Although it hit a couple of potholes along the road - the worst being the purchase of some second-hand buses that turned out to be lemons - Bend Area Transit has become an important part of the city's transportation system. It provides close to 6,000 rides a week, many of them to people who have no other way of getting around.
Now the City of Bend, facing a $12 million budget shortfall, wants to cut back service on BAT as well as on Dial-a-Ride, the companion system that provides transportation for seniors and the disabled. We understand that the city has to make tough choices now that the easy-money days of the real estate bubble are gone. But this is a bad choice, at a bad time.
The city's budget committee has recommended cutting out BAT service during the noon hour and eliminating Dial-a-Ride service on Sundays. This would save about $300,000 in city money. But because state and federal matching funds also would be lost, BAT stands to lose a total of about $800,000 - roughly 20% of its budget.
According to a survey last summer, about 70% of BAT riders have no access to a vehicle. The majority of the riders - 52% - are neither kids nor old people; they're in the 25-to-54 prime working-age bracket. Many of them rely on BAT to get to and from jobs and/or school.
If the buses stop running from noon to 1 it might not be a big deal for riders who work an 8-to-5 schedule, but those who don't will have to find other transportation. For many, that will mean driving themselves. With gas prices edging toward $4 a gallon while wages stagnate, this is a hell of a time to be forcing low-income working or retired people to drive more.
We'd also hate to see BAT cut service and lose riders just when the system seems to have worked through most of its problems and established a solid ridership base. A growing city like Bend should be thinking about expanding its public transit system, not starving the already anemic one it has.
It's hard for us to buy the idea that the city can't manage to scrounge $300,000 from somewhere to keep BAT and Dial-a-Ride running on a full schedule through the summer. One place the city should look is the Central Area Plan, a grand scheme to beautify Third Street and adjacent areas. We won't deny that Third Street could use some beautifying, but the makeover can wait until the city has some spare cash. The city's budget committee is contemplating reducing the plan's $500,000 budget; we'd propose reducing it to zero.
The long-term fix for the BAT funding problem, of course, is to create a transit district with its own tax base separate from the city's general fund. The city will try to do that with a measure on the November ballot. In the meantime, the idea of cutting BAT and Dial-a-Ride service ought to get THE BOOT.