Big, bad bus: START should stop


Big, bad bus: START needs to stop

Take a quick glance at the 2017 SPET proposals. One thing jumps out. START Bus has three of the 10 asks, tying up nearly half the record-setting $68.6M in projects on the ballot. At $30,130,000, this would be the total SPET ballot in most years.

And it’s hardly surprising. This agency has been burning money for more than a decade. Public subsidies have kept START afloat—to the tune of $60 million over the last 10 years. Every year taxpayers bear the burden of bailing out the bus, forking over $3 million, annually.

And it’s getting worse. Operating costs are expected to go up, again, next fiscal year by $491,000 (a 15% jump). Conservative estimates say START will lose another $5.4M in 2008.

But instead of belt-tightening and trying to figure out how they can stop the bleeding, START is stomping on the gas, pedal to the metal. They want new buses (they have about 30 now). They want housing for their administrators, mechanics and drivers. They want more bus storage space and a bigger maintenance facility, even after building their current $17M space. Their master plan calls for another $30 million in upgrades to their Karns Meadow bus barn.

These numbers are eye-popping; and there’s more.

The Integrated Transit Plan (ITP) calls for a doubling of ridership by 2024, and a doubling again of that by 2035. Lofty goals for a mass transit system that has stalled on ridership numbers since 2008. The plan also calls for START’s fleet to grow to 60 buses by 2024, and 120 buses by the year 2035.

START cannot afford to run the buses they have now. How will they ever fuel and hire drivers for 120 buses? Assuming they can find the money to purchase that many.

Are these targets attainable? The former START director didn’t think so. He’s no longer with the agency.

START’s aggressive spending spree has already walloped taxpayer’s right in wallet. The bussing business anticipates losing $8.1 million a year by 2024. They admit they’ll likely be running $18 million in the red by 2035.

And for what? It is estimated that public transit in Teton County accounts for 1% of all trips made in the valley. At best, the agency hopes to grow that number to 3% by 2024. So, the bus is not removing cars from the road. In fact, at least one industry expert says the idea buses are a solution to gridlock and traffic jams is foolhardy.

“As far as buses taking anybody off the road, that’s a real mythical notion,” Wendell Cox said. Cox is a respected urban planner and leading expert in American mass transit. Of Jackson Hole, Cox added, “You will probably not find a larger transit system for a community your size.”

Mass transit only really works when it’s transporting masses—and Jackson Hole simply isn’t there…yet. We don’t have the people, the roads, or the routes. But folding a monstrous bus system with a ballooning budget into a hyper-growth agenda seems to be our electeds’ plan toward a metropolitan utopia.

START Bus debunked

We enjoyed the common sense of Dick Aurelio regarding START Bus.

This Guest Shot was printed March 1, 2017.


Look at numbers before funding START

While a firm believer in public transportation, and in particular improving service to Victor, Driggs and Alpine to ease the housing shortage and reduce traffic in town, I think it is time to take a step back and see real progress with START before asking for more money as part of the upcoming special purpose excise tax vote.

START ridership has gone up since 2002, but it peaked and has remained flat since 2008. Yet we have spent over $60 million since then with no noticeable improvement in ridership, despite continued increases in operating costs. Furthermore, last year the Integrated Transportation Plan concluded that it would only improve at a rate of 1 or 2 percent a year over the next 10 years.

Given the importance of the other projects being considered, I recommend the START board and town and county electeds take a deep dive into the START financials to determine how to make additional operational improvements and demonstrating tangible results before throwing more money at START without the data to justify that spending.

With so many other worthy projects being considered, starting with affordable housing, and so little money available under SPET, $12 million a year, I’d like to share my thoughts on how to trim the START request, without affecting the objective of more and better public transportation.

After a review of the ITP, financials, fleet and ridership, here are some data points: 1. Ridership has been flat for the last eight years at approximately950,000, with half of that in the January to March quarter on the Teton Village route.

