Why Did the Transportation Referendum Fail?

In an interview with the Guardian, A.S. Council Transfer Senator Adam Powers (one of two undergraduates on the Parking and Transportation Committee) and Parking and Transportation Services Director Brian d’Autremont discussed the Transportation Referendum, a proposed student fee that recently failed to be voted onto the Spring Quarter ballot.

Last Fall Quarter, d’Autremont approached the A.S. Council for funds, urgently asking for a referendum to bail out the Parking and Transportation Services. According to d’Autremont, the department desperately needs student funds — or else access to public transit and campus shuttles face drastic cuts for the coming year.

But despite the threat of a more cramped ride to school, the A.S. Council overwhelmingly voted against putting the Parking and Transportation Referendum on the spring ballot last Wednesday. Here, a student and administrator hash out the issue.

Editor’s note: This transcript has been abridged in its print version.

Guardian: Adam, could you explain why the council didn’t think it wise to place the Transportation Referendum on the Spring Quarter ballot?

Adam Powers: I think you answered the question a bit with your own question. We didn’t feel that the $25 per quarter was necessary, considering the research we’ve done on it … It would be the first time that the money from a referendum would be going outside the purview of student life, and we didn’t want to set that precedent — at least not unless we thought it was necessary. So, in lieu of passing the referendum or putting it on the ballot, we drafted a resolution to explore other options.

G: Brian, why do you think the referendum ultimately failed?

Brian d’Autremont: You know, I really can’t say the internal politics of what was decided. I think, legitimately, students had concerns about the efficiency of how things are run. And it’s an extremely efficient system, but unless you work with it every day, it’s hard to see that.

G: I understand that one of the A.S. Council’s primary concerns was that your department hadn’t looked into enough alternative solutions, rather than going directly to the students to pay an additional $25 per quarter. Do you also feel that is true?

BD: Well, no. We’ve worked now for the last three years on trying to get to the root of this situation. We’ve tried to find out exactly what the causes were of our transportation’s dilemma … We have 2,600 more people riding the bus than we had three or four years ago … It’s 100 gallons worth of diesel for each bus, every day. And so we’ve had costs, but it just exceeded our wildest imaginations.

G: Are you confident that the student body will see cuts for Fall Quarter 2010 in the transportation offerings?

BD: I think it’s very possible … From my point of view, the only thing I can do is either cut expenses or raise revenues. Three years ago, we had 52 buses operating on a daily basis. We now have 40 buses, but we haul 2,500 extra people a day … There’s just no way to keep up with the exploding demand for public transportation.

G: Why do you think the referendum failed?

AP: One of the reasons the referendum failed, and one of the many concerns behind it, is that the situation is almost presented as a ‘Here is the solution: referendum’ and ‘Here are the alternatives: cuts to things like employment and shuttles’ … We didn’t feel that, in a lot of ways, it was fair to say, ‘Pass this referendum,’ and without the additional money going into the system, these cuts are going to be made to services without significant student input.

G: Do you think this would set a dangerous precedent and enable departments such as parking and transportation to come directly to the council and propose a referendum as sort of a bailout?

AP: I’m generally not big on slippery-slope arguments, in terms of ‘We must not do this because of these concrete concerns, because of this possibility further down the road,’ but it was one of the numerous concerns we had with it … We don’t see administrators as moustache-twirling villains, but at the same time, if you need money and you have services students need — and A.S. has, you know, the ability to write a referendum — we didn’t want to see those coming through the door. We’d rather those conversations take place at a higher level, saying, ‘Hey, why aren’t you getting adequate funding from the places where that funding is supposed to come from?’ instead of passing off more onto the student body.

G: What do you think the next steps are for your department, now that this has recently failed?

BD: Well, the department is waiting on guidance and decisions to be made by the Transportation Policy Committee … There is roughly $3 million worth in cuts that needs to be made to make sure the budget is viable for the future.

G: So where do you expect those cuts to primarily come from?

BD: That I really can’t say, and I don’t vote on it. It’s a matter of student, staff and faculty-chair governance picking which routes.

G: OK, now Adam, as a councilmember, do you have any sort of expectations as far as what those cuts [might be]?

AP: We have preferences and suggestions, and any person watching or reading can check out our legislation. A.S. can help you get a hold of it. The resolution that we passed, saying basically — we’re not outright saying we don’t want a referendum at all, we’re not ever saying, ‘Don’t come to the students for money.’ Just come to us when you literally have no other option. And there are the other options. We think that definitely it’s reasonable to say ‘OK, $300,000 to $400,000 is not going to get us out of the red, but it would possibly drop the need of the referendum to, say, $25 to $20.’ And we think $5 is a big difference … We definitely want to try to bring down that dollar figure as much as possible before we bring it to students for a vote.

At least I, personally, vote that if anything, we would start to look at subsidies for MTS, because the truth is even if you cut 100-percent subsidies of MTS — which we don’t want — guess what? MTS still comes to school. If you cut a blue-and-white shuttle, that shuttle is gone.

G: Any other final comments or concerns?

BD: Not really any comments or concerns, except to say that it’s important for everybody that’s represented to contact their member of the policy committee to make sure their voice is heard.

AP: I don’t want anyone to view this as an administration-versus-students issue. I think that the public-transportation issue faces all of us. It’s something we all use to varying degrees, and varying degrees of reliability … I think we just want to see the solution that helps as many people as possible.

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