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Monday, October 27, 2008

Statesman-Journal disgraces itself

The Statesman-Journal completes its disintegration into a parody of a newspaper with its editorial declining to endorse the vital Cherriots bond (24-247). The concluding paragraph suggests that destroying the viability of the transit system will be useful because it will prompt a "community discussion of what an effective, efficient transit system would look like if it were being designed from scratch — and how to pay for it."

Oddly, THAT's the discussion we should be having over our streets and bridges, rather than rushing to pump $100M into nothing but more of the same auto-dominated building. We need to be talking about how to stop spending our way into an ever-greater maintenance backlog of expanded roadways that will supposedly "reduce congestion" -- ignoring the cumulative millennia of experience that shows that all roadway expansions intended to fight congestion end up increasing that congestion at a new, more-congested level.

But, experience be damned, the SJ calls for the defeat of a $6M annual bond to preserve a functional transit system while calling for passage of a $100M streets bond that will do nothing to prepare Oregon's capital to meet the ravages of an unwinding economy that will make transit evermore vital to people on the lower end of the economic ladder, even as the climate changes make transit more and more necessary to our survival.

When the streets bond fails, nothing changes -- we can get the planners to revise their plans and come up with a new, smarter proposal without a hitch, a proposal for taking care of what we have in a way that we can afford.

But if the Cherriots bond fails, real people will be hurt real bad real fast. Transit dependent workers will have no options at all on weekends; seniors and the disabled will lose all ability to get around independently on weekends, and commuters and other "choice riders" will give up on the system.

In short, as we starve the transit system, we'll complain that it's a scrawny, useless thing and short-sighted folks like the SJ editorial board will then argue that we should cut the funding even further because the system is so scrawny that it doesn't do anyone any good.

Transit levy creates quandary for voters
Request ill-timed with school and fire measures on ballot

October 27, 2008

In today's challenging economy, voters can't afford to do everything. That is why the Statesman Journal Editorial Board cannot recommend passage of the Salem Area Mass Transit District's $30.4 million, five-year operating levy.

The district is going back to the voters after its levy failed twice in 2006, forcing route reductions. The current proposal creates a quandary for voters.

On the positive side, the district is doing a lot of things right under General Manager Allan Pollock. Cherriots has increased fares. Ridership is up. Pollock has a tighter rein on operations and has instituted money-saving measures. He appreciates the need for more crosstown routes instead of making so many riders transfer at the downtown Courthouse Square transit center.

Yet there still seems to be a disconnect between the Cherriots' elected board of directors and many taxpayers.

The property-tax levy has support among downtown business leaders but not communitywide. Taxpayers see nearly empty buses going by and wonder why; the district's own trip statistics don't give a satisfactory accounting.

The district raised hackles by how it handled the potential siting of a transit center in Keizer. Stories abound of bus drivers' perceived discourtesy to other drivers and pedestrians, with each incident creating bad feelings toward the district.

The 2008 levy is smaller than the 2006 request, which was defeated once by voters and once by the double-majority requirement. However, we think the board made a tactical error by placing this year's levy on the same ballot as Salem-Keizer School District and city of Salem bond measures, as well as operating levies for Keizer Fire District and Marion County Fire District 1.

Those conditions created long odds for the Cherriots levy, despite the regional importance of transit. Many taxpayers worry about the uncertain economy, which has worsened in the months since the district proposed the levy.

The proposed levy is small — 49 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value. That's $98 per year for the owner of a $200,000 house. But taxpayers must prioritize their expenditures, including their property taxes.

Some people have suggested that the transit board is politically tone-deaf — unaware or unable to build support among civic leaders.

We prefer to think that board members are so passionate about transit — for good reason — that they count on others to share their enthusiasm. They have led a grass-roots campaign, holding scores of meetings.

If the levy fails, the district has warned bus and CherryLift riders to expect an end to Saturday service, as well as weekday reductions on many routes. Those could be devastating to service-industry workers, students, people traveling to medical appointments and others who depend on public transit.

But this also could force a community discussion of what an effective, efficient transit system would look like if it were being designed from scratch — and how to pay for it.