Monday, October 27, 2008

Voice for Public Transit in Bend

[Milo’s Note: Even though most of the readers of this blog are not from Bend, or even Oregon, I’ve asked an old friend to write about a local issue in our community. The election on Tuesday is not just on presidential, national, and state issues; it is also about local issues that make differences in people’s lives. Annis Henson has been working hard in support of a local measure in Bend, Oregon that will provide a stable base of support for public transit by collecting an annual property tax equal to $0.393 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Proposals that entail a property tax increase are difficult sells anytime, but especially so in the midst of the national and global financial crisis. Ironically, given that crisis, our community probably needs this service now more than ever. The question is whether or not the citizens of Bend will have the vision to see past the tax increase to what the transit district will mean for the community. Thanks for your labors, Annis!]

Eight of 9 Bend City Council candidates spoke at the League of Women Voters Forum October 3. Those eight gave their support to Bend Area Transit District formation through Measure 6–90. Considering our economic hard times, it appears that these Council candidates understand the importance of putting our bus service on firm financial ground, for our Common Good.

Let me share what I’ve learned while riding BAT. Choice riders like me choose to park our cars. I save gas, avoid parking hassles and walk a bit more, help keep or improve our essential clean air, and reduce traffic. I have met people who sold their vehicles since riding BAT! “What about trips?” I ask. One man backpacks nearly every weekend. He and friends carpool. A COCC student with grown children responded that she and her husband rent a car for trips and find it quite affordable – less than the total cost of operating the sold car. As CBAT [
Citizens for Bend Area Transit] say: “Vote Yes for 9–60, for our Environment.”

A second CBAT phrase: “Vote Yes for 9–60, for our Economy.” I met a man riding BAT who’d come from Sisters on COIC’s Cascades East bus. He came to shop in Bend. A mother takes her toddler to day care on BAT, but can’t pick her up on BAT since it doesn’t run after 6 PM. She catches a ride to get her daughter, every day after work. BAT will operate until 8 PM when the measure passes. A waitress at IHOP lives in Deschutes River Woods and can’t wait to ride BAT to work. After the transit measure passes, Deschutes River Woods will receive BAT service. She is willing to increase her property tax by about the cost of one tank of gas per year. Another woman puts her bike on a bus bike rack and takes the North Hwy 97 route, telling me she cleans houses in that direction. After she gets off BAT, she bikes 2 miles to the house she will clean.

These are working women. What about expanding your notion of the Common Good to include them? Or, for a Juniper Aquatic and Fitness Center instructor who commutes with BAT? These folks represent some of the many using our buses to keep their household economy going as well as for the city’s economy, which obviously benefits their employers.

Elderly BAT users are most appreciative of our transit system. Dial a Ride, part of BAT, just doesn’t work for many independent seniors who don’t drive. This is also very true for handicapped riders. One of my BAT 80 year old friends will seriously consider taking her retirement income and returning to her former CA city if Measure 9–60 fails. Buses run for that city’s common good. I witness our high school students riding to and from Summit, Bend, and Mountain View. “For each other, Vote Yes on Measure 9–60.”

Others who initially oppose a Bend transit district have reasons. “I don’t use it, why would I vote for that?” One day every one of us could become BAT riders. Regarding the small increase in property tax that formation of a BAT district would mean, I’ve heard: “Bus riding renters don’t pay property tax, now do they?” Really? Almost everyone pays property tax one way or another. Renters are assured that landlords or companies that own apartment buildings or senior residences include a portion of their property taxes in tenants’ rent. Some oppose 9–60 because they theoretically promote payroll taxes to pay for a transit district. I don’t believe such a tax, even if allowable by law, would be equitable. The city’s largest employers, like St. Charles Medical Center and the school district, serve the public and already have economic worries. A majority of local payrolls are provided by companies with very few employees. Another opposition comment: “BAT buses are subsidized and I won’t support that!” Oh, you don’t mind using our roads, airports, interstate highways, or goods delivered by rail? All transportation modes are ‘subsidized’ in addition to what we individually may pay for use. Do remember that BAT riders without cars get little personal use from interstates or airports and publicly supported air travel services. And yet their local, state, and federal taxes contribute to transportation infrastructure.

Measure 9–60 will provide BAT with stable funding through a separate district like our Library District. Not everyone uses the library. I haven’t personally needed emergency services. For the Common Good, we support these and other basic services. Transit is a basic service. I vote for ‘911’ for the whole community, and for the time when I might need it. I will do the same for Measure 9–60. It IS time we secure stable funding for our BAT.
- Annis Henson

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