Efficiencies And High Praise Go Punished

October 10, 2005
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Interurban Transit Partnership board members were given welcome news in the agency's first Comprehensive Operational Analysis, conducted by national consulting firm Manuel Padron & Associates, which also compared The Rapid to other systems around the country. The six-month evaluation covered every aspect of the service. Consultants lauded The Rapid, indicating that in providing such analysis across the country, the group was "very impressed" with The Rapid, and that Denver is the only other transit authority of its caliber and with a comparable "excellent" data collection system.

Such plaudits are not new to The Rapid. It earned the top award as the outstanding transit system in its tier from the American Public Transit Association, a tier in which Grand Rapids placed against such cities as San Diego, Louisville and Tampa. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce lauded it with its award for Nonprofit of the Year.

But efficiencies and high praise do not equate to dollars to run the system. Funding for The Rapid is actually less because of its efficiencies, with greater dollars given to "problem" systems, which supposedly need more money for the fix. Certainly the advocates of outcomes-based budgeting are outraged, as are we.

The Rapid Executive Director and CEO Peter Varga said he and his board have concentrated on lowering costs for a better margin, but that begets a smaller percentage of state funds, because, as expenses drop, so does the state percentage of funding. (This year, however, state funding problems provided a flat 31.4 percent match from the state for any system.)

Varga has indicated the ITP has even bigger problems in the capital budget. The match from the state, possibly 13 percent or $16.2 million, is not close to the $32 million needed to leverage the federal dollars that come into Michigan. Varga also noted that at last week's summit, U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers indicated his great dismay with the state legislature because the state has not provided the match for all the money he and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow were able to bring to Michigan. Without the match, the federal dollars go elsewhere.

Local funding also will be challenging.

Incredibly, Varga is upbeat in the face of challenges (including some inaccurate media reporting). "Ridership is up 31 percent, we've been recognized as a quality system … we're having fun," he said.

Community support for the system comes from every sector: Faith In Motion, West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Delta Strategy, Healthy Kent 2010 Infant Health Implementation Team (which includes 32 health-care agencies) — and the business community. A 2004 survey showed that 58 percent of riders in the industrial park area between 33rd and 36th streets and Kraft and Patterson avenues use the bus for work-related transportation.

The current predicament is a travesty and further indictment of state budget bungling. The ITP board and business community should be loud in its outrage, and exact in political retribution.    

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