Lean without Mean

reprinted with permission from the AdlerforMayor.com website:

REINSTATEMENT OF FREE CAPITAL METRO FARES
FOR SENIORS AND THE DISABLED

The State Sunset Commission was asked to review Capital Metro back in 2009 because its financial situation was bleak.  One of the reasons Capital Metro’s financial condition was in such bad shape, as addressed by the Commission’s recommendations, was the spending of almost all the agency’s reserves (for various items including the Red Line rail, the biggest ticket item).  The Commission recommended the agency cut expenses, stop the 22-year Austin tradition of free fares on fixed bus lines for seniors and the disabled, and build back reserves to about $27 million.

The Commission specifically noted that Capital Metro could reinstate the special accommodation for seniors and the disabled once the reserves were built back to that required two month operating reserve. Capital Metro reserves are now over $100 million and in FY 2015 the agency is anticipating a $21 million surplus.71  This free bus service could help more than 12,000 Austinites.  The Austin American Statesman had reported that agency officials estimated that Capital Metro was collecting around $1.8 million annually from bus fares from seniors and the disabled.72  The historic accommodation could and should come back.

I understand the need for solvency and for increasing the percentage of costs covered by fares.  But ridership today is down from where it was in 2006 and 2008 and the public wants to see a greater critical mass on board.  Even seniors and the disabled will not really be getting a “free” ride because they pay for their rides with their sales tax (fares only cover 10% of the cost).73 Capital Metro gets the same sales tax revenue from City of Austin taxpayers as does the entire City government itself (one full penny of sales tax revenue for each).  Capital Metro also gets additional sales tax revenue because it covers a greater service area. In a time of critical affordability issues, and given the slight impact on revenues and reserves this move would have, I think this is something we can afford to do for some of the most challenged of our fellow Austinites.  The government can be lean without being mean.