2. Three-quarters of the START revenue is taxpayerfunded at approximately $3 million a year.

3. Costs are projected to increase $491,000 (15 percent) in fiscal year ’17 over FY ’16 with the same level of service. Why?

4. None of the money spent on capital improvements (new buses, bus barn) that have been made over the last eight years are reflected on the balance sheet or in the profit and loss report. Had they been per GAP accounting, the taxpayer “cost of running START” would be more than double the $3 million per year.

5. Twenty-seven buses in the fleet, 11 sit idle at all times. All buses have less than 300,000 miles on them, life expectancy is typically 500,000.

Suggestions: A. Drop additional bus barn expansion from SPET and instead convert existing bus barn space into a maintenance facility. If a few buses sit outside overnight it will not affect life expectancy as they are designed to operate in harsh environments. This can be done out of existing town/county budget. B. Do add additional buses to the Alpine and Driggs routes for the reasons noted above, but start out by using existing excess bus capacity or bus rental to prove ridership will in fact increase before buying more buses. Note: Rafting buses are parked all over town, and I’m sure the owners would gladly rent them to START in the winter to test market additional service.

C. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort should pay its fair share of Teton Village route as half of total ridership is resort focused.

Cowboy math: Total taxpayer funding of START over last 10 years is approximately $60 million, and ridership is at 1 million a year. Cost to taxpayers is $6 each time a rider gets on a bus. Since half of that is to the Village in the first quarter of the year, that cost is $3 million a year. Richard Aurelio first skied in Jackson in 1967 and was finally able to move back in 2002. He was previously chairman and CEO of Varian Semiconductor Associates and board member of several public and private companies, with a background in engineering and finance. Guest Shots represent solely the opinion of the author.


Richard Aurelio

Not on board

Is throwing millions of dollars into Jackson Hole’s mass transit system going to get people to ride the bus?

Are you ready to hand over your car keys to the city slicker government that wants you to walk, ride, or bike to work?

Hey we love saving the environment as much as the next person, and traffic has become impossible. But the idea that a solution lies in tax-and-spend programs that will buy more buses, hire more people to drive them, and build a bigger bus barn to keep them warm in, is ludicrous.

We are not all on the bus with this tax that will generate $36 million for START Bus over the next 4 years.


Our latest ad…


Well, that didn’t take long

Remember that promise not increase our sales tax with this November’s proposed additional one penny general sales that town and county officials hope will fund housing and transportation issues? Our leaders are already considering reneging on that because they need money for their bus barn apartment complex in Karns Meadow.

The project will house up to 67 government employees in 24 units as part of an 18,250-square-foot expansion of the big city mass transit depot in the last remaining pristine and riparian area of Jackson. Electeds like what they’ve seen so far of the design presented by Jorgensen Associates. There’s only one problem: paying for it.

Design costs alone are projected at $640,740. Build out in today’s dollars is estimated at $6.9 million.

Where will town and county officials get that kind of money? From us, the taxpayer, of course. According to agenda documents prepared for today’s Joint Information Meeting to discuss the START Bus Housing Project, alternative #7 identifies SPET as one possible source.

Read more in today’s edition of Jackson Hole Media.

Pinedale: All aboard!

This is classic.

Our county leaders want to know a few things about you.

START Bus wants to know a few things about you.


In a survey released yesterday (feel free to take it) START Bus leaders want to know a couple of things including:

  • Would you move to Pinedale if START sent a bus there?
  • Can you drive the bus?


Will START consider runs to California next in order to get workforce housing bused into the valley?

In other words, even if a bus run would prove viable, START has no one to drive it. What else do our leaders need from us? Do they need us to fill it up, too, at Hoback Market on the way there?


Maybe Pinedale will end up being a part of the solution to our housing woes. Maybe our workforce would be more than happy to commute 4 hours a day to fold sheets for hotels charging $600 for a night’s stay.


Is this the community we remember? Is this the Jackson Hole we want to live in?