Earth Week Analysis Shows Rapid’s Buses Contribute More to Pollution than SUVs

In time for Earth Week, an analysis of the The Rapid’s 2009 services determined that the bus system contributed over seven millions pounds of extra carbon dioxide to the environment than would have been produced if all of The Rapid’s bus passengers had been transported in cars. This startling calculation, independently verified, shows that because of the low ridership on Rapid buses, combined with the low gas mileage of the Rapid’s large buses,The Rapid does not in any way reduce pollution.

In fact, the analysis shows that the buses produce even more carbon dioxide than people who use SUVs. The production of carbon dioxide with vehicles is entirely dependent with the amount of fuel consumed. The comparison is made by determining the average amount of fuel used to transport one passenger one mile and then comparing the different modes of transportation.

A senior fellow specializing in transportation policy at the Cato Institute, Randal O’Toole independently verified the calculations made by the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance. KCTA has been the lead opposition group to the upcoming May 3rd 31% bus tax increase. The group has gotten several prominent elected officials to oppose the millage including a Kentwood city commissioner, three county commissioners, and two local state legislators.

KCTA spokesman Eric Larson had this to say about the new findings, “One of the signature missions of a public transit system is to conserve resources and move people around town efficiently and quickly, while reducing pollution. The analysis today simply points out what we have been saying for months now: the buses are not full enough. Not only is it costly but it contributes to pollution and wastes fuel. Clearly, The Rapid fails to deliver these which is why we have been advocating a ‘no’ vote until they begin running the bus system sensibly.”

“Our analysis shows that their van service delivers on that promise to protect the environment,” continued Larson. “It consumes less fuel and moves people around town inexpensively. Unfortunately, the van service is a miniscule portion of The Rapid system. Instead, The Rapid touts its hybrid buses which are still worse than SUVs because their average fuel mileage is only 0.68 mpg better than the conventional buses. As stewards of tax dollars, we can only hope The Rapid takes an inward look at its operations and rethinks the way it operates.”

The Rapid’s buses produced 25,079,872 pounds of carbon dioxide annually which was 40% more than if the people had been transported using passenger cars. Had all of those riders instead used passenger cars or SUVs, they would have produced 17,754,939 and 18,360,146 pounds of carbon dioxide respectively. Part of the explanation for the large discrepancy is the fact that automobiles’ fuel efficiency has improved dramatically over the last forty years while bus efficiency has actually diminished.

To view the full report along with supporting calculations and links to source data, please see the posting at the ITP Watch web site.

KCTA Founder to Appeal ‘Unjust and Massive’ Fee with the ITP for FOIA Request

Today Jeff Steinport, co-founder of the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance and manager of the group’s ITP Watch project, filed a Freedom of Information Act appeal with Don Lawless, the chairman of the Interurban Transit Partnership board (also known as The Rapid). Steinport was charged $450 for a basic FOIA request which he states is, “vindictive and malicious and an example of the Rapid’s contempt for its taxpayers.”

The original FOIA request from Steinport asked for information on the Rapid’s ridership on a per-route basis, the amount the Rapid spends with several companies, and more detail on the proposed Silver Line bus route, which is again before voters in the May 3rd election. The Rapid is requesting a 31% property tax increase on May 3 with much of the new tax increase going to fund the Silver Line bus route which voters rejected in 2009 in four of the six cities.

Steinport made a request for a fee waiver because he believed the information he sought was in the public’s interest especially in light of the upcoming millage request. The Rapid denied the fee waiver request and proceeded to send him nearly 1,700 pages of printouts and a bill for $450.

“All government agencies have a procedure where they notify the FOIA requester that the cost will be over $50, yet the Rapid did not do this, contrary to their own practices,” said Jeff Steinport. “In fact, The Rapid is sending a message to taxpayers that they’d better not ask how The Rapid spends their money, and if they do, The Rapid will slap them with a bill for hundreds of dollars just for asking.”

