On Sunday, April 17, the Grand Rapids Press’ editorial board endorsed a “yes” vote on the upcoming 31% bus tax increase on the ballot May 3. Voters in Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker, Wyoming, and Grandville will have the opportunity to vote on this issue. We disagree with the editorial board’s conclusions for a number of reasons, which are laid out below. Primarily, we believe the Rapid lacks credibility when reporting its accomplishments and its lack of transparency. Our group has demonstrated that The Rapid has a history of misleading the public and it fears public scrutiny:
- The Silver Line was rejected by voters in 2009, yet The Rapid is once again putting the issue on the ballot. It has now doubled the tax increase request from that year in hopes that voters won’t notice that the Silver Line is part of the tax increase. The Silver Line will cause massive congestion because it will turn Division, Monroe, and Michigan into one lane roads during rush hour.
- The Rapid released false information on the effectiveness of hybrid buses and then proceeded to spend millions on them – and it plans to buy at least ten more for the Silver Line route. Grand Rapids’ Mayor Heartwell, who is a member of the Rapid’s board, admitted himself that the buses are largely symbolic. Unfortunately, $200,000 extra per bus for “perception” is not a very good way to spend the public’s money.
- The Rapid says that it’s environmentally friendly, yet we have demonstrated that The Rapid is actually a massive polluter – adding 40% more carbon dioxide to the environment than if all of The Rapid’s passengers had been transported in cars.
- The Rapid is the least transparent major government in Kent County. The Rapid refuses to post its full budgets, audits, and detailed ridership information so we are forced to do it ourselves on our web site. When we requested more detailed financial information, The Rapid’s staff was vindictive and violated the Freedom of Information Act. The Rapid is telling voters that we’d better not ask how public money is being spent or expect a big fine.
- Despite the hype from The Rapid, its non-student ridership is not going up. In fact, the entire increase in ridership between 2008 and 2010 was in students. Non-student ridership actually declined.
- Companies that make money off The Rapid helped fund the 2009 “Yes” campaign. Nearly 70% of the Rapid “yes” campaign in 2009 was funded by one single donation. We are a grass roots organization which doesn’t take any special interest money at all.
- When comparing The Rapid to other transit agencies, The Rapid doesn’t do so well. For instance, The Lansing transit system (CATA) transported 23% more passengers on 17% fewer buses than The Rapid. CATA recovers 24% of its costs through fares while The Rapid only recovers 10% of costs through fares. CATA pollutes 26% less than The Rapid too.
- The Rapid spent $250,000 on a piece of art for its headquarters and $32 million on a new bus garage so that it doesn’t have to store buses outdoors.
We believe the Rapid must first improve its efficiency and transparency before it can come before the taxpayers and ask for more funding. We are urging a “no” vote on May 3 to send a message to The Rapid to take the taxpayers’ concerns seriously.
For detailed explanations of each point above, along with documentation and links to source materials, please view the full document here.