When Covid first hit and normal life shut down, I found myself with more time to take daily walks. When life slows you notice things, like the full-sized empty county buses running their complete, normal schedules with only a masked driver and rarely any passengers. At first I thought this was an anomaly, soon to bounce back post Covid-panic-mode but over time, nothing much has changed. I began to more carefully observe daily bus traffic.
Video taken over several months monitoring the 40 Route which traverses the length of Chenango Street in Binghamton saw an average of less than 3 passengers in each bus, hour after hour, day after day, month after month no matter what time of day. Many times the buses were completely empty. Ninety percent of the time, you could service the 40 Route with a motorcycle and a side-car.
Thinking this might be anomalistic to this route, I expanded my observations to the various other. Same thing; buses routinely empty everywhere. You can see this for yourself, just look inside these diesel-guzzling, forty-foot hulks of machinery, capable of seating 60 people, half the time empty, the other half with passengers that would easily fit into a Prius In a privately run business, it would take less than 24-hours for management to make the changes needed in order to shrink-to-fit. That rapid reaction would be compelled by the reality of severely declining revenue and operational costs far exceeding income.
No such concern rests on the management team of a governmental agency. In the case of Broome Transit, two-thirds of their income is subsidized via the taxpayers. Those who ride the buses pay less than 6% of the actual costs. Last years fare budget was off by more than 50% so what did they do this year? Double that number.
In the real world of private enterprise, buses would be replaced with passenger vans to address the dwindling demand and to save fuel and maintenance costs. In government, strong unions prohibit drivers from switching to the vans and routes are determined and unalterable without bargaining agreements. No fewer than 16 of those vans sit quietly in the lot of Broome Transit.
When there is no competition and no profit incentive, there is no motivation to be efficient because the inefficiency has no direct bearing on the workers or the management. What this situation models is little more than a make-work-program for the 100 plus employees that soldier on, even when the work is pointless with no passengers.
With alternatives like Uber, Lyft, and work-from-home situations becoming the norm, none of these realities seem to influence the we’ve-always-done-it-this-way mindset of an organization that faces no reason to be better. Instead, we celebrate when Senator Schumer announces a $1.9M infusion of electric buses into the fleet so we can continue to move empty 40-foot buses silently down the road.
Not only are the taxpayers thrown under the bus, ironically they also pay for the privilege.