Sunday, December 23, 2018

Public Transportation - My City's "Empty Bus" Boondoggle

The Tax Payer Is Being Taken For A Ride
Something is very wrong with a government that creates an expensive transportation system that carries few riders and occupies its time shifting around empty buses. In the city where I live the bus system that carries us about goes by the name of Citilink. The Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corporation that controls this system has a rather slick detailed website that gives a fair amount of information and some I hope you will find very interesting. If you think taxpayer-subsidized entities are efficient in accomplishing their missions then you will be disappointed. The whole point of the following article is to highlight how a quasi-government entity needs little accountability to be accepted into a community as a positive force. The article below is comprised of real numbers directly from the PTC annual report and these are numbers that are easy to get your head around.

Darkened Windows Mask Lack Of Riders
On the average day buses with darkened windows dart to and fro with the intent to provide safe, courteous, dependable public transportation, and at the most reasonable cost to our community. It is not uncommon to sometimes see as many as three or four buses in a small area. Citilink considers itself much more than a ride. In their words "more or less" it's about getting us where we want to be on many levels. They see as their claim and goal to contribute to the community in many ways including but not limited to revitalizing our neighborhoods, helping with developing the downtown area and contributing to economic development.

PTC brags and carries on about how local dollars are leveraged to match federal and state resources that are invested in mobility for Fort Wayne residents.  Annually, over $4.7 million dollars from outside our community support Citilink services. In addition, millions of dollars in discretionary federal funds help pay for new buses and transit facilities. They say on their website under the "about us" section listed as, board of directors and mission, that whether you ride it or not, public transportation benefits all of us. This point is driven home by a YouTube video. It is only when you look a little deeper into the annual report that shows the numbers behind this operation that reality begins to filter through.

Yes indeed, the picture painted by the numbers of the annual report is not pretty or impressive. With total expenses of $12,625,199 the revenue summary shows only $1,310,690 or about 10.4% comes from fare revenue. This means as shown the bulk of its operating money comes from the taxpayer and is listed as Local Assistance $5,891,916 State Assistance $2,048,372 Federal Assistance $2,661,868. When considering the city has a population of 256,496 people, this means assistance from each man, woman, and child represents $41.33. Again, it must be highlighted that when someone cannot or will not pay their portion the burden is transferred to those who will. Again, if you paid attention to the numbers most the money comes from close to home.

A glaring problem becomes apparent as we read the report and that is these buses are not darting about full of paying riders or non-paying riders receiving a free service, it is far worse than that. The numbers prove the buses are empty even after all the massive efforts to encourage ridership few people in the city have ridden a bus in decades. With a total vehicle operating expense of  $5.86 per mile the operating expense per passenger trip comes in at $7.09. This becomes clear when they state the number of passengers per vehicle mile traveled as a mere .83 or in layman terms this means a Citilink bus on average carries less than one passenger and its driver, this means if one bus has three passengers most likely two others have none.

It should be noted that many of the buses act as traveling billboards and are covered in advertising as a way to garner a few pennies of additional revenue. The most common theme sports the strength of a certain bankruptcy law firm, the city recycling program, a positive message related to local government or another entity subsidized in some way by taxpayer money. Colleges receiving state funding, local subsidized sports teams or their arenas, hospitals, and even the groups like Airport Authority tend to pony up money in this incestuous demonstration that they too care about the city.

Also, revealed on the website is the ugly reality as to just how badly the PTC spends our money. For example, I followed through to view one of the several recommended videos Citilink had produced and put on YouTube in January of 2015. The 19-minute video prepared in Spanish told someone how to ride the bus, since being placed on YouTube it had been viewed only 49 times. This means I boosted its audience by 4% when I kicked it on twice. Sadly, the bulk of the other viewers were most likely AdvncingTime readers guided there by a previous post or some in-house close associates of Citilink checking out their little gem before showering themselves with praise. It is clear this highly orchestrated production had to have cost thousands of dollars to produce.

PTC through Citilink goes to great lengths to spread the myth they are helping to make the city "green" and is ecologically friendly, but this claim quickly goes out the highly tinted windows of the buses, I contend the windows have been darkened more to mask the lack of riders than for their comfort. The fleet of buses consumed 361,787 gallons of fuel and traveled 2,153,575 miles. This is less than 6 miles per gallon or 5.95 to be exact. If this is any indication of the state of mass public transportation across much of the nation it would seem the word mass should be dropped as a misnomer, this is particularly true in areas finding parking is not difficult or expensive. Following the footnote is the link to three other cities which seem to be suffering from the empty bus syndrome.

