The Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors today approved an agreement between the agency and the city of Irvine for 30 years of funding for the Irvine Shuttle, a city bus system that links the Tustin Metrolink train station with the Irvine Business Complex.
The agreement is possible because of a funding swap between OCTA and the city involving Proposition 116, a statewide initiative that funds rail-line construction and improvements — but not local transit systems like the shuttle bus. In 1990 the city obtained $125 million in funding through the initiative, but left most of the money unspent, according to a staff report.
With $121 million left over and facing the prospect of losing the money because of a 2010 deadline, the city agreed to transfer the funds to OCTA in exchange for matching Measure M2 money in the future. Measure M2 is the countywide half-cent sales that goes toward funding public transit programs.
However, instead of relying just on Measure M2 money, the approved agreement has OCTA choosing from different pots of money each year, said Director of Strategic Planning Kurt Brotcke. Board members were “looking for flexibility” when it decided to broaden the allowable sources of funding, Brotckey said.
The city will receive the funding over 30 years and is slated to receive its first allocation of $770,000 for fiscal year 2010-11. Funding will increase to $2.4 million for fiscal year 2011-12, the first full year of funding, and will escalate 3.3 percent each year for the rest of the agreement term, according to a staff report.
The agreement would free up much of the city’s general fund money used annually to operate and maintain the