Frank Kobliski, executive director of Centro bus company, has announced that services will be cut and fares will be raised to make up a $5 million short-fall. He said–and did–the same thing four years ago when I wrote the following blog. It is as relevant today as it was then.
Someone calling himself zombiewalks has posted a comment on Syracuse.com saying, “Call me crazy, but 2 bucks to go anywhere? Im not sure why that is a bad thing… And this comment “I will have to decide between food and transportation,” she said.’ is crazy… People seriously can’t budget 2 dollars?”
The “2 bucks” being talked about refers to Centro bus company raising its rates. Newspaper reports state that Centro is raising its rates to $2.00, but the person choosing between food and transportation is disabled, so she’s using Centro’s paratransit service, Call-a-Bus. Call-a-Bus fares will be going from $1.50 to $2.50.
Now, as for “People seriously can’t budget 2 dollars?” let’s look at the picture. The woman who said she would have to decide between food and transportation also said she is a volunteer at ARISE. Let us suppose that she volunteers three times a week. And she goes to church once a week. And she goes grocery shopping once a week. That’s five trips a week. Currently the cost is $1.50 for a one-way ride. That’s $3.00 round-trip, times five trips, which is $15.00 a week or $64.50 a month. At $2.50 a ride that will become to $107.50 a month—an increase of $43 dollars.
Centro’s Call-a-Bus has about five thousand riders, every one of them disabled and living in Onondaga County (according to the last census there are 70,000 people in Onondaga County who have a disabling condition). Most of them are on Social Security Disability, which pays $782 a month. And transportation is about to cost $107 a month. And we’re not just talking about volunteering—which is giving back to the community—we’re talking about going to the grocery store, bank, drug store, library, the mall, your niece’s wedding and—the ultimate impossibility—going out to dinner or a movie. We are talking about disabled people who have no other means of transportation.
Aside from transportation, let’s talk about what else that $782 has to cover: rent, National Grid, groceries, phone—forget cable television and the Internet, you can’t afford them—and paying $20 a month to do the laundry. The washer and dryer each cost $1.25 and you do two loads a week. And if there isn’t a laundry in your apartment building (of course you live in an apartment; you lost your house years ago) then you have to factor in paying for Call-a-Bus to take you to do your laundry.
You have $782 a month and you now will have to budget $107 for transportation. You can’t. You will have to quit volunteering. So much for ‘seriously budgeting 2 dollars.’ And that $782 a month you’re living on this year? It was the same last year. And the year before. Social Security increases, by law, are tied to the earnings of the great middle class. If the middle class is struggling, then poor people struggle right along with them.
Now, let’s talk about Centro.
On May 17, 2009, the Post-Standard reported:
“But the number that has jumped the most in the past decade has been in the salaries of Centro’s top three executives. They have doubled.
“Since 2000, the salary of Frank Kobliski, Centro’s executive director, rose 93 percent from $79,800 to $154,128. The salary of Steven Share, Centro’s senior vice president of finance and administration, climbed 86 percent from $72,600 to $134,876.
“A third executive at Centro, John Renock, senior vice president of corporation operations, is also paid $134,876.”
Either you can pay $154,128 to one man—Frank Kobliski—or you can use the money to pay for five round-trip rides a week for 52 weeks for 118 people with disabilities.
According to the Post-Standard’s February 18, 2011, report:
“The proposal does not call for layoffs among administrative staff . . . This year, the 102 Centro administrative workers did not receive their usual cost-of-living pay increase, although longevity increases remained.”
On December 18, 2010, the Post-Standard reported:
“Those changes leave Centro still facing an estimated $4.8 million budget deficit next year. To make up the gap, more route cuts, consolidations and a possible fare hike are possible. ‘No stone is unturned,’ Frank Kobliski, Centro executive director, said at a finance committee meeting before the full board met. ‘Nothing is sacred.’ . . The administrative staff, now at 100 people, usually gets a pay raise each year. . . Centro’s current $59.9 million budget is on track to finish in the black.”
In these hard times, Kobliski added two people to the administrative staff. Instead of cutting administrative costs, he added to them.
A decade ago, Centro’s budget was $43 million; now it is $59.7 million, and the executive director can’t make ends meet. The executive director, who earns $154,000, is making up the short fall by raising rates and cutting services for people living on less than $10,000 a year.
I’ve got some suggestions.
First, fire Kobliski. His salary has gone up 93%; his budget has gone up 39%, and his administrative staff has actually increased but he still can’t make ends meet. He said, “No stone is unturned . . . nothing is sacred.” Take him at his word.
Second, every time a route is cut, a driver is laid off, or a rate is raised, cut administration. Centro is top heavy with people who talk, not people who do. Put the money into the buses and drivers on the road, not the administrators in the office.
Third, when making rate increases, pro rate them so that the poorest people suffer the least increase.