May 8, 2012 by Mike Landry
Question: Washington County voters, on May 22, will decide whether or not to establish a quarter cent sales tax that would provide $7.5 million annually for Ozark Regional Transit. Do you support passing this measure? Why or why not.
By Mike Landry
Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) wants you to give them $7 million a year to build another government empire.
The Empire of the Magic Buses.
ORT wants a full-blown urban bus system for Washington County. And it’s all speculative. There’s no current demand for the service ORT proposes. Rather, it’s all based on the Field of Dreams concept of mass transit: “If you build it, they will come.”
ORT says annual ridership will increase tenfold from its current 200,000 to 2 million by 2022.
There we’ll be, lugging around our laptops, sales presentations, groceries, and infants. And we’ll be smiling as we whisk through Washington County on the magic buses because…because…
Well, if they build it, we will come.
And it gets better. With all the planned increased services and capital goodies of this empire (including getting rid of most of their little $70 thousand vehicles for full-sized $400 thousand buses), ORT has no plans to increase fares. Because it will all run on magic. Or, as we all know, people will get way-below-cost bus rides because the majority of the people who don’t ride will pay for them. That, my friend, is political magic.
But there comes a point where we need to take a hard look at how we’re spending our tax dollars. Because the old ways no longer work. And there remains that nagging question: why do we need a monster bus system anyway? We are not Tulsa or Little Rock, the “peer cities” ORT consultants used to project into the future our transportation needs. We are a rural region where small cities are growing toward one another.
Despite the Field of Dreams mentality, people are not going to abandon their cars to ride the bus for the same reason high-value freight went from rails to trucks and that people left streetcars and buses for individual automobiles: the economic and personal value of flexibility. ORT’s proposed bus network will feature big, beautiful vehicles that will for the most run around empty, squandering diesel fuel and tax dollars.
Those of us opposed to the sales tax increase but who care about public transit have suggested alternative ideas including development of private-public partnerships, increased on-demand dispatching, vouchers for the poor and disabled, and more involvement by businesses and institutions at main transit destinations. Also, others suggested ORT delay its desired May 22 vote and wait until its needs could be incorporated into a general regional transportation plan.
A regional plan can realistically incorporate the benefits of all transport modes as opposed to the misty appeals we hear for magic buses to save the planet.
Also, enough of the argument that this itty-bitty sales tax increase will only cost us a few cappuccinos a month or whatever. We’re hearing that on a regular basis – it’s what government people often say when they can’t manage our money.
After awhile all those taxed-away cappuccinos add up to an arm and a leg.
And there’s no magic in that.