The city’s Buzz Bus program is an unmitigated good. It provides a safe, affordable and timely ride home for those who have imbibed too much to drive. In that role, the Buzz Bus is more than a convenience or a subsidy for drunks and downtown bars; it contributes significantly to the broader public safety of the community while sending a message that the city is invested in its residents’ and visitors’ transportation options. The city was right to restore funding to the Buzz Bus in its 2014 budget.
The issue arose when a proposed budget cut funding for the Buzz Bus – which receives about $35,000 in city funding each year. The city cited the fact that the service costs more than it brings in, and that private-sector alternatives exist. “We can’t afford the service,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said in October. “The $5 charge doesn’t cover the cost to run the bus. We now have limo and taxicab companies that can perform the service.”
That proposal and its rationale rightly prompted an outcry from those who use the service and those who recognize its importance to the community, as well as those critical of the city’s priorities in balancing the budget. And the city listened.
While it is true that there are private transportation companies willing to whisk revelers home, there is sufficient demand to necessitate other options. Ridership may not be at optimal levels, but nearly 3,000 people had used the Buzz Bus as of early October. That is a significant number of people who needed a ride home and counted on the Buzz Bus to provide it. The alternatives could have been more costly, less timely or far worse.
Instead, the city listened to the outpouring of support for the Buzz Bus – including that which came from the service’s ostensible competitors – and found a way to restore funding. It was right to do so, and the mechanism by which it did – moving the Buzz Bus from the transit budget to the general fund – makes sense. In so doing, the city acknowledges the broader role that the Buzz Bus serves. It is transportation and much more.
By keeping the Buzz Bus in the city budget, the City Council and staff demonstrated a responsiveness to citizen input that is encouraging. It shows that a proposed budget is just that, serving as a starting place for an important dialogue that leads to revisions where appropriate. From a straight numbers perspective, the proposal to cut the Buzz Bus made sense, but the service goes far beyond the dollars and cents involved. With help from residents, business owners and Buzz Bus advocates, the city’s decision-makers saw this clearly and made appropriate accommodations. It is the best of all possible outcomes in a well-constructed process.