Steinport believes that he was specifically singled out by the Rapid because it was graded the least transparent government entity in Kent County after a survey by KCFFR showed how little information it made available online. The Rapid received a transparency score of “D-“, a result of virtually no financial or operational data being available to the public.

Said Steinport, “The appeal filed today demonstrates how The Rapid violates both the spirit and letter of state law and how The Rapid fears public disclosure of its spending and operations. Taxpayers in Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker, Wyoming, and Grandville need to ask themselves if a government agency which consistently misleads the public and shows contempt for taxpayers deserves more money.”

The entire Freedom of Information Act appeal and more detail on The Rapid’s operations are available on our ITP Watch web site at www.ITPWatch.org.

The Rapid Earns a “D-” in Transparency; City of Grand Rapids an “A”

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance, a local non-partisan taxpayers’ rights organization, unveiled its first annual survey of local government transparency today. The survey rated 16 major governmental units in the county and graded them based on a number of factors. Topping the scorecard was the city of Grand Rapids which earned an A with a score of 87%. At the bottom was the Interurban Transit Partnership, or Rapid, which earned a D- and a score of only 23%.

“The whole purpose of the survey is to gauge our local governments in their level of transparency, provide a means of determining progress from one year to the next, and hopefully encourage some productive competition to improve easy access to information,” said KCTA spokesman Eric Larson.

The survey scored the governments on 15 categories that they deemed important for taxpayers to have access. These included items like annual audits, full budgets, union contracts, salary information, and a page dedicated to transparency. Each category fulfilled counted as one point with a half point awarded if the category was only partially completed.

The city of Grand Rapids scored 13 out of 15 for the top score and was lacking in only having a dedicated transparency web page and the salaries of top officials. The Rapid scored a paltry 3.5 out of 15 lacking most basic information critical for citizens to gauge the performance of government.

Said Larson, “With the ease of posting such information online, there is little excuse for any government to not provide this for its citizens. We feel it is critical for governments to make this basic operational information available so that we can gauge how well they operate. Without the information, citizens are left without any means of determining whether their government is using tax money responsibly. It makes it very difficult to determine who is worthy of tax increases or cuts.”

To view the full results of the transparency survey, please visit our Kent County Open Government Project web page.

The Rapid Denies their Own Documentation

The Grand Rapids Press ran an article yesterday regarding our Freedom of Information Act Request to The Rapid on the subject of their hybrid buses. The Rapid’s FOIA response resulted in them admitting that their half a million dollar hybrid buses are only getting 0.65 miles per gallon more than traditional buses. These hybrid buses cost $220,000 more than a traditional bus. The Rapid claims in the article that they have no record of our request, implying that our information is wrong.

Please see our article at the ITP Watch web site, which links to a copy of the actual FOIA response from The Rapid, for all to read.  Why is The Rapid denying their own documents? As you’ll see, The Rapid is lying and trying to cover this information up.

The Rapid’s Hybrid Buses are a Bust

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance has again organized to oppose the ITP’s newest tax hike this May 3rd in the cities of Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Grandville, Walker, Wyoming, and Kentwood. KCTA helped successfully defeat the last tax hike in 2009 featuring the Silverline. Not only will the ITP tax hike resurrect the Silverline but it also includes funding for the purchase of more hybrid buses.

In April of 2007, The Rapid purchased two hybrid-electric buses with great fanfare. They claimed that these buses, at a cost of $510,000 each (compared to about $290,000 for a regular bus) would reduce pollution and double the miles per gallon of a regular bus. According to an article in the Grand Rapids Press on April 24, 2007:

“Rapid officials expect the new buses will get 8 to 10 miles per gallon on routes with frequent stops.”

The Rapid also claimed that they were working with Grand Valley State University to measure the positive effects of these buses and to determine how much more efficient they were than regular buses.

Then there was silence.

Pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request, KCTA found out why. According to The Rapid, their transit buses average 4.45 miles per gallon. The hybrid-electric buses average 5.13 miles per gallon. This means that for an additional price tag of $220,000 per bus, the improvement in efficiency is only 0.68 miles per gallon.

