Letter: Is Burlingame bus service worth the expense?
Is Burlingame bus service worth the expense?
The numbers show that even if the expanded Burlingame bus service continues to operate with an increased rate of ridership, it will still cost around $20 per passenger to operate at certain times of the year.
A taxi to Burlingame is $12. Uber may be even less, especially with Uber pool.
Where is the value in operating a bus for 67 percent more than an alternative that offers better service and supports more local jobs?
Come budget season in October, the same conversation as at Tuesday’s council work session may occur again. There may be no discussion of alternatives and the decision is going to be binary. The residents of Burlingame want and deserve free transportation service frequently. And the decision before council will come down to “you’re evil if you don’t approve it” or “we need to find more money for the transportation department to run it.” Just because the transportation department has the extra $1 million coming from the parking department in 2018 does not mean the best use for those funds is to overpay for bus service to Burlingame.
As council testified, the single greatest lesson learned from the expanded Burlingame bus service is that increased frequency of service equates to increased ridership. Isn’t the ultimate level of frequency on-demand, anytime you want it, which cannot be achieved by bus service? It’s also worth considering that the laws of diminishing returns that’s coming to the forefront of budget conversations exists for buses, but does not apply to taxis/Uber. With doubling the Burlingame service, ridership increased monthly by an average of 90 percent … it didn’t double, therefore the cost per ride is going up. If you increase ridership with taxis/Uber, the fare remains $12 per trip.
As a side note, it would be interesting if RFTA counted the number of people that ride the Burlingame bus with another person. If you consider that those groups would likely take the same taxi/Uber, the $12 fare or cost per ride gets cut in half or more.
Also, as it was mentioned at the work session, RFTA isn’t nimble to adjust their service. They have furloughs, unions, contracts and schedules that prevent them from ramping up service immediately. There are taxi/Uber drivers sitting idle right now that are ready to work and can adjust in almost real time to demand.
The obvious push back might be that having more vehicles shuttling back and forth to Burlingame creates more traffic. One response to this might be that by supporting a more efficient, on-demand network of transportation — taxis/Ubers in constant service throughout the community — you’re effectively changing people’s behavior not needing to drive and park their personal vehicle in town. There are plenty of examples of people in cities ditching their cars and voluntarily becoming 100 percent reliant on on-demand transit services.
Chalk this letter up to hyper-rational thinking or offseason boredom, but with a large sum or taxpayer dollars at stake, it seems worth considering alternatives to expensive bus service.
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