Just How Bad Was Springfield’s Airport Bus?
Recently, CBS News in Springfield reported that Springfield-Branson Airport lacks any type of bus service, forcing airport employees and travelers to rely on vehicles or private taxi service. The report claimed that the reasons for the lack of service are that Springfield City Utilities is facing decreasing transit budgets and that the city requires bus routes to have at least as many passengers as their operating costs. In reality, transit spending in Springfield is on the rise, and fare revenue accounts for a mere 14 percent of bus operating costs.
Transit agencies in Missouri often blame service cuts on reduced budgets, even after spending has rapidly increased. The same is true in Springfield, where transit spending has steadily increased, not decreased, over the last half decade.
As the chart above demonstrates, the amount City Utilities spends on operating its bus service has increased 70 percent from 2004 to 2012. Total spending, which includes capital improvements, has increased even faster. If City Utilities cannot afford more bus routes, it’s because it has been unable to control costs, not a falling budget.
Also, City Utilities does not require that “the number of passengers equal the expense of the route.” The percentage of operating costs of all bus routes covered by all fare revenue is only 14 percent. Springfield’s bus system had 1,598,366 boardings in 2012, but its operating costs were in excess of $7 million. Passenger fares do not even cover a quarter of the bus system’s operating costs, much less half.
The decision to not offer bus service to Springfield-Branson Airport may be justified. It is possible that past service to the airport had fewer riders and greater financial losses than other routes. If that is the case, City Utility officials should say that. They should not misleadingly argue that they have falling budgets or that city buses must match passengers with costs.