Our Voice: Change of Ben Franklin Transit leadership should bring fresh ideas

April 17, 2014 

Dennis Solensky has been selected to lead the Ben Franklin Transit system.

He replaces Tim Fredrickson, who resigned in December.

When there is a change at the helm of a ship, it creates an excellent time for any needed course corrections. A new set of eyes almost always will see things that have been overlooked.

Here are a few of our wishes for the future of the transit system, in no particular order.

As a news organization we naturally are interested in transparency. There seems to be an ongoing push-pull between government agencies and the taxpayers who support them.

We often are caught in the middle.

Entire law firms have created successful practices around requesting and denying information from public agencies.

Transparency might seem like just the latest buzz word, but it is important and something the people of Washington demand from all their government agencies.

Also on our Ben Franklin wish list, and probably high in the minds of the board members who hired Solensky, is improving our transit system.

As a whole, our buses are underused. Ridership is high at certain peak times, but we see almost empty buses at other times. Between October 2012 and October 2013, ridership declined by 10.1 percent.

One of the most popular features of the system is Dial-a-Ride. This provides a tremendous service to its clients but at the same time can be drain on the rest of the system.

Solensky was quoted in the Tri-City Herald as saying, "As an organization, our first obligation should be to those people who have no other means of transportation."

It's an honorable goal.

May we also recommend the goal of using the transit system to reduce our community's carbon footprint? We see a lot of single passenger vehicles on the road. Wouldn't it be great if we could put more of those drivers on the bus?

Voters have said they wanted a bus system. Our transit exists at the pleasure of the public. It's useful to those who don't have other forms of transportation and to those who own cars but want to be more "green."

Already the transit system has a healthy vanpool program for workers heading in the same direction, typically Hanford. They also will help people form carpools. These are good starts, and we wonder what will come next.

Mid-Columbians have a vested interest in the transit system being a good investment for those footing the bill. Transit systems don't make money. That's not their function -- they provide a crucial service. Even so, Ben Franklin should be operating in the most efficient way possible.

Our system has about the same number of employees and buses that Solensky managed in Erie, Penn., but our budget is 40 percent higher. We are interested to see what improvements he will bring to the Mid-Columbia.

Like any system, there is always room for improvement. Now is a great time to implement some changes.

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