Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
Your column regarding the transit bus consultant is dead-on. I was astonished but not surprised as I viewed the Council meeting discussion and the consultant’s recommendation to rename Manteca’s transit buses. The problem of low ridership is not in the name; the problem is that the Feds were throwing “free” money (buses, fuel, and staffing) towards the establishment of a transit bus system where none was needed and someone at city hall decided that Manteca needed a transit system since it would be “free.” When I asked city hall some time ago, “Who is paying for Manteca’s transit system expenses…since fares are not covering the costs,” I was told that system operation is not costing the city anything.
The fact is that Manteca had a very good transit system in place that provided transportation to those few people in the community that needed help getting to the grocery store, a doctor appointment, or the like. The subsidized taxi service supported by the City worked well for many years and was actually used extensively because it was not on a fixed route; it came to you, it served the portion of the community in need, and provided service where and when needed.
The truth is Manteca’s population and demographics does not (will not) support an intra-city transit bus system, even at a population of 90,000; this is why Manteca’s buses at a fare of $1, 97 percent vacant, 96 percent of the time. The inter-city bus system (San Joaquin RTD) has ridership because there is a proven need for transportation from Manteca to the colleges, county medical and social services, employment, etc. located in Stockton.
The old story line of “build it and they will come” makes a good movie, but investing in a transit system in hopes that people will use it, is not good financial management of public funds, even if the money is supposedly “free.” When the chickens come home to roost or the “free money” is no more, I doubt that a $5 fare is going to pay for the ongoing costs the city will inherit.
The best common sense financial decision would have been to expand the existing subsidized taxi service, negotiate expanded inter-city bus service by San Joaquin RTD, and not spend money on yet another study.
Frankly, the cause of this particular boondoggle is an example of yet another half-baked idea formulated with little forethought. Common sense tells us a name change will not solve the problem or improve the bus system ridership or its economics; it is common knowledge that transit bus systems are heavily subsidized because fares do not (will not) cover the costs of operation.