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Ventura County Perspective | SECOND OPINION

VCTC Plays by Strict Rules in Meeting County's Needs

Transportation panel recognizes that a balanced system of buses, trains, streets and highways is called for.

March 12, 2000|GINGER GHERARDI | Ginger Gherardi is executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission

I am amazed at the misinformation contained in the Los Angeles Times' editorials regarding transportation. The March 5 editorial "A Widening Problem" suggesting that a future proposed widening of California 118 to four lanes is not permitted or could be replaced by more transit and fewer trucks clearly shows a misunderstanding of the issues.

First, the Caltrans widening of California 118 is exempt from both the county General Plan and the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) initiative and can be built after the completion of the environmental review process.

Second, the funds that may be used to construct a widened road may not be used to operate public transit (buses and/or trains).

To suggest, as The Times does, that public safety be compromised, pollution increased by long lines of bumper-to-bumper traffic, potholes go unrepaired and goods not be delivered to our stores because more buses will make these improvements unnecessary is just nonsense. The Ventura County Transportation Commission understands that Ventura County must have a balanced transportation system, with adequate buses, trains, streets and highways. All of these modes are necessary for continued mobility in Ventura County. They are not in competition with each other.

Other Times editorials have stated that VCTC uses unreasonable criteria to prevent the expansion of public transit services in the county. This is also untrue. VCTC follows the state law that requires that 20% of the operating cost of most of our bus services (10% in the rural areas) come from passenger fares. The operating cost is primarily the cost of paying for the fuel and the bus driver, since both federal and state dollars pay for all the capital costs--buying the bus as well as preventive maintenance. If a request can meet the 20% fare box it is considered "reasonable." New bus systems or major expansions of existing systems have three years to meet this required fare box return.

Although no federal money can be used to operate our buses, up to 80% of the operating cost can be covered by state Transportation Development Act dollars. The state has very specific penalties for failure to meet these fare box requirements, which in our case would result in the bus systems being shut down. What this means is that VCTC must be very careful in analyzing the impact of requested new transit services, such as increased hours of operation, more frequent trips or additional days of service on the buses that are already running. If adding more hours or days of operation means that we drop below the 20% fare box return and jeopardize the existing bus service, will we have made a good decision? I think not.

Some people would suggest that we simply raise the fares to make a difference but raising bus fares isn't the answer either. Statistics show that for every 10% increase in fare there is a 4% decrease in ridership. Most of the bus riders in this county are transit-dependent and many of them cannot afford substantially increased bus fares so that we can run more frequent and largely empty buses.

VCTC supports and has a history of being in the forefront to support increased public transit in Ventura County. We have a track record of adding new services where they can be justified and we will continue to do so. VCTC will also continue to support funding for the needed improvements to our state highway system based on our adopted priority list of projects. We do so mindful of the environment, safety and quality of life that the residents of the county want.

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