Tuesday night’s Irvine City Council meeting was a text-book exercise in subverting accountability, foolishly spending California and Measure M tax money, social engineering and just plain greed. Councilman Jeff Lalloway’s mighty pleased with himself that the extension of a $6.5 million contract for the Irvine iShuttle to provide a $19 ride for a few Metrolink commuters will continue for another four years with NO DRAIN on the City’s General Fund.
The iShuttle’s mostly empty buses will continue to run on four routes, but as was noted in the meeting, it’s not Irvine residents using them. The iShuttle provides SUBSIDIZED transit for Spectrum workers to/from Metrolink train stations. Irvine train commuters, it was said, prefer to drive their cars to the station (where they may park free in a new garage, also built with Measure M money). iShuttle has a 2012-13 budget of $1,995,790. That’s a lot of someone else’s money for an irresponsible exercise in social engineering to underscore the liberal Council’s notion of 21st Century GREEN transit.
Lalloway claimed in a Facebook post his “stats indicate 5,000 to 7,000 rides per month on each route.” We seriously doubt that, and know that ridership numbers for public transit are never honestly estimated as they’re used to deceptively justify government programs and jobs. We believe the City staff, or a vendor, is pulling his chain. No hard, confirmable numbers were presented during the Council meeting, even though the City uses an external consultant to design and plan for the system and an operating firm for drivers that has every reason to prove they’re actually accomplishing a service. Either firm should have been there with charts to prove this thing’s value — if it had any — and it’s telling the Council didn’t offer or discuss this information.
Irvine GOP activist Allan Bartlett spoke Tuesday to the idea (as we’ve also written) of using a third party to honestly review the need and justification for this system, but the Council apparently wants no study or facts to dissuade their development of a city transit system that would segregate its riders from the big, dirty buses that the Orange County Transportation Authority also runs all over Irvine delivering the cleaning staff.
Neither did the Council offer any explanation why a number of presumably successful city businesses require subsidized transit for their employees which ride Metrolink to work. Capital Group, a mutual funds firm, does make a small, unspecified contribution to the system’s operation and Metrolink also kicks a meager 50 cents per ride into the farebox — both accounting for far less than 10% of costs. Still, Bartlett said the system cost $16,500 per year per passenger — no one on the city staff or Council disputed that, or the Register’s estimate linked above of $19/ride.
These costs are ludicrous and would rank among some of the highest in the country. As well, there’s the cost the impression an empty bus creates as meanders around the City every weekday (weekend service was dropped long ago for a lack of ridership — and, or course, no Great Park to visit). Anecdotal comments found in social media and a few iShuttle YouTubes mention the empty seats first, and often — and that reflects directly back to faulty management by the City Council.
Lalloway and the city took a great deal of pride on Tuesday that they’ve snookered other governments entities and tax sources pay for their minibuses. There are nearly three million other Orange County residents paying Measure M taxes and riding OCTA buses that might be quite annoyed that resources are being wasted on Irvine’s trivial and barely used, redundant transit empire that could have easily been handled by extending existing bus routes and modifying a few schedules. OCTA was established so that individual cities would not need to build and run their own transit systems, and expensive resources could be shared over a wider service area.
This is not to suggest that legitimate needs might exist for sub-regional or specially routed bus or connector systems — Anaheim runs a successful one. Their Resort Transit system, a public-private partnership, is owned by the city, Disney and a group of area hotels. It exclusively moves tourists between dozens of hotels and other venues in Anaheim and Garden Grove and Disneyland’s Maingate. For its 19 routes, it’s efficient and by today’s standards, inexpensive to run and appears to actually cover its costs. We’ll bet Irvine’s never heard of it or took a look at how it’s justified. We don’t believe it requires any tax subsidy as its owners and farebox revenues sustain it.
iShuttle was developed to service the Great Park which will never be built to the grandeur that Larry Agran and the Agranistas envisioned. Now that that’s failed, the iShuttle which was built only in anticipation of it nonetheless exists and sucks money from the County and State, but NOT Irvine’s general fund. And the nonsense doesn’t stop here — on learning the the Irvine<>LAX FlyAway airport shuttle went out of business last year, Agran jumped on the opportunity to LOSE EVEN MORE MONEY by suggesting that the iShuttle might replace it.
Jeff Lalloway and his Council allies missed an opportunity to do the right thing Tuesday night, and the REST OF US get to pay for it.