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STA’s Central City Line Hidden Costs

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

To no avail, I’ve tried twice, now to share some of my thoughts in the Spokesman-Review letters to the editor column regarding very real operational costs that STA is magically shifting to the City of Spokane. Make that the CITIZENS of Spokane. So, just for personal cathartic effect, I’m including my unpublished letter to the editor:

I’m concerned the public isn’t receiving the entire story regarding STA’s planned Central City Line BRT project. Rather than rightly accounting for all costs, STA intends to externalize a significant portion of the project cost—improvement and maintenance of the line’s proposed travel ways. Specifically, they don’t plan to pay for improving and maintaining the existing paved routes. Instead, they expect the City of Spokane to maintain them as part of normal roadway maintenance.

In 2004 I produced a report for the City of Spokane entitled Pavement Performance Considerations For Heavy Traffic Loads: Buses; Refuse Trucks; Concrete Trucks; Fire Trucks (http://www.inlandrail.org/editorial_page.php#axle_load_primer) identifying STA as causing by far the most roadway damage wherever they run. In their apparent effort to obfuscate, STA amazingly ignores a major BRT marketing expectation—ride quality—thus rendering them incapable of controlling their own destiny. I see the potential for finger pointing in our future as the CCL’s ride deteriorates, victim to the City’s historically underfunded roadway maintenance program. The citizens might thus expect a future request for higher taxes in order to maintain STA’s BRT lines.

There’s only so much you can say in 200 words. Here are the salient takeaways:

  1. STA’s bus traffic is by far the worst “offender” when it comes to inflicting damage to the City’s roadway network
  2. STA’s proposed CCL vehicles are, in fact BUSES running on regular roadway pavement, with no dedicated travel/guide way
  3. public acceptance and utilization of high capacity transit systems is historically related to ride quality
  4. perhaps in an effort to make the overall numbers look better, STA has not included any allowance for travel way maintenance with respect to the CCL; rather, they’re going to let “the City” handle that, thus making their total cost of ownership look a lot better than actual
  5. in absorbing these future costs, the only way the City will be able to cover these expenses is (a) through their street maintenance account (an element of the general fund, which is tax-based, and the most probable source), (b) future dedicated funding mechanisms such as the current street levy (by definition, tax-based and demonstrably viable), and (c) potential future low interest loans or grants (extremely competitive and highly doubtful)
  6. by relegating CCL travel way maintenance to the City of Spokane, and thus relinquishing internal control, STA is fecklessly positioning itself as to its resulting inability to manage ride quality—its destiny, if you will—short of “harassing” the city to timely respond to ride quality issues as they materialize.

I’m a big fan of cost accounting, which relies, of course on accurately identifying and assigning applicable costs in order to facilitate sound decision making. Astonishingly, STA seems either clueless, or simply doesn’t care about what that means when it comes to getting the Central City Line on the ground.