Electric Franchise Fees To Be Raised 2% To Help Support Columbia Bus System

In November 2010, voters in Richland County, SC said no to a one cent sales tax increase, part of which would have been used to fund the failing bus system.

Now, Columbia City Council is raising electric company franchise fees within the city limits from 3% to 5%, a fee which will be passed on to electric customers. Media reports that 60% of properties in the City of Columbia are exempt from property taxes, so this method of raising funds will insure that everyone using electricity in the city pays something – including more people who actually use the bus system.

For several years, all vehicles registered in Richland County have been subject to a $10 personal and $15 commercial vehicle registration fee to help shore up the failing transit system. If the 2% increase is around $1.60 as reported, a homeowner owning two cars who lives in the City of Columbia will be paying $20 for vehicle registration fees plus $19.20 extra in electric franchise fees, a total of almost $40 a year.

Without a doubt, Columbia needs public transportation. The heart of the issue is how to pay for it. People naturally resent paying for something they don’t use themselves. Some of the Richland County residents are paying for a service that goes nowhere near them. I suppose Richland County residents who don’t live inside Columbia city limits should be grateful the 2% franchise fee increase isn’t taking aim at them for now.

I found Minutes of a 3-15-10 City of Columbia Work Session interesting. Findings and recommendations from the CMRTA Comprehensive Study Project completed between 10-09 and 1-10 were presented.Work Session Minutes . Read it and make your own decisions, but is sounds to me that a long-range future large expansion of the bus service was being discussed.

Shouldn’t the current financial problems be resolved before even discussing long range plans? Seriously, wouldn’t you fix your leaking roof before you bought new furniture?

At the time the meeting was held, there were 2.3 million annual boardings, 67% of Richland County was served at an operating cost of $11.5 million. The Minutes mention long range plans to expand the bus system at an extimated operating cost of $32.4 million annually.

Some comments from the Minutes:

“we think the best thing we can do is to open the service
to all university and college students and allow them to ride for free, because we will get
credit in our federal funding formula for each passenger that boards the bus.”

“the long term recommendations include 75 buses, express buses, vans and cutaways.
There would be 36 weekday fixed routes with projected annual
boardings of 5.4 million. The CMRTA would serve 90% of Richland County at an operating cost of $32.34 million. The service frequency would increase by 71% over
a four year period if we were to get the adequate funding in place.”

“projected average annual funding requirements of $32.34 million, noting that
between fares, tickets, miscellaneous revenues and federal and state sources they can
come up with $14.21 million in the long term. The average annual local funding needed is
$18.13 million in the long term.”

(*Note that this was well before the one-cent sales tax increase*)

Mayor Coble asked how much the penny sales tax would produce.

“Based on the study, it would generate $50 million and we would need 41% of
the penny sales tax collected to generate $18.13 million leaving 59% of the
penny sales tax.”

Current fees to ride the bus are as follows:

Standard One Way $ 1.50
Special Needs .75
Senior Citizens .75
10-ride pass 10.00
31 day pass 40.00
children under 5 with adult free

Consider $ 40 for a 31 day pass. If a user rides twice per day each day – 62 rides – their fee per ride comes out to approximately 65 cents. Granted, many riders holding a 31 day pass may not ride twice a day everyday – but then, some may ride more. When you compare that to what it costs to own and operate a car – consider vehicle taxes, insurance, maintanance, fuel – that is very cheap.

Thankfully I don’t live in the City of Columbia or Richland County so I don’t have a dog in this fight, but government ways to get money out of people tend to spread so I’m always interested when taxpayer pockets anywhere get picked.

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