YCIPTA discusses potential transit sales tax
Employees and volunteers from Yuma Regional Medical Center can now ride all Yuma County Area Transit buses free of charge with no restrictions.
The arrangement is part of an agreement between YRMC and the Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, which runs the YCAT bus system.
In addition, YRMC will receive 500 YCAT DayPasses that will be given to hospital guests who may need transportation home.
YRMC employees and volunteers may obtain a sticker from the Human Resources office located in Yuma Regional Corporate Center at 399 32nd St. All YRMC facilities are accessible via YCAT routes. Information can be obtained online or by calling YCAT.
This pilot program began March 1 and will run through Sept. 30. YRMC will provide $15,450 to YCIPTA in local match funding.
YCIPTA will survey and track employee and volunteer usage. Transit Director John Andoh hopes the program continues beyond the pilot period, but the decision will depend on employee and volunteer usage.
“With major construction projects underway at YRMC, the need for public transportation access to YRMC will be very important,” Andoh said. “There will be limited parking available until the construction is completed.”
For YCAT information and OnCall reservations, visit www.ycat.az.gov or call 928-783-2235.
The Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, which runs the Yuma County Area Transit (YCAT) bus system, is considering asking voters to approve a one-tenth of a percent transit sales tax.
“Fiscal sustainability is critical,” John Andoh, transit director, said.
The potential tax was discussed by the YCIPTA board at a strategic planning workshop last week.
YCAT funding has been dependent on match funding from local municipalities, state and federal funds, fares, advertising, in-kind support and even private contributions.
But due to significant fluctuations of transit funding dating back to 1999 when Greater Yuma Area Dial-A-Ride and Valley Transit first started, the system has been restructured, reduced and almost eliminated in 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2010, Andoh explained.
Today, funding is solely dependent on the ability of YCIPTA members to contribute, which can result in radical service changes from year to year.
“We need funding sources to replace member agency contributions,” Andoh noted.
‘Lean and mean’
Currently, the service is run “lean and mean,” Andoh said, adding that any growth would require additional contributions from members.
In seeking alternative funding, YCIPTA has established partnerships with Arizona Western College, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, allowing students and employees to ride YCAT for free based on a $5 fee.
This program has been expanded to Aztec High School, Yuma Private Industry Council and SMILE at a $45 per semester rate per student and employee. Yuma Regional Medical Center entered a similar partnership this month.
Andoh noted that YCIPTA is striving to operate the transit system similar to a private business and not a government-subsidized operation. Efforts include selling Greyhound and Amtrak tickets, newspapers on the buses and advertisements.
YCIPTA has also made route changes, focusing on areas and times with most demand for the service. To increase ridership and revenue, the agency simplified and streamlined fares and made discount pricing available.
YCIPTA has been looking at potential funding sources, including a dedicated transit sales tax which would be applied to certain transactions within the county, similar to the current Health District sale tax.
YCIPTA is studying a one-tenth of a percent sales tax and one-fifth of a percent sales tax. Such a tax collection would be submitted to voter approval, Andoh said.
Revenues collected from such taxes are estimated at $2.240 million with a one-tenth of a percent sales tax and $4.480 million with a one-fifth of a percent sales tax, based on retail sales, he said.
Andoh anticipates a sales tax would eliminate contributions from local municipalities.
Transit sales tax
According to state law, for counties with a population of 400,000 or fewer, revenues from a transit sales tax should be deposited in a public transportation authority fund.
The board of supervisors could establish a regional transportation authority, which would include the county, local municipalities and other members of the regional council of governments.
If a regional transportation authority is not formed, a general transaction privilege sales tax could be passed by the supervisors and managed through the county.
The tax would only be available for a 20-year period and must be renewed at the end of the period.
The tax could only be assessed in six major categories: retail sales, contracting, utilities, restaurant and bar, and rental of real property and personal property. Grocery and pharmaceutical items would be exempt.
Alan C. Wulkan, senior vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff, gave an overview of transit referendum campaigns and the communities that have conducted them.
The first key to a successful campaign is having an advocate in the community, someone with a recognized name, with no political interest and the willingness to make a time commitment, Wulkan said.
“Before we even entertain going down that path, we need a champion in the community,” Andoh said. “It requires educating the community on what YCAT is and what benefits it brings to the community.”
Successful campaigns also included a professional political consultant with issue campaign experience; garnering grass-roots support from the business community, neighborhood groups and community organizations; and setting a realistic campaign budget and knowing the campaign funding law well.
Issues to overcome
Among the issues that communities overcame were the belief by citizens that they had nothing to gain, that all systems are over-budget with little ridership, that transit should pay for itself, and that there must be cheaper options.
Other issues included mistrust of the government and believing that transit does little for air quality.
Most transit elections usually are close because a relatively small number of direct constituents benefit from the tax, Wulkan said.
It usually takes several attempts before a funding referendum is passed, with the outcome often influenced by other issues, such as the economy, he said.
Eventually, every community that has attempted to pass a transit tax has succeeded on the second or third attempt, he noted.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.