Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 14, 2013

Editorial: Suttons Bay-BATA ruling bureaucracy gone wild

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — If Suttons Bay government teachers want a real-life example of the power oft-unprincipled lobbyists have over the federal government, all they need to do is look to the parking lot before and after school.

Right now they'll see buses from the Bay Area Transportation Authority - which gets a lot of federal and state support - picking up and dropping off Suttons Bay students in what was, until recently, a successful partnership between the district and BATA.

If a ruling from the Federal Transit Administration stands, however, the BATA buses will soon be gone and Suttons Bay will be forced to find another way to shuttle students to and from school - or leave it up to parents to do the job.

In a bit of absurdity that only government could create, the Transit Administration ruled the BATA-Suttons Bay arrangement violates regulations intended to prevent unfair competition between federally funded public transit agencies and private school bus operators.

On its face, that seems understandable. It would be grossly unfair to force a private firm to compete with a public transit authority supported by taxpayer dollars - including dollars paid by the private firm.

The absurdity here is that there is no private firm to protect. When BATA started hauling Suttons Bay students in 2010, it took over from the district's own bus system. It didn't outbid some private firm or force one to the curb. There was no private competition.

But apparently that doesn't matter. Seven “flex routes” operated by BATA drew scrutiny from the National School Transportation Association, a group of private school bus manufacturers, operators and contractors. The NSTA also has a lobbying arm to influence federal lawmakers and regulatory agencies.

The group filed a complaint with the Transit Authority in April 2011; it said flex routes violate FTA regulations. The agency upheld the complaint March 8 and said BATA must discontinue the routes within 90 days, or appeal the decision.

No matter, apparently, that there is no private bus firm being denied business, or that the arrangement saved the district and taxpayers about $1 million over two years. Rules are rules and a monopoly is a monopoly, and protecting that monopoly apparently is what the Transit Authority is all about. Common sense and the general good have nothing to do with it. The Transportation Authority paid its lobbying dues and expects to get its money's worth, no matter how absurd the situation.

Michigan lawmakers need to get this mindless bit of bureaucratic overreach overturned.