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Report Says SCAT Should Scoot If Operating Expenses Aren't Cut : Transportation: City is urged to start own bus system or hire a private firm if South Coast Area Transit fails to reduce its budget.

October 18, 1994|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oxnard should consider firing South Coast Area Transit and starting a city-run bus system or hiring a private transit service if SCAT does not reduce its operating budget, a city report has concluded.

At the request of Councilman Michael A. Plisky, who thinks Oxnard spends too much on public transit, the city's Traffic Department has prepared a report analyzing the fiscal efficiency of SCAT, which has provided bus service to the city for 20 years.

The report concludes that Oxnard should explore alternatives to SCAT--which gets about 45% of its local funding from Oxnard--or press the bus agency to cut expenses.

"I believe there is room for dramatic improvement, one way or another," Plisky said. "I don't think they're concentrating on efficiency as much as they need to."

SCAT, a joint-powers authority formed in 1973, annually carries nearly 3 million passengers in Ventura, Port Hueneme, Ojai, Oxnard and unincorporated parts of Ventura County. About 40% of those come from Oxnard.

Oxnard contributed $1.4 million to this year's SCAT budget of $6 million. About $3.2 million of the $6 million comes from the cities and the county, and the rest comes directly from state and federal funding.

The bus agency provides eight routes through the city, three of which go into Port Hueneme, Ventura County or Ventura, for a total of 572,000 miles.

The report, scheduled to be presented today to the Oxnard City Council, recommends that the council either:

* Analyze how much it would cost to have bus service provided by a private company, the city or agencies other than SCAT.

* Draft a letter to SCAT requesting that it establish a committee made up of bus agency staff and representatives of all the member cities to prepare a cost-cutting plan by March.

*

Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez, who also serves as vice president of SCAT's board of directors, said the agency may need to cut bus lines throughout Ventura County to reduce its budget and appease the city.

But for Oxnard to get rid of SCAT altogether would be a major mistake for Oxnard, he said.

"I think we should look at what we have and look at how we can modify it," Lopez said. "I think privatizing is a bit far-fetched. I think it would present a lot of problems."

Camarillo and Thousand Oaks both have private bus services, while Simi Valley runs its own.

Until now, Oxnard has paid its share of the SCAT budget with state and federal funding. But if SCAT's budget forecast is correct, the city will have to provide $44,000 of its own funds in 1995-96 to cover rising costs. By 1998, it would have to pay $348,000.

Plisky thinks SCAT should be more responsive to the budgetary constraints of its members.

"SCAT, like many of these kinds of agencies that don't report directly to the voters, thinks there is a bottomless pit of money available to them," Plisky said. "They concentrate on getting more money instead of getting more efficient."

The report compares the cost of SCAT per mile and hours of operation to bus services in Camarillo, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, as well as the Los Angeles-Foothill Transit Zone and the Livermore/Amador Valley Transit Authority.

*

SCAT costs considerably more than the services in Camarillo and Thousand Oaks, which contract with outside firms for public transit, and Simi Valley, which hires its own drivers and provides its own maintenance, according to the report.

But SCAT is slightly cheaper than the other transit authorities, which provide a more valid comparison, said Maureen Hooper Lopez, SCAT's director of planning and marketing.

Mayor Lopez said bus service cannot be treated as a business, like other city departments.

"Public transit never pays for itself," Lopez said. "Sometimes you think it would be cheaper just to hire a taxi for everyone."

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