A newish group called the New Public Transit Alliance has been lobbying to get more equitable and reliable funding for RIPTA. Yesterday, the House voted to approve a 2¢ hike to the state gas tax to help RIPTA close it’s budget gap. RIPTA’s current deficit is oscillating due to several factors, but currently stands around $10 million. The new gas tax is projected to bring in $8.8 million earmarked to go directly to RIPTA.
While the House voted for the tax, it did not pass without a few hissy fits from the members. As reported on the ProJo Blog, “Rep. Brian Kennedy, D-Hopkinton, labeled the budget proposal ‘somewhat offensive’ to people being asked to pay an extra 2 cents a gallon for public transit that is not available to them.” I would point out to Rep. Kennedy, that there is a Park n’ Ride in Hopkinton at Exit 1 off Route 95. His constituents have express bus service via Route 90W at the amazingly low price of $1.75. The same price it costs me to get across town.
Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt, D-Woonsocket, preferred to see the gas tax money go toward restoring the $55 million in revenue sharing for cities and towns that was cut from the budget (RIFuture is doing good reporting on how the Assembly could actually restore the revenue sharing). Rep. Hunt was quoted by ProJo as saying, “RIPTA’s house is a mess. All we are doing is feeding a junkie.”
I invite Rep. Hunt to read the independent audit of RIPTA published recently which shows that the agency is well run and uses it’s revenue quite efficiently compared to it’s peer transit agencies. As with everything, there is room for improvement, however Rep. Hunt shows her ignorance when classifying RIPTA as a ‘junkie.’
Majority Leader Gordon Fox while defending the need for the gas tax was no more informed than his colleages were. Again, from the ProJo: “It’s about people’s mobility…It is about keeping the state moving.”
Yes, OK. You’re right, good:
“So go down there and picket RIPTA. Go down there and demand that some of those people down there maybe shouldn’t be employed. Friends of friends. Family of friends. Family of family… But the one thing you are doing with this one is you will put people literally on the street, on their feet. And what does that mean to their quality of life?”
Sigh. The last thing RIPTA needs is Gordon Fox encouraging people to grab their pitchforks and march on their headquarters.
People have proven through their actions that they want to see a well run dependable transit system in Rhode Island. When gas hit $4/gallon last summer, RIPTA was flooded with new passengers. Of course as people stopped driving, gas tax collections went down, just as RIPTA was dealing with a massive influx of new passengers. See a problem here? This two penny increase in the gas tax will plug RIPTA’s budget hole and let it avoid cutting routes and raising fares (which are already quite high compared to other agencies it’s size). But if gas prices go up and people leave their cars, we’re going to be right back where we started from.
Also, this simply maintains RIPTA’s current service levels. Demand for buses last summer proves to us that RIPTA has to grow. It needs more buses serving more areas to serve more people more efficiently. The metropolitan area needs to develop more services such as lightrail, streetcars, and bus rapid transit. This two penny tax gives RIPTA no room to allow itself to grow.
Another proposal for funding would change the gas tax from a cents per gallon arrangement to a % per gallon arrangement. This would result in the taxes per gallon collected rising with the cost of fuel. So if people drove less and turned to RIPTA, RIPTA would still be bringing in more per gallon at the pump to allow for it to absorb the increased demand. Alternately, the gas tax could be pegged to an inflationary measure, so that it would rise and fall automatically according to that benchmark. This would allow future members of the Assembly an out whereby they would not have to be seen as raising taxes when in effect they were simply trying to make the tax match inflation.
Ultimately, the members of the Assembly and the general public need to see the value of RIPTA and stop the knee-jerk disparagement. If members of the Assembly actually learned what RIPTA is, how RIPTA is run, who RIPTA serves, and how important a robust transit system is seen by business leaders across the country, maybe we could stop playing the RIPTA Financial Crisis game every year up on Smith Hill and actually start working on moving our transit system and our state into the 21st century.