KCTA also sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Grand Valley State University, asking for a copy of the study of these new buses’ efficiency. Their response? There is no study at all.

It’s been more than three years since The Rapid made those claims. KCTA demands accountability in the bus system and an answer as to why they are pursuing more expensive buses in a time of tight budgets.

The Rapid plans to buy eight more of these expensive and wasteful buses for the proposed $40 million Rapid Silver Line route. That plan, part of a 31% property tax increase on the ballot May 3rd, will simply duplicate a bus route that already exists, it will be slower than the current buses, and it will clog up Division Avenue by closing lanes during rush hour so that regular auto traffic will only have one lane each way. The Rapid is planning to spend millions of dollars more for these hybrid buses which provide negligible environmental benefit.

Spokesman Eric Larson summed up the group’s opposition by saying, “At a time of budget cuts, high unemployment, and record deficits, this is not an efficient or responsible use of tax dollars. We must be better stewards of our public monies at times like these.”

For much more documentation on The Rapid’s operations, including a copy of The Rapid’s Freedom of Information Act response regarding their hybrid buses, please visit the ITP Watch web site.

Rapid Silver Line Back From the Dead: It’s Still a Bad Deal

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance once again expresses its disapproval of the proposed Silver Line bus “rapid” transit line. KCTA most recently opposed and was instrumental in the defeat of the Silver Line millage request in 2009. KCTA also opposed the previous ITP millage request in 2007 and ran a “This Pig Stinks” ad on the side of a Rapid bus.

The organization is the local taxpayers’ rights group that professes to fight for good governance and low taxes. They believe that private enterprise have better and more efficient solutions to solving local problems than using the public purse.

Spokesman Dr. Eric Larson stated a number of reasons for KCTA’s opposition to any effort to resurrect the Silver Line plan. “It is very hard to imagine that Mr. Varga and The Rapid are once again entertaining any thoughts about trying to build the Silver Line. Although the new proposal request is projected to cost less than the plan revealed a year ago, it is still a serious tax hike request from The Rapid. It calls for $56 million over 5 years to build a bus line on Division that is already being serviced by The Rapid’s buses. It will close down half the road during peak traffic hours which will cause widespread congestion and affect parking for a lot of the businesses along the route. Worse yet, this so-called “rapid” service will average only 16 mph!

“Not only is this a poorly-hatched plan for what it sets out to do, but it extracts tax money from the residents of East Grand Rapids, Walker, and Grandville and they will not receive any of the benefits. It is simply inconceivable that during a large economic downturn the ITP would consider taking more than $10 million out of the pockets of local taxpayers instead of allowing those citizens to use the money to care for their families and support local businesses.”

The group is prepared to mount an opposition to the proposed tax request should it be placed on the ballot this year or next. KCTA helped defeat the last Silver Line millage request in 2009 using grassroots support and a shoe-string budget. The supporters of the Silver Line spent in excess of $70,000 of special interest money in an attempt to pass the tax increase, yet it failed at the polls in four of the six cities in the ITP area (Walker, Wyoming, Kentwood, and Grandville).

For more information, we encourage readers to visit KCFFR’s “ITP Watch” project web site, whose mission is to “Shine the Light” on the ITP, also known as The Rapid bus system.

KCTA Opposed to Kent County Purchase of Development Rights Program

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance entered the public discourse over the weekend regarding the proposed county funding of a purchase of development rights program. The group stands resolutely against the use of Kent County’s public funds to transfer from taxpayers to a few farmers.

The organization is the local taxpayers’ rights group that professes to fight for good governance and low taxes. They believe that private enterprise provides better and more efficient solutions to solving local problems than using the public purse. They have been involved in opposing millages for The Rapid and GRCC which they helped defeat in 2009 and 2007 respectively.

