How CTTRANSIT depends on tax dollars.
Whether it’s commuting to work, shopping downtown, or visiting friends and family, CTTRANSIT provides a public bus service to help commuters get around Connecticut every day for a $1.50 per ride. The fares are affordable for many, but the fare revenue CTRANSIT collects hardly covers the actual cost of running bus services.
Fares aren’t cutting it
Although numerous commuters take the bus each day, Scott Willis, Division Manager at CTTRANSIT in New Haven, said the fare revenue they collect from buses contribute a small portion to the operating and maintenance expenses.
“Our operating budget here is about $40 million a year and we take in, through fare revenue, about $10 million a year,” Willis said.
Operating expenses are costs needed to keep the bus system running including bus drivers, technicians and administrative salaries, fringe benefits for employees, fuel and tire costs for the buses, and liability insurance.
In a 2012 report from the National Transit Database (NTD), a program established by Congress to provide information and statistics on transit systems in the United States, showed CTTRANSIT’s New Haven division had an operating expense totaling $39,028,419, but generated $8,596,747 in fares— covering only 22 percent of expenses.
The lack of funds and high expenses may sound like a failing business plan, but David Lee, CTTRANSIT’S general manager, said public transit systems in the United States are all subsidized and making a profit isn’t a concern. Fare prices are decided through public agencies and Lee also said how fares impact lower income and minority communities is an important factor in deciding fare prices.
“The issue is, on one hand, you want the fare to be low enough so it’s affordable by the large percentage of riders who are transit dependent, who have no other means of mobility,” Lee said. “On the other hand you want it to be high enough to recover a reasonable amount of the operating costs.”
The State makes up the Difference
The Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees the distribution of funding to CTTRANSIT. Michael Sanders, transit administrator at the DOT, said the fares help in funding operating costs but CTTRANSIT’s funding is provided from federal grants, bonds, and from Connecticut taxpayers.
“The DOT budget comes from the state’s Special Transportation Fund that’s mainly supported by gas taxes and most of the excise tax on fuels,” said Sanders. “We use some of that money to fund CTTRANSIT.”
The Special Transportation Fund also provides monetary aid to the DOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Program, a program established to provide financing for the improvement, reconstruction, and/or removal of state highways, bridges, waterway facilities, and transit facilities.
A report written in October 2014 on the Infrastructure Program showed the Special Transportation Fund’s source of revenue, as shown at the bottom of the infographic to the right. Totaling to $1,232,900,000, the Special Transportation Fund is made up of various sources.
The motor fuel taxes are taxes collected from the purchase of gasoline, diesel and other fuels used in commercial vehicles such as tractors and airplanes.
Motor vehicle receipts consist of car and motorcycle registration fees and license fees provided by DMV offices. Money collected from speeding tickets, illegal parking, and motor vehicle related fines are also included. DMV payments are funds received by the State from the tax imposed on sales of cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles and aircraft.
Connecticut oil companies collect the revenue received from the tax imposed on the gross earnings from the sale of petroleum products to the Special Transportation Fund. This only includes petroleum products related to motor vehicles.
Extracting from tax sources and funds, Lee said Connecticut’s transportation funding is unique. In some states transportation is funded by a portion of sales taxes or property taxes.
“If we were in Atlanta we would pay a penny of the sales tax to support the trasportation system,” said Lee. “Everybody else [transit agencies] are going towards member towns or transit districts and asking for annual funding ”
According to the Connecticut 2012 Annual Report of the State Comptroller $135 million of the total revenue from the Special Transportation Fund was appropriated towards bus operations.
“We also fund federally mandated ADA Paratransit service and rail service out of that total,” said sanders. “The state-owned CTTRANSIT system–encompassing Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Waterbury, New Britain, Bristol, Meriden and Wallingford areas–is about 75 percent of that total.”
Sanders also said Connecticut’s DOT is one out of a few states that have a high proportion of their capital going towards transit. The challenge for the DOT is funding and prioritizing various transportation projects around Connecticut.
“We’ll pool money [from the Special Transportation Fund] to fund one project, for example the CTTRANSIT garage in Hamden, and that will be funded over a period of years. But then next year some other region will have another project with a large capital need like the rail yard,” said Sanders. “Over time we’re spreading out the funds and getting their projects done, but we try to find a balance.”