On or about April Fools Day, the Summit County commissioners were convinced to sign a letter that was recently published (Summit Daily, April 3, 2013, "Commissioners: Summit Stage is in good shape"). While there are often different interpretations of a set of facts, I will attempt to present a candid perspective that responds to the information provided in the April Fools letter.
The Summit Stage operates an aging fleet of 26 buses, down from 32 buses that operated last year. The reason for the reduction of forces is that First Vehicle, the private company that was allowed to take over bus maintenance a little over a year ago, argued for a fleet of buses that were supposed to be repaired just-in-time to replace buses that broke-down in the field. The letter falsely suggests, "That means a savings to the Summit Stage budget of nearly $3 million in avoided replacement costs going forward."
I argue that the $3 million expenditure on new buses is not avoided replacement costs. The spending is merely redistributed to First Vehicle by retaining old buses with higher maintenance costs and deferring the purchase of new replacement buses. The newer black buses purchased by the Summit Stage have more than 300,000 miles on the odometers, while many operating and retired buses have nearly 600,000 miles of wear. Already, dispatchers frequently announce that a bus operator must continue driving a defective vehicle because no replacement bus is available. No comparisons should be drawn from the maintenance of other county fleet vehicles and the transit assets, since law enforcement and other agencies operate vehicles with far fewer miles on the odometers. The Summit Stage provides First Vehicle with more than two-thirds of its maintenance revenue dollars from the overall county fleet.
Obviously, fleet maintenance costs should be much lower now that First Vehicle has received the subsidies of newer buses and fewer buses than those previously repaired by county employees. Furthermore, First Vehicle received a subsidy of more than $10 million in public tax funds with the construction of a new maintenance facility.
I leave analysis of the facts to the citizens of Summit County and our elected officials. As a former attorney with a low-income housing project, I have some experience in legal oversight of a poorly compensated, inadequately trained, private quasi-law enforcement unit. That privatized squad was rapidly dissolved by the governing commissioners. From my experiences, I anticipate a profusion of problems with the Summit Stage if privatization is expanded.
When many of our national forest and national park facilities were privatized thirty years ago, corporate special interests picked the ripe cherries of high-volume, high-profit campgrounds and shops surrounding our most cherished public treasures. The gift of the priceless real estate has provided generous profits for private corporations. User fees in the privatized campgrounds often increased four-fold or more. The services provided to the public by more remote, low-volume campgrounds continued to be maintained by public servants or were curtailed. Personally, I avoid the privatized facilities on public lands whenever possible and seek out the most remote, peaceful, least-restrictive locations for recreation.
Admittedly, adequate funding for valuable public services is often difficult to maintain due to economic and political hurdles. Tax increases can seem painful. User fees are costly to collect, discourage full utilization of available services, and fall heavily on hard-working, low-wage workers. Many of the most important social services in transportation, law enforcement, education, environmental protection, and health care are best provided by public servants. The leadership of the concerned public and democratically elected officials is essential to protect the common interests of society.
Kim Fenske, Copper Mountain