2017-04-27 / Views

Poor time to invest more funds in BATA

We’ve supported every millage request from the Bay Area Transportation Authority.

Until this one.

The Authority, known by the acronym BATA, is the local face of what has traditionally been known as mass transportation.

But with BATA asking local residents to invest more in local property taxes, we are wondering whether the mass transportation model is best for the future of Leelanau County.

After all, BATA is asking taxpayers to up their investment from .34-mill to .50-mill. In dollar figures, that’s a 45 percent increase. Should the millage pass, it will generate an estimated $3.5 million.

Our concern goes beyond the mostly empty buses that regularly run loops through rural Leelanau County. They are an easy target for opponents. We’ve felt in past years that BATA buses were important to provide transportation opportunities for our fellow residents who, for one reason or another, could not drive or afford their own cars.

If we want people to be productive, we have to ensure that they can get to work.

That need hasn’t changed. So we in no way are calling for an end to local funding for bus services now provided by BATA.

But BATA is looking for more revenue — too much more revenue, in our opinion. It’s asking taxpayers to up their investment in a business model that may be on the verge of becoming outdated, at least for rural Leelanau County.

Times are changing in the business of transportation. Witness the explosive demand for Uber-type service across the country, and progress toward the development of driverless cars.

Does it really make sense to lock in what we consider a big increase in tax revenue to BATA at this juncture?

We’re not happy, we need to admit, with the timing of BATA’s roll-out of its latest service to provide rides to senior citizens on a personal basis. This has been a need for some time. Kudos to the nonprofit group ShareCare, which for several years has enlisted volunteers to provide rides to ShareCare members needing to make important events such as doctor’s appointments. And to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa Indians, which has provided funds for the new service.

BATA announced the new service for seniors just weeks before a vote to decide its property tax increase. Coincidence? Well, the timing couldn’t be better for a get-out-the-vote campaign.

The concept of offering rides to individuals, though, does have merit, especially in Leelanau County where finding an empty seat on the BATA bus is akin to buying tickets at the door for a Pistons’ game.

It takes a lot of public funding and carbon footprint to move a few individuals from here to there.

Given the explosion of Uber, it’s only a matter of time before a fleet of local drivers gets into the business. We can envision when ride-sharing is privatized, profitable to the person driving, and far more efficient than sending a van out to take one senior to an eye appointment. Public subsidies could be offered in the form of vouchers.

If BATA’s property tax request had been for a renewal, we would have offered our support despite its length in years. The public’s best evaluation tool over government is at the ballot box. Approving a five-year levy reduces citizen leverage in demanding efficient use of its funds.

But the length of the request becomes even more problematic given the rapid changes in the transportation industry.

We suggest a “no” vote for the BATA request. Hopefully, should county voters reject the proposal, Grand Traverse County voters won’t override Leelanau’s wishes.

Should the millage be turned down, there’s still time for BATA to come back with a more reasonable request.

Return to top