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Glass Slipper: A Reprieve for BAT 

Bend Area Transit hit some rough terrain in its early going - the worst pothole being its purchase of eight lemon buses from a slick

Bend Area Transit hit some rough terrain in its early going - the worst pothole being its purchase of eight lemon buses from a slick used-bus salesman in California.

It was a costly mistake, and it happened because BAT officials didn't exercise due diligence. But although BAT's critics - including Bend's Only Daily Newspaper - have never stopped dinging BAT and the city council for that screw-up, the fact is that BAT has turned into a pretty well-managed municipal transit system.

And it has become a vital part of the city's transportation network, not only for those (the young, the old, the poor) who don't own cars or can't use them, but increasingly for middle-class working people for whom owning, maintaining and putting gas in a car has become a serious financial burden. Since the system started, BAT has provided more than half a million rides.

In November, the voters of Bend shot down a bond issue that would have funded the continuing operations of BAT. Although it was a disappointment, the vote was hardly a surprise; with the local and national economies in the crapper, local real estate values plunging and people worried about the sheriff nailing a foreclosure notice to their door, this was not the best time to ask for a tax increase. We have to think that if the economy was still booming and/or gas still cost over $4 a gallon, the outcome might have been different.

But the vote was what it was, and the question is what to do about BAT now. To their credit, Bend's city councilors last week gave it a new - although limited - lease on life.

The councilors agreed among themselves to keep supporting BAT out of the city's general fund until it runs out of money to do that, which is predicted to happen next June. That will give people who depend on BAT some time to arrange other transportation if the system eventually goes belly-up. Just as important, it will give the city time to look at other ways to pay for the system without tapping the general fund.

One promising option is being pushed by former Bend Chamber of Commerce President Mike Schmidt, who headed the campaign for the BAT bond. Instead of going to the taxpayers directly again, Schmidt has been talking about putting a measure on the May ballot that would fund BAT through a business tax.

Whether that strategy succeeds or not, one option that should not be on the table is to simply let BAT die. It makes no sense in terms of the environment, the local economy or livability for a growing city (and it will grow again) of more than 75,000 people not to have a decent public transit system in an age of rising fuel prices (and they will rise again, trust us).

So here's a GLASS SLIPPER for the present council for keeping BAT on life support. We hope the new council will have enough vision and common sense to resuscitate it.


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