The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
CARTA - How many are truly hurting from the cutbacks?
Warwick Jones, Editor
Well the Sales Tax referendum is only 4 months away. We can expect the City and the Post & Courier to crank up shortly to begin a blitz with reasons why we need to vote for it.
CARTA, although only the recipient of probably less than 20% of the funds, will be the horse flogged the hardest. The City and the newspaper concentrated their efforts on CARTA in their earlier efforts to garner support for the tax. We expect they will attempt to do it again.
There is no doubt that some people have been inconvenienced by cut-backs in the service of CARTA, some perhaps seriously. But at the same time, many, and I suggest most people, have adjusted. I doubt they will be using CARTA as they used to if services are reinstated.
Have you noticed how many more taxis there are in Charleston lately? We understand that a number of car-pooling initiatives have blossomed and cabs are also calling for people, offering special weekly rates to and from work. And our anecdotal evidence suggests that people are happy with the present situation and see it as superior to anything that CARTA had to offer. Maybe it is a little more expensive than CARTA but think of the advantages - no waiting, reliable service and fast! So if CARTA does get back to restoring past services, don't expect a swell in its patronage.
Yes, we agree that Charleston needs a bus service. But it is always an issue when dealing with public services: how fine should the safety net be? The entities that make up the ownership of CARTA have to decide, but almost certainly whatever they choose, there will be some people who cannot be helped.
CARTA has not suggested anything terribly imaginative in recent months to mitigate the problems stemming from its lack of financing. This may have been on purpose, to ensure there would continue to be the emotional ammunition to fire in support of the referendum. But we would suggest that it:
1. Look closer at targeting tourists. CARTA claims that it can't raise fares on some city routes because locals use the buses as frequently as tourists. Locals folk will cease to use the route, it says. We find it hard to believe that some system cannot be devised to make tourists pay more. And indeed, if locals cease to use it after a modest fare increase, one has to question the utility of the bus service for these people.
2. Look at its current cost structure with a view to reducing it. Administration costs are running at an annual rate of $700,000. Compared to total operating expenses of $6 million projected for 2005, this does not seem too large. But the expense figure assumes a higher level of services in the final months of fiscal 2005 than presently provided. CARTA has assumed that the sales tax referendum will be successful and it will have access to the proceeds for part of the fiscal year. Based on the present level of operations, present annualized office and admin expenses are probably above 15% of total expenses. This is too high!
3. Not reinstate all services if funds become available. Better to expand the Tele-A-Ride to help those few who are truly inconvenienced by the cut-backs.
4. Consider buying smaller and faster buses, We note that the 2005 budget mentioned this as an initiative. But we note there was no provision for purchases.