Beutler says as long as they can continue to fund the system without a fare, he believes it increases ridership and it exposes more people to transit.
When I asked about the common concerns with a fare-free system, Beutler says there hasn’t been a problem with their policies in place. A “Nuisance Policy” spells out clearly what it could mean for a passenger to be a nuisance to another passenger, whether by hygiene, language or behavior, and the agency can remove you from the bus.
“We have a progressive discipline system where initially we’re just going to sit down and talk to you,” explains Beutler. “We have someone from management that will talk to you specifically what are the things that caused this, and we try to give them their rights to be back on the bus.
“If we have a chronic problem, they’re off for two weeks or a year. I guess we can kick you off indefinitely. We haven’t done that, typically the longest we’ve kicked someone off is two weeks.”
He adds, “People realize this is a privilege, not something that’s just a right and most of the time we’re able to counsel them and help them understand how their behavior’s just not affecting them, but others.
“It definitely takes resources to do that,” Beutler says. “It’s not like we don’t spend time working with individuals. We definitely do.”
A Working Relationship
Like other agencies across the country right now, funding is one of their biggest challenges Beutler says. Or more specifically, he says, “Trying to find the funding to make sure that we can continue to grow the system.
“Because we’re a government entity, we want to make sure we’re doing it in the most efficient way possible, that we’re spreading those tax dollars as far as we can.
“Our community, though it’s a very conservative community, really has embraced public transit,” Beutler says. “When you look at our ridership, just over 100,000 population and directly we serve about 80,000, we’re going to do probably 2 million trips this year.
“With that kind of ridership, we continue to have requests from the community for additional peak-time service, more direct routes for some of the hotter places that people are going. It’s trying to find the funding to make sure that we can continue to grow the system.”
Governed by a 19-member board of trustees, Beutler says the board views its role as setting end goals and the direction, letting management accomplish its own goals.
“They have basically given us four value statements and a missionstatement for us to accomplish and really, that’s what they do,” he says. Adding that it lets the creative team working at the agency do what they need to, to get the job done.
One example he shares is back from when there were high fuel prices. He says their system maintained 99 percent of the transfers on time, that those people made their transfers.
In 2008 when they saw the fuel prices jump, that number dipped to 97 percent. And, that had never happened before. “For us that’s an indicator that we’re starting to struggle with our reliability,” Beutler explains.
They went to their service committee, a subcommittee of the board, and pointed out that they were seeing an indicator of service shifting.
“The service committee then set the task of sending us out, looking at other agencies and setting a ridership standard,” he says.
The committee set a ridership standard and any time any particular route goes below that ridership standard, it had potential to be looked at to find ways to somehow modify the service.
Beutler explains, “Based on those ridership standards that they established for us, we went back and we reallocated our service delivery.
“So now, 2010, we’re 5 percent above where we were in 2008 and we’re not seeing any reduction in our reliability. We’re still at that 99 percent because we’re able to reallocate.”
He reiterates, “It’s an example of how the board didn’t come in and tell us how to get it, but just gave us an end goal, saying here’s the ridership standard we want you to look at and then you guys figure it out from there.”