C-Tran’s puzzling meeting
Tuesday evening’s C-Tran board meeting left a room full of citizens wondering where we are going and who is driving. County Commissioner Tom Mielke and Washougal City Council member Connie Jo Freeman stood in sharp contrast to the 7 other voting members.
C-Tran voted to increase fares again (5 years in a row) and stated that their plan is to raise fares every year. C-Tran staff said that since Portland’s TriMet was raising rates, that C-Tran should too. Mielke and Freeman said they did not think we should be raising fares during this recession for those that can least afford it, seniors, the disabled, and the most needy.
Subsidizing Portland’s troubled TriMet
C-Tran has been paying $380,000 per year to subsidize Portland’s financially troubled TriMet. Mielke said he didn’t think it made sense for Clark County to be paying for riders in another state. Mielke stated that C-Tran should be focusing on riders that are within C-Tran’s service district. Freeman questioned why C-Tran must be subject to the whims of Portland’s TriMet. But the majority of the board approved the fare increase and will continue to subsidize TriMet. C-Tran’s “reciprocity” agreement with TriMet will stand.
Fewer riders, increasing costs
C-Tran’s latest financial report reveals that fixed route ridership slowly decreased over the past year while their operating expenses increased by about $1 million. In addition, several million dollars have been spent so far to promote High Capacity Transit consisting of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the CRC Light Rail Tolling project.
The unanswered question
C-Tran’s latest financial statement shows C-Tran sitting on $45 million in cash, $11 million of it is uncommitted (free to use for anything). That is enough for C-Tran to pay cash for their share of their proposed BRT capital cost.
The following question was asked by a citizen during citizen communications “Since C-Tran is telling us that the cost to operate and maintain BRT will be less than the present bus service on Fourth Plain, why are we talking about a vote to raise the sales tax to pay for the cost to operate and maintain BRT?” After 5 seconds of silence, with no one on the board offering an answer, Jeff Hamm, C-Tran’s CEO, promised to answer that question after the meeting.
After the meeting, Hamm said he was not ready to answer that question. But he would work with staff and arrange a meeting.
Express buses compared to light Rail
Steve Stuart stated that light rail is a premium service and therefore should have higher fares more in line with express bus premium service. But one board member who rides the express bus regularly shared that his 44 minute express bus ride would take more than 4 hours using light rail and that light rail does not come close to the performance of express bus service.
Paying for light rail operation and maintenance
C-Tran presented a report showing nearly a dozen different ways to fund the operation and maintenance cost of light rail. That report showed that a sales tax increase was the only way to provide enough money. Other options included a $24 per year employer head tax, a car rental tax, increasing the sales tax on the CRC light rail toll project, and adding a $20/year auto license tab fee.
Freeman said that increasing costs for businesses that provide jobs was exactly the wrong move in this economy. She also said it was not right to charge people who are renting a car, for light rail when they are not riding light rail.
Tim Leavitt said that C-Tran should raise all their bus fares high enough to pay for light rail.
A Light Rail vote is (but is not) separated from a BRT vote
C-Tran staff has been stating that Light Rail and BRT will no longer be a single ballot measure. Freeman pointed out that the board passed a resolution long ago to keep them together and had not voted to separate the two. The minutes from earlier meetings were checked and confirmed these facts. Yet somehow these two votes are now separated even though the board has yet to pass a resolution to unlink them.
No Vote on Light Rail
The C-Tran staff prepared 3 ballot measure options for the board to consider in this meeting. Tom Mielke stated that for 3 years, C-Tran has promised citizens a district-wide vote on light rail and it was time to honor that promise (option 1 of the handout prepared by C-Tran).
Tim Leavitt stated that light rail must be funded even if voters defeat it, and that C-Tran staff must work harder to find other ways to fund it. Mielke said that staff had already done that and this was a stall tactic to run out the clock and prevent a vote by the people. Freeman reminded the board further delays by the board is costing taxpayers $1 to $2 million every month and it was time to let the people vote. She reminded the board that citizens are saying “Let us vote.” The board decided not to allow citizens to vote at this time.
A final quote
Connie Jo Freeman read the following quote from Thomas Jefferson before the meeting ended:
“If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, and give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses.
And the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they do now, on oatmeal and potatoes, have no time to think, no means of calling the mis-managers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains around the necks of our fellow sufferers.
And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second, that second for a third, and so on ’til the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automations of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering.
And the fore-horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.”
Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic. But will they keep it? Or will they, in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of freedom? Material abundance without character is the path of destruction.”
C-Tran Board members
Representing the City of Vancouver
Larry Smith – Chairman – Council member
Tim Leavitt –Mayor
Bart Hansen – Council member (absent)
(Jeanne Harris – Council member – substituted for Bart Hansen on May 8)
Clark County Commissioners
Steve Stuart, Tom Mielke, Marc Boldt
Council members from Clark County’s smaller cities
Connie Jo Freeman – Washougal Council member
Bill Ganley – Battle Ground Council member
Jim Irish – La Center Mayor
C-Tran Staff Member (nonvoting)
Roy Jennings –Labor Representative