Figure 19; Per Capita Costs for Poorly Subscribed Services
Figure 19 shows us the per capita cost for five services. We obtained the usage data from the Customer Satisfaction Survey that was presented to Council last fall and is available on the city website. We see that the Airport was costing us $358 per user which confirms that Council made the right decision in closing the Airport. However this is dwarfed by the cost per user for Transit Services at $1,110 per user.
We saw in figure 6 how Transportation Services was allowed to grow by 79.9% during the study period. Transit, which is part of Transportation Services, was approved for a 52.8% budget increase this year. I recall Council explaining the increase was due to anticipated increases based on information from the service provider and not from the results of an RFP process. As it turned out the winning bid from a subsequent RFP process was actually $231,678 less than budgeted. In a fiscally responsible municipality this an unexpected bonus would be removed from the Transit budget and set aside so it can be returned to taxpayers next year. It will be interesting to see if there is anyone on Council with the courage to insist that this windfall be returned to the taxpayer.
Council was aware that ridership was down even before Covid and actually budgeted for a $180,550 or 47% reduction in fare revenues which suggests that they have no confidence in ridership increasing post Covid. Oddly they budgeted an additional $35,000 or 22% more for “Materials and Supplies” as shown in the 2022 Transit budget in figure 20 at the right. This is just another example of budget-padding. Why would you need more materials and supplies in 2022 when you’re serving only half of the riders you had in 2021?
Using the 2022 Transit budget we can calculate the cost to the taxpayer of each trip taken by bus riders. Knowing the total revenue from fares and that a regular ride costs the rider $3.00 we can calculate the number of trips taken. As shown in Table 2 the number of rides was 128,083 in 2021. We know from figure 20 the Gross Cost for transit was $1,908,225 in 2021. When we divide this by the number of trips we get the cost per trip to be $14.90 in 2021. Given the reduced revenues from fares in 2022 we find that we are expecting only 67,900 rides. This results in a dramatic increase in the cost per trip that the taxpayer has to cover - $23.49. When you add the $3 fare to this each trip is costing $26.49. For this price you could take a taxi to anywhere in Owen Sound. Also in 2021 the rider’s $3 fare represented 20.1% of the Gross Costs of providing this service. In 2022 the rider’s fare covers only 12.8% of the Gross Costs. This shows that as ridership declines the taxpayer’s share of the cost of providing transit services increases. How high does the taxpayer’s cost per trip need to get before Council finds the courage to fix or cancel this service?
The only way to save Transit is to dramatically increase ridership. To achieve this Transit Services, needs an overhaul to make it a valued service that residents can rely on. The current routes and service times are useless to most residents. If we want to get commuters out of their cars and riding transit then we need 15 minute service during communing times. As well we need East-West routes so a hospital worker, for example, living on the west hill can easily take the bus to their job at the hospital.
With workable routes and rapid rush hour service the city could negotiate a contract with school boards to move Owen Sound students about the city before and after school at no cost to the student. The school boards would save money in lower transportation costs, the city would make money with the school board contracts, and the busses would be filled.
Alternatively, if Council does not have an appetite to turn Transit into a viable, valuable service, then it must be shuttered, since in its current state it is not valued and it would be cheaper to give seniors taxi vouchers.