAK and almost all light rail systems. Oh they sound so nice and happy....unfortunately someone has to pay for them...and that someone is Joe and Josephine taxpayer. The liberals ask "Why can't we just all get along?"....The response "Because we're broke!".

Posted by: ANTHONY at July 8, 2011 10:24 AM

The grant only reimburses for regular bus routes. Adding more buses would not be reimbursable. While I'm not sympathizing with RIPTA's plight, its probably no coincidence that on ozone alert days, 'free' buses to the beach are overcrowded. It would be nice to know what the rider numbers were the day before. The purpose of the program is to encourage people that normally drive to work to take the bus instead. Having large numbers of freeloaders jumping on buses to the beach discourages other riders and thereby defeats the purpose.

By the way, expect more ozone alert days than usual because the EPA 'strengthened' the standards which should be effective by then end of July.

Posted by: Max Diesel at July 8, 2011 2:28 PM

The CEO of a private, for-profit RIPTA wouldn't have said that. He would have rebalanced his fleet to provide service where the customers want it.

Posted by: BobN at July 8, 2011 9:34 PM

Yeah, and he'd also be allowed to charge an amount that makes it so he isn't losing money on each passenger. I shouldn't be subsidizing someone's choice to ride a bus. Just more taxes to pay for services I don't use nor benefit from.

Posted by: JohnG at July 8, 2011 10:53 PM

"The dirty little green secret is that all mass transit systems are money sponges with no return. The govt.has to subsidise them to lower costs enabling them to become "automatic losers"."

So what are roads? Did they get there all on their own? Don't I have to pay for roads and highways even if I walk to work? I don't see a tollbooth at the end of your driveway.

Properly-done mass-transit boost urban density and commerce, reduces traffic, and enables a whole different kind of lifestyle. It also lets poor people get to low-wage jobs without the $700/month overhead of car ownership (yes, my little three-door Focus costs $700 a month once all the costs are added-up). The T in Boston and the Subway in New York 'lose money' too, but they enable the densities seen in those areas.

The 'real' cost of a RIPTA ride is about $4-$5. There's just NO WAY we can have people making $8/hour and paying $8-$16 a day to get to and from work.

In this instance, it would have made sense to have a 'free' beach bus, and then if load was that high another 'beach charter' that was $5-$10 a head that ran a 'for profit' run as well.

I've been doing the 'responsible thing' and leaving my car at work on days that the office heads to the bar after-hours. That means I take the bus home and back in the morning every few weeks. The bus I'm on is -packed- with people who are going to work, but obviously don't make enough to own their own car. Taking away their means of transportation would be like removing your street and telling you that if you want it, you can pave from the main road to your driveway yourself.

Posted by: mangeek at July 12, 2011 10:14 AM
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