I'm working on the photographic tour of Riverside that I promised, but while I was out today collecting photos, I stopped by at the RTA Board of Directors meeting, where they were deciding on the service cuts I previously mentioned.
This board meeting went very, very long- 'till nearly 4 o'clock- and numerous members of the community (mostly from Highgrove and Grand Terrace) and myself spoke against the cuts. I suggested that RTA use some of the recently restored State Transit Assistance funding to stave off these cuts until sales tax revenues return. Most Highgrove and Grand Terrace residents encouraged the Board to ensure that negotiations with Omnitrans (which are already ongoing) produce replacement service in Grand Terrace *before* the 25 is cut. The Board was supportive of this measure, but considering staff was already pursuing it, didn't take any formal action on the matter.
As far as the rest of the service cuts, the weekend NB 7:47 and SB 7:30 trips on the 18 were spared, as were the Sunday NB and SB 8:05 trips on the 21. Everything else? Slashed. Including my late-night route 16. The last #16 out of downtown on Sundays will now leave at 19:05, cut from 20:25.
I learned about the restrictions on State Transit Assistance funding- it seems that it can either be used for unrestricted capital funding, or for operations funding only if an agency meets certain efficiency targets (I'm assuming cost/passenger-mile or something similar). Since RTA has this huge rural footprint that is NEVER going to meet those targets, and an urban footprint that probably won't anytime soon... STA funds can't generally be used for operating.
But wait! It seems that, for the balance of this fiscal year and through the next one (meaning until July 2011), the efficiency standards were suspended, and agencies were free to use STA funds for operating as much as they like. It sounds to me (and I'm not a member of the Assembly, so I don't know) like lawmakers intended agencies to use these funds in this upcoming fiscal year to forestall cuts, in the hope that the economy improves by 2011 (which most indicators say it will). RTA staff thought it "imprudent" to use these funds to put off these cuts, and said that they wouldn't want to have to make them later if the economy hadn't rebounded and they had no other revenues.
"Imprudent"? RTA, look. If you have a year of funding for bus operations that can stave off more cuts, use it. If it ends up that you have to cut routes later, then you cross that bridge when you get to it, but keeping those buses running for a year could really help out in this economy. It means jobs for your drivers, who then pay taxes and buy stuff in the local economy. It means access to employment for the people who depend on your service. A year's worth of that sort of activity is worth something, and it is worth more than your desire for stability. If you can keep those buses running for an extra year before you have to make service cuts, then you damned well do it. I was very disappointed in the Agency's dismissal (and by Agency I mean CEO Larry Rubio) of these funds in the name of budgetary stability. For the next year, there are people who won't be able to get where they need to go, and that's your fault, Mr. Rubio. I hope you're happy.
By the way, Planning Director Mark Stanley said that he has "cuts in September" and "more cuts in January" for us, depending on the state of tax receipts, so stay tuned.