Sadly, the corporation's reports show more taxpayer money is being spent and ridership is continuing to decline, this may be in part to the recent development of options such as Uber. When comparing the 2017 annual report to the 2013 report it becomes easy to make the case something is very wrong here. The catch phrase on the PTC website, "Come Along For The Ride" seems, in this case, to apply to not only their riders but the taxpayers as well. When looking at all the numbers it seems some scheme to subsidize payments for private taxi service for those needing transportation might cost us far less than maintaining this failing apparatus. As far as claims that jobs would be lost a case can easily be made that more taxi drivers would be needed if we had fewer buses.

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Footnote; While this may seem like a rather "off topic" sort of post I think it is important to toss out such oddball subjects that all tend to flow into what makes up our modern culture. This helps to shine a light on where we may to failing or on the wrong path in creating a more sustainable future. Note, some of the links below seem to have gone a bit out of the way to baffle us with BS and mask what the numbers represent.

South Bend Indiana -
Salem Oregon -
Topeka Kansas - https://topekametro.orgAnnual-Report-FY2017.pdf


  1. While I generally dislike governments, and government subsidies, sometimes they are positive and necessary.

    The world cannot run, nor be judged solely on profitability.

    Not every activity can generate only positive profit.

    The Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule, shows that most results are the product of a few causes.
    Public transportation, serving one function, will likely NEVER be run profitably.

    If Alphabet (Google) were to rely solely on one product, Google Search, they'd be out of business.

    You mention highly-selected stats, like mpg and cost per mile, but you've ommitted hidden stats.

    You object to government subsidies, but what of the government subsidies being used to pave & repair roads?
    What about costs for traffic law enforcement? Emergency vehicles?

    The more cars on the streets, the more the pavement/asphalt wears, the more expenses to repair/replace it.
    The more cars on the streets the more accidents, thus more traffic problems, thus law and emergency crews.

    Plus, have you ever lived in a really smoggy, polluted city?
    Ever had your kids told at school they couldn't play outside durig recess or lunch because the air quality was too poor & dangerous?

    Regardless whether you buy into the "green" movement (trend) or not, few truly intelligent people would argue that automotive exhaust isn't harmful.
    Are you aware of the vast number of toxic chemicals used to treat gasoline, oil?

    Have you taken these costs into consideration?
    These go beyond mpg or cost per mile.

    Also, public infrastructure doesn't get built over-night.
    Sometimes it pays to plan in advance.
    What if Fort Wayne were to experience sudden, massively explosive growth? Suddenly finding itself in need of buses to accomodate a large number of riders?
    Better to be prepared than not.

    Back in the 80's I used to criticize the Denver area for it's launching & expansion of it's public transportation program.

    Denver was still largely a cow-town in the 80's. The late 80's oil & energy bust drove mass numbers of people away.
    You could drive 15-20 miles, from the suburbs to downtown, in a matter of 10-15 minutes.
    There were often few to no riders on the buses.

    It seemed a terrible waste of taxpayer money.

    Fast forward to the late 90's to the 2k's.
    Denver is now absolutely booming.

    Traffic really sucks. It has become a small LA.
    Traffic jams, quite literally, from 5a-12a.

    That once 10-15 minute drive downtown now takes 45 minutes, minimum.

    Yet Denver prepared early, and now has perhaps one of the best public transportation systems in the country.

    And it now gets well used.

    I even criticized their plan to build a lightrail system.
    It seemed a desperate attempt at mere trendy vanity.

    Those lightrail trains are now most always packed full of riders, eliminating a LOT MORE traffic from the streets.
    Plus, the trains zip through, between industrial areas, off the roads, thus avoiding the horrific traffic, preventing even more accidents.

    Most buses are often nearly to completely full.
    We're taking 40-50+ people per bus or train...with hundreds of buses & trains criss-crossing the city every hour.
    Imagine how much worse the already horrific traffic would be if each of these people drove their own cars.

    Consider the number of drunk & drugged drivers that have been taken off the roads, riding buses instead.

    Denver has a thriving nightlife and sportsfan base.
    A lot of those people have no place in cars, on the roads after their day or night of celebrating.

    Have you factored the reduced auto deaths into your cost-benefit accounting?

    Denver now has legal weed. I smell weed wafting from cars ALL the time. Not just daily, but by the minute.
    Auto accidents due to stoned drivers have risen dramatically.

    I see drunks & stoners on the bus & trains all the time.
    Imagine if each of those people were in cars instead.
    It's bad now, but could be a whole lot worse.


