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Overdue end coming to govt-paid LA bus service

There’s no reason to end the LA Swift service. But there’s every reason to end any state or local government involvement in it.

LA Swift is the bus service, heretofore paid entirely by the federal government and by small passenger assessments that vary between $4.40 and $5.00 a trip, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The idea was, after Hurricane Katrina, to provide an opportunity for those displaced from the New Orleans area to have access, perhaps even be employed, in the area while temporarily housed in Baton Rouge or select points in between. The federal government put up all the funds, presently about $2.3 million a year.

Over the years, naturally enough, the program began to mutate beyond its original purpose and thereby expand. While a ridership survey showed the majority of rides involved getting to and from work, nearly half were reported as occurring for visitation purposes, and some for health care reasons. Only a third did not have a private car to use for transport. It also promised some amenities in traveling, such as ability to view televisions, wireless connectivity, and the ability to transport bicycles. It grew into eight round-trips on weekdays, five during weekends with more limited stops, serving over 12,000 riders a month and thus promoting the following possibility.

Say you’re tired of going to both bars in Sorrento; on a Saturday after closing them the night before you can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the stop to slap down your sawbuck and hop the bus at 1:19 PM, get off at the main library in New Orleans at 2:23 PM that gives you a solid three-and-a-half hours to get smashed in time to stumble back to board again at 6:15 PM and you’re awakened back in Sorrento at 7:35 PM with plenty of time to go out and revisit your glory of the night before. Your tax dollars are at work here.

However, the federal government changed the rules beginning the state’s next fiscal year which now would require that other governments cough up around $750,000 annually to sustain it. Further, that cannot be gathered as part of the fares. As a result, the state’s Department of Transportation and Development, which oversees the program, pulled the plug. Unless both the transportation agencies of the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas want to pony up, the service ends in fewer than three weeks.

While a number of special interests bemoan this development, if there’s truly genuine need, there’s no reason they can’t make some kind of deal to come up with the scratch. Better, ridership levels such as they are, this means the current subsidy is about $16 a rider and actually much closer to $8 a ride since almost all should be round-trips, meaning a private sector operator probably could do the whole thing for $25 round trip.

And that’s what should happen if there’s real demand there. Ridership will fall at a 150 percent higher rate, which could moot this possibility, but the survey said about half of respondents would pay a higher (unspecified) rate to use it. The state already contracts this out, so (as long as the Public Service Commission quickly approves) a private operator seamlessly could pick up service.

If that doesn’t happen, there’s no real loss. After seven years, if displaced people haven’t moved back to New Orleans (perhaps 100,000 didn’t) and still have jobs there, maybe it’s time they got one locally or moved back. Otherwise, why are taxpayers subsidizing individuals who wish to live in one place and work in another? Visitations can be done on their own dime as well. And there are few to no health care cases that are so unusual that they could not be serviced in both of these large metropolitan areas.

Maybe for a couple of years this was an acceptable arrangement, but it clearly has outlived its usefulness as far as taxpayers go. Either it stands on its own or it’s really not that desired, and taxpayers should not foot the bill for others’ lifestyle choices.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your conclusions at the end are incorrect. You assume the people whole live in one locale and travel to another for work are doing so because of a desire to do so. First, you have no evidence to support such a claim. Second, it is just, or even MORE likely that the individuals in such a predicament cannot afford to move away from their current home OR that they have other work or school obligations that prevent them from moving. I have a friend who took the bus because she was working on her masters at LSU and had a LSU-ordained job at the NO Public Library. She had to work there for a certain type of experience.

You also mention that a third of the riders own their own car, and you insinuate that they should take that car instead of riding the bus. Do you seriously think we need MORE cars running about in BR and NO traffic? Both places are horrendous during rush hours.

Last, you say that there is no health case 'so unusual' as to require treatment in NO. Guess where the ONLY VA hospital in the state is located? That's right, New Orleans. Have you any data on how many people use that bus to get to the VA hospital? Would you really deny our vets the medical care they are due?