Spokesman Dr. Eric Larson stated a number of reasons for KCTA’s opposition to the proposal. “We consistently applaud the private efforts of citizens in Kent County who support various initiatives through philanthropic means. That activity is what makes West Michigan such a vibrant and wonderful place to live. However, we cannot support a measure which takes taxpayers’ hard earned money and transfers it to a few select farmers.

“Not only is this an inappropriate use of taxpayer money but it is also relies upon failed command and control economic planning. The selection process already risks being influenced by people with special connections or information. The government should not be in the business of picking winning and losing industries – especially with other people’s money. To even imagine using public funds for any endeavor in today’s economy while simultaneously cutting funding for emergency services is almost too hard to believe.”

KCTA will await the results of the December 10th county commission meeting to decide upon its next plan of action. It is preparing for either opposing a county wide millage or possibly a petition drive depending on the details of the meeting.

KCTA Celebrates Its Role in Saving Kent County Taxpayers Over $15 Million

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance, opponents of the proposed Silver Line, celebrated the defeat of the Silver Line Tuesday night. The defeat is the second straight tax increase that the group claims credit in helping defeat. Their most recent campaign was the second GRCC millage request in August of 2007. The organization’s self-described mission is to promote good government and a rational tax policy.

Throughout the campaign, KCTA volunteers passed out literature to thousands of households over the metro Grand Rapids area, wrote letters to the editor, and organized on the internet. Targeted precincts in many of the cities voting helped turn out more voters than in May of 2007 (the last Rapid vote) with a significantly higher ‘no’ vote percentage. Despite spending a mere fraction of the Friends of Transit, who received a gift from one donor of $50-80,000, they managed to create a palpable impact expressed best on the Facebook online message board of the Friends of Transit where they described KCTA’s “presence (being) felt electronically and we’re getting pummeled.”

Said KCTA spokesman Eric Larson, “Tuesday was a great night for property owners across Kent County. For the first time, the Rapid lost a millage request. The Silver Line was rightly seen by taxpayers as a redundant service that traveled no faster than their current buses but carried a steep price tag in a bad economy. Clearly, this plan was rejected in very high numbers by the cities of Wyoming, Walker, Grandville, and Kentwood to a lesser degree. Fundamentally, we think it is incumbent upon those city governments to reconsider their role in this ITP taxing authority. Despite their overwhelming opposition, the city of Grand Rapids still almost forced them to pay a tax that Grandville and Walker would get absolutely no benefit from. This is a dangerous path that the ITP board is traveling where these suburban cities are getting taxed without representation.

“KCTA is pleased with the results but wants to emphasize that our work has only begun. We are not solely an anti-millage group. We will work in the near future on improving governmental accountability and transparency at the Rapid and through the local school districts as well. It is the taxpayers’ right to know where and how the government spends its money and we intend to make that easier over the coming year.”

Kent County Taxpayers Alliance Launches New “ITP Watch” Web Site

Today, the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance is launching a new project called ITP Watch. We aim to shine the light on the finances and operations of the Interurban Transit Partnership / The Rapid bus transit system. The ITP continues to lack transparency. ITP Watch will make available the information that ITP doesn’t want taxpayers to have access to: budgets, operational reports, and other data showing the lack of efficiency of The Rapid system.

Kent County Taxpayers Alliance Saves Kent County Taxpayers $9.8 million

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance helped to successfully defeat the second request by GRCC for a millage increase. The final margin of victory was 361 votes for those opposing the tax hike.

Despite August traditionally having low voter turnout in outlying Kent County areas, voters came to the polls to reject GRCC’s second request. Although the city of Grand Rapids had much higher voter turn out than in May due to their mayoral race, their yes votes were overwhelmed by a larger opposition to the millage request in Wyoming, Walker, and the outlying townships.

Said KCTA spokesman, Dr. Eric Larson, “We were a small band of volunteers with a very limited budget but we persevered. Despite being outspent by over $100,000 we focused on the smaller townships and prevailed because of their boosted voter turnout. This is a great day for taxpayers in Kent County as they will now have $9.8 million more to feed into the local economy.”