Guest Opinions

Ben Franklin Transit leaders rebut criticism

Leaders of Ben Franklin Transit are defending the agency against a Washington Policy Center report that claims BFT has increased spending as ridership declines.
Leaders of Ben Franklin Transit are defending the agency against a Washington Policy Center report that claims BFT has increased spending as ridership declines. Tri-City Herald

In September 2018, the Washington Policy Center released a report blasting Ben Franklin Transit for declining ridership and rising operational costs. The report suggests BFT should contract all our services to privately-owned taxi companies in order to save costs, even as taxi companies throughout the country struggle to remain as viable businesses.

Indeed, a month after this report was published, BFT’s taxi contractor ceased operations. In response to the loss of this important transit partner, BFT has been planning a set of services designed to replace those that were once provided by our region’s now-defunct taxi company, and we continue to monitor and review the design, structure, and performance of our overall transit system.

BFT staff and Board of Directors live and work in the Tri-Cities, and we care very much about offering the life-changing gift of mobility to our neighbors — all citizens in our community — including those whose financial and mobility limitations preclude ownership and operation of a private car.

Every few years, the Washington Policy Center reviews our performance data from their office in Seattle, then visits the Tri-Cities to issue a press release. They do not know our citizens, value the needs of our transit users, or understand why our community-at-large is willing to provide mobility to citizens of all needs and circumstances.

We at BFT are highly focused on improving the performance of our services to remain accountable to our taxpayers while delivering reliable and quality levels of services to those who need and choose to use transit.

BFT also does not operate in a vacuum. There are many factors in cost and service effectiveness that are outside of BFT’s control but still affect our operational and financial performance. There are also many factors within our control, and we have been implementing better technology to allow more accurate tracking of ridership, improve on-time performance, and deliver better and more timely service to passengers.

In September of 2017, BFT restructured its system to improve travel time, ease of use, reduce transfers, and expand service hours in response to numerous requests by passengers. Part of our “decline in ridership” can be attributed to the improved service we provided the community with reduction in transfers required to complete a trip.

The result of BFT’s system restructuring has been a 20 percent increase in service with only a 12 percent increase in cost. We invite you to view more detailed service information at www.bft.org/Resources.

As a longtime community partner, we’re working hard to deliver better transit services that are cost-effective and efficient. We are also working with our city, county, state, and federal partners to leverage more resources, design better streets, and plan for housing, employment, and economic development. We are always listening and learning how better to serve you, the citizens of our community.

We are also willing to listen and respond to criticism from our users, citizens in our region, and even organizations like the Washington Policy Center who critique us from afar. We appreciate the continued support of our community and look forward to improving the service we deliver to our citizens.

Gloria Boyce is General Manager of Ben Franklin Transit and Matt Watkins is chairman of the Ben Franklin Transit Board and Pasco Mayor.

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