Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Getting All "Occupy" on Sun Tran Rider Subsidies

Posted By on Wed, Sep 9, 2015 at 4:43 PM

Tens of thousands of words have been written about the Sun Tran strike, including in the Weekly and on The Range, covering it from all kinds of angles. Over at the Tucson Sentinel, Blake Morlock, not known as a man of few words, wrote 2,500 more in an article with the provocative headline, Subsidy express: Who gets a lift, and who does Sun Tran take for a ride? He comes up with some interesting answers to the question: Which riders get subsidized how much by Sun Tran?

Before I give you Morlock's figures, let's remember that public transportation is subsidized, almost by definition. It's a public service that's not supposed to pay for itself. And when we think "rider subsidy," we're most likely to picture people we see waiting at kiosks on Speedway or Alvernon or some other large urban street, lots of them low income. We don't think of the more well-heeled, less visible riders who use the system. But we should.

Here's what Morlock found. If you're looking for heavily subsidized bus lines, look at the routes that travel to and from the suburbs. For instance, an urban rider taking the No. 4 bus down Speedway is subsidized to the tune of $2.64, while a suburban rider on the Rita Ranch Express gets a $12.77 subsidy. The lowest subsidy Morlock lists is $1.78 per rider on the No. 11 that goes travels on Alvernon. The highest is — drum roll please — $25.98 per rider for the 202X from Oro Valley to Raytheon. That Oro Valley Raytheon employee who rides that express back and forth to work five days a week gets $259.80 worth of travel subsidized by the bus service.

I haven't checked Morlock's figures, so I can't guarantee their accuracy, other than to say he's an experienced investigative reporter who knows how to dig up info, so I tend to trust his facts. Here's the passage where he lists the subsidies I cited, and more.
Let's check out more of this subsidy, shall we: The No. 4 route down Speedway subsidized at $2.46 per rider; the No. 8 down Broadway gets $2.20 per rider; the 11 up Alvernon gets $1.78 per rider and the No. 6 down First Avenue past the Star newsroom on South Park Avenue and to the airport gets $1.86. Those are the cheap lines. The expensive lines in Sun Tran system run to Midvale Park at $6.63 per rider and along West Speedway and Pima Street at $5.53 a rider.

The smart money thinking of course is to eliminate "less-efficient" routes because the poor just need to find another way and Sun Tran should run like a bidness. Harrumph. You don't see the hard-working makers getting a subsidy from Sun Tran in places like Oro Valley, Tanque Verde, the Foothills and Rita Ranch do you? No, even though the poor keep stealing all their hard-earned lucre, these folks muster through on their own.

They don't need no stinking subsidy. Do they?


What if I told you that Sun Tran's express routes to the suburbs — meaning no stops for rabble — marinate in city subsidies to the point of engorgement?

Yeah, the Rita Ranch Express soaks in $12.77 per rider. The Tanque Verde Express slurps up $17.97 for a pair of wingtips. The Golf Links Express right through the heart of Republican Ward 4 rakes in $25.47 per rider. They all trail the 202X straight from Oro Valley down to Raytheon, subsidized to the anthemic tune of $25.98 per rider. That's per ride. Each way.

Moochers and takers! I'm sorry. Makers! No. Wait? What? The poor aren't the ones ripping us off?

In all, the express routes passengers average $14.54 per rider — more than six times the riders at bus stops they blow past because they have places to be and sun stroke is for the fast-food workers.

It costs Sun Tran $312,000 per month to run these routes, or $3.7 million per year. If you'd put those savings on the table two weeks ago, the strike would be over. The contractor has $2.2 million to work with and the union was asking for $5.7 million per year — there would be enough left over to buy Sun Tran GM Kate Riley and Teamsters chief negotiator Andy Marshall each killer Italian rides for jobs well done.

To find this, I Googled "Sun Tran subsidy," and found the bus service's monthly reports and a comprehensive system-wide analysis on the first damn page.

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