What others say: Mass transit still needs to be sustainable

  • Wednesday, October 29, 2014 11:16pm
  • Opinion

It hasn’t been a secret that the borough bus system’s Gold Line route between Fort Wainwright and downtown suffers from poor ridership. But a report in the News-Miner Sunday that calculates the cost per rider at $100 is shocking. Fortunately, the burden of funding the route so far doesn’t lay on the shoulders of local taxpayers. But money wasted is undesirable no matter its source, and the stakeholders in the Gold Line need to figure out how to dramatically improve ridership or put the grant funds devoted to its operation to better use.

The Gold Line was unveiled with considerable fanfare a year ago, but it proved much less popular with soldiers on post than both borough leadership and Army brass forecast. With only a few regular riders, and sometimes only the Army-mandated security guard accompanying the driver onto Fort Wainwright, the route has been hemorrhaging funds, unlike other better-established routes in the greater Fairbanks area.

There are a variety of factors likely influencing the dearth of soldiers using the route: as the Gold Line runs now, its only off-post destination is the borough transit station, where riders must transfer to other routes to get where they’re going. This adds an element both of complexity and delay, as routes don’t always line up well with regard to a speedy layover at the transit park. Perhaps the addition of some high-demand stops for soldiers to the route (the East Fairbanks shopping district, for instance) would draw those who aren’t opposed to riding if the line offers more of a destination.

The Gold Line is funded through a federal grant that runs through late 2016. But the fact that we’re not yet footing the bill for the route doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do more to encourage ridership. In fact, the defined end date should be motivation to military and borough officials to make sure soldiers are aware of the line. Perhaps service members and their families truly aren’t interested in mass transit, in which case the appropriate move would be to shutter the line as soon as funding runs out and consider the move a useful but failed experiment. But until we know that to be the case, it certainly seems like we could do better than the current level of use.

Make no mistake, mass transit is important to encourage both for economic and environmental reasons. The system serves to provide a lower-cost option to borough residents — especially those without reliable transportation of their own — at a lower cost than personal vehicle use. And the net impact of buses both in terms of pollutants and wear on area roads are considerably less than if riders each drove their own vehicles instead.

But a route that costs the municipality $100 per rider is unsustainable by any standard. We can do better — and if we don’t do better, it’s imperative that we cut our losses before borough taxpayers are the ones footing the bill.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Oct. 21

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