  2. Part 2....

    Also, with increased population growth comes increased crime (a natural tendency when you have risingly consolidated populations).
    Every human is fallable, everyone makes mistakes.
    Should Joe Blo lose his job because he got busted for drunk driving in the past, lost his license and now can't get to work...because there's no public transportation?
    I don't like drunk drivers, but a mistake shouldn't further destroy a person's life.

    What about the elderly and disabled?
    Society has a responsible to take care of it's own....all of them.

    Public transportation serves other functions/benefits.

    Or perhaps we should just start killing those we deem incapable?
    If you can't afford to pay your own way you must die?

    Is that one of the "benefits" of pure capitalism?

    Now, forget Denver.
    I've lived in LA too, prior to a well-planned public transportation system.
    The traffic was even worse than Denver.
    People quite literally spent 3-4 hours driving 30 miles. That's a one-way trip to work.
    That's over 6 hours of one's day on the road, just commuting to/from work.
    There are better ways to spend one's time.


  3. Part 3...

    I often rode a motorcycle in LA.
    I would ALWAYS have to shower after riding, as I'd be covered in black soot from the smog.
    I could see black gunk washing off me as I showered.
    That's smog that's also making it into ones lungs.

    It is disgusting.

    Buses pollute too, but more riders mean more fuel efficiency, meaning less of that disgusting pollution.

    It takes time to change habits.

    I ride the buses and trains often.

    I have a car, but it seems highly wasteful & irresponsible to have one single person, in a car that can hold 4-5 people.
    Plus, that's a lot of PUBLIC space taken-up by one person/car.

    The internal combustion engine is REALLY inefficient.
    Gas engines lose 40-60 percent of their energy in just heat alone (why radiators exist).
    The add in the energy lost to sound (why mufflers exist).

    People are paying mostly to move a 2.9 ton (5,800 lbs) hunk of metal down the road.

    What a waste.
    It's not sustainable.

    Plus, where "greenies" often love to complain about the industrial pollution cause by others, what of their own pollution/carbon footprint?
    Walk the walk.

    I try to live by the philosophy of "Universal Sustainability".
    Before taking ANY action or making ANY decision, one should ask themselves, "What would happen if EVERYONE were to do the same as me?".
    Would society sustain under such conditions?

    What if every single person drove a car?

    You like stats?
    There are 328,953,020 people in the U.S. as of November 8, 2018.
    81.27 percent of those are 16+ (driving age).
    That's 267,340,119 possible drivers in the U.S.

    I've seen stats that show about 109.6 million drivers in the U.S.
    While that's a lot, consider having more than double that number on the roads.
    Imagine if the U.S. were infested with ALL 267,340,119 possible drivers.

    It may not hit home in a place like Fort Wayne, but larger cities would be an absolute nightmare.
    The population growth and density are relatively low in Fort Wayne, but that may not always be the case.

    I know people in Colorado (myself included) whom can't believe the explosive growth.
    It seems like it changed overnight.

    All the more smallish, more manageable, outlying communities within a 50 mile radius in the denver metro area suddenly converged into one massive metropolis.

    Fort Wayne may be manageable, now, but imagine if Fort Wayne, South Bend Elkhart, Toledo, Lafayette, Columbus, and Indianapolis (and everything in-between) were to all converge into one large metro area.

    It will happen one day.
    The U.S. is not likely to experience a mass-migration outwards, thus it'll just continue to get more crowded, more dense.
    Those additional people gotta go somewhere.

    It's better to be prepared than not.

    Yes, the transportation authority in Denver, RTD, is a bureaucratic nightmare. Much like most all other governmental/quasi-governmental entities.

    But there are more choices than simply "take it or leave it".
    These bureaucratic behemoths can be better managed, we just don't do it, because humans are constantly stuck in the "Dichotomous Thinking" pattern of "take it or leave it".

    Also, where governmental and quasi-governmental entities have proven abusive and overbearing, most humans have proven they can't act logically or responsibly, on their own accord, thus often the reason for the rise of those overbearing entities.

    Freedom and liberty take a great deal of responsibility.
    Most people can't handle that responsibility.

    Thus the reason ALL governments and systems eventually fail....they're crated by the people tasked with, but failing in the proper management of those systems.

    So, whilst I understand your viewpoint, one should consider ALL the factors they may be missing.

  4. I was employed at Salem Transit 1995-2006 (Cherriots) and Ohio Valley Transit (OVRTA) 2006-2016. Large cities need public transportation, but small to mid-size cities, where people can easily get around in autos, don't. Huge waste of money.