Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ghost vans buses and trains

It's creepy.  Scores of buses and large vans travel Northeast Kingdom roads every day from the back roads of Stannard to the streets of  St. Johnsbury and Newport--empty, or nearly so.   These ghost vehicles are running on taxpayer funds--but taxpayers have no idea how much they are expending for these strange journeys.  RCT Vermont, the organization which drives 21 empty vans and buses in the Northeast Kingdom, provides no information about how much  its executive director  earns, what RCT's payroll is, or how much it costs per passenger to drive these vehicles with phantom passengers around the Northeast Kingdom.  We just pay the bill--and we don't know how much we are paying.

We do know the cost of another taxpayer funded  mass transit debacle a few years ago.  The commuter train between Burlington and Charlotte,  Governor Howard Dean's pet project,  cost  nearly four times its projected capital cost.  It also had an annual operating cost of $2.6 million--nearly three times the projected budget.  Ridership and ticket sales were approximately 1/3 of the estimate,  resulting in an annual operating loss to taxpayers  of over $2.5 million per year.

It appears from the ghost vehicles plying their trade in the Northeast Kingdom that another mass transit debacle is in the making.

In December 2008, Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed a transportation summit meeting at UVM in which he advocated government funding of rural mass transit.   He said, "One of the areas that we have got to look hard at is public transportation, particularly for rural America where it is virtually non-existent…The federal government must do its part to make sure that transit service is widely available by providing more capital and operating funds to rural providers. Addressing transportation needs also presents an opportunity to curb global warming. The transportation sector today is the source of 25 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and an even greater share in Vermont."

The results of Sanders' initiatives are the ghost vehicles of the Northeast Kingdom. Sanders secured funding for RCT as solution to a non-existent problem.  Public transportation is "virtually non-existent" because virtually no one needs or wants it.  And Sanders' other problem--curbing global warming--has been made worse by this debacle.    The theory goes if people share rides in a mass transit vehicle, the number of private vehicle trips will go down, thus cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.  Instead, we have no decrease in the number of private vehicles on the road; and large empty passenger vans and buses  traveling around all day.  Their carbon footprint must be huge.

How do taxpayer-funded farces like this happen?  Because our elected representatives' ideas, no matter how cockamamie, are not vetted or tested in the market place.  And if a government funded project fails, no one is held accountable.  Sen Sanders, Leahy and Rep. Welch have had scores if not hundreds of pictures in the paper at ribbon cuttings and awards ceremonies where government funded projects were celebrated and later the projects quietly died. 

We need elected representatives who will do the difficult work of saving taxpayers' money by analyzing the efficacy of government funded projects, instead of doing things the Sanders' way:  taking our money to fund his pet projects,  and not coincidentally getting favorable free publicity for his next campaign.

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