ESCANABA - How many DATA busses have you seen today? Take the time to look and you will see that the DATA busses are almost always empty. Maybe one or two people on a bus capable of carrying 20. Why are the DATA busses empty most of the time, and why is a full size bus used to transport one or two individuals when a small mini van could accomplish the same thing most of the time. Why are several busses used to pick up different people at the same locations going to similar destinations?
DATA or Delta Area Transit Authority is a bus service that has been in Delta County since 1989, it is publicly funded with your tax dollars through a millage on private property. The DATA bus has had a quarter century to become self-sufficient and prove that their service is needed. Over the past 25 years the service has gotten worse and the costs increased more each year. It really bothers me that there is not a reliable and economical source of transportation for the area's handicapped. I wrote this article to help inform you of some of the other less publicized facts. I'd like you to keep a few of these thoughts in mind when you head to the polls on Aug. 5, 2014 to vote on this proposed tax increase.
Generally if a service is truly needed then someone in the private sector will find a way to provide it, it's called supply and demand. With public transportation in Escanaba this basic economic principle doesn't apply. There is an absurd city ordinance regulating tax cabs. The city ordinance regulating taxis dictates every aspect of how a private business is run. In my opinion the ordinance needs to be more business friendly. Michigan has determined in Melconian v. City of Grand Rapids, that, "the power to regulate must be sparing exercised and only when necessary in the public interest' I feel the only reason the ordinance stands is simply because no on in the Taxi business can afford to fight it. A few of the worst parts of the city ordinance are;
1. City council shall determine if the city "needs another taxi service"
2. City council sets your rates you are allowed to charge
3. Your license can be revokes for basically any reason at any time at the cities discretion
4. You are not allowed to cruise and search for passengers, they must call you
5. The city decides if you are, in their opinion of "good moral character"
6. You must get each driver a license with the city clerk, (The state requires a chauffeurs license already so this additional license, and fee, should not be required).
Such over reaching government control of private business has been tried in other parts of the world many times. No one liked it and it didn't work. This is why entrepreneurs are not lined up waiting to start a taxi business in Escanaba. Because if you some how do secure a city taxi license, and you pass the "good moral character" test and if council determines your taxi service is needed, (which they normally won't mind you) then they set your rates, they won't let you search for customers, and they can revoke your entire business and investment for basically anything they want to, at least according to the city ordinance. Not many are willing to take that kind of risk.
So that leaves the folks at DATA the argument that there is a lack of transportation. So we are stuck with an inefficient, wasteful and poorly run government bus system. My personal experience with DATA has been a total disaster. My mom is in a wheelchair. One time when my mom was being released from St. Francis Hospital, we had arranged the DATA bus the day before. When the bus arrived the ramp on the bus was not wide enough to allow the wheels of the wheel chair to go up the ramp. I explained that we would just get mom into another chair, it would only take a few minutes. The drive said, I can't wait and she left. So here we were in the middle of winter stuck with no ride. I called the DATA bus, went through the automated menu and finally got to talk with a lady and she told me that it would take three hours to get another bus to the hospital. She was very unfriendly and then she hung up on me. Eventually we did get another bus. On the five block trip between the hospital and nursing home I noticed five empty DATA busses. There were two at the Salvation Army, both empty, two at Doctors Park, both empty, and one at the high school. Not to mention we were the only ones on our bus. Sending a different bus for each person seems like a sure fire way to lose money, but then again maybe thats the ida. The more money they need the bigger the federal grant they get next year. When we needed a ride home from the hospital after 5, we had to call Rampart. The nursing home has even went as far as purchasing their own van to transport residents to and from appointments, and hiring a private driver, that is how great DATA's service is.
The DATA bus of all things since they are paid for with tax dollars should be held to the same standards as the taxi cab, they are providing, by legal definition a taxi service. No special rules allowing them to close at 5 p.m., and forcing customers to call a day in advance to secure a ride. DATA is seeking a millage to raise your taxes on Aug. 5, 2014. DATA is the poster child for government waste. Please join me in voting "no" on DATA this August."
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Craig Taylor is an Escanaba resident and a long-time critic of the Delta Area Transportation Authority.