For Scott Somers, it’s bad enough that one-third of Mesa has no bus service.
But the Mesa councilman is also troubled that the city is considering cuts to the already limited bus service in west Mesa. Plus new routes are being delayed. And the city may charge more to Dial-a-Ride patrons who live in the eastern part of the city to prevent other transit cutbacks.
Saying the cuts are too painful, Somers is proposing a dedicated transit tax to prevent different parts of the city from having radically different types of public transit.
“They’re paying a lot of money here but they don’t have a lot of service,” Somers said. “It’s not east versus west. It’s just equity.”
Somers wants to shift part of a 0.3 percent transportation sales tax to transit. He proposes taking one-sixth of that money for transit, which would raise about $3.5 million a year from a fund that takes in about $22 million a year. Voters approved Mesa’s transportation tax in 2006 and would have to support shifting part of the fund to transit.
The issue comes after elected officials have struggled with cutting $1.3 million in transit. One item under scrutiny is Dial-a-Ride, which is the most costly transit offering at $33.75 per trip. The federal government requires it be provided to anybody who lives within ¾ mile of a bus route, which means Mesa doesn’t have to serve anybody east of Sossaman Road. Mesa hasn’t suggested that, but is considering saving $400,000 a year by charging $2 per mile to passengers who travel in areas the city isn’t required to serve. Most of the service’s patrons are disabled or seniors, and several major retirement communities are outside the area where Dial-a-Ride is required.
Councilwoman Dina Higgins said she opposes charging higher rates to some residents. She represents an east Mesa district where many residents live far from transit.
“I’m really opposed to treating the citizens of Mesa differently based on where they live,” Higgins said.
A transit tax would prevent Mesa from charging extra for Dial-a-Ride and cutting the hours and frequency of various routes, Somers said.
Another potential transit cut is new service on Power Road, which would connect Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport — and its surrounding schools and businesses — to the Superstition Springs transit center. Mesa planned to begin service this summer but is considering a 6-month delay, despite widespread agreement the Power corridor is overdue to have a bus line.
“I think that’s a gap that’s just glaring,” Mayor Scott Smith said.
Mesa discussed transit funding when the transportation tax was first proposed, but the city decided to focus on road repairs because years of funding shortages created a maintenance backlog. Somers said the approach made sense at the time, but that interest in transit has grown as light-rail began in 2008 and other bus lines were added.
Somers’ proposal faces trouble, as the transportation tax is needed more than in years past. The recession has reduced the amount of money it brings in and state sources of money for road repairs have been cut, too. While the tax was supposed to supplement road work, it’s now an essential source that could prove as hard to take money from as transit, he said.
“We have two equally undesirable alternatives to choose from,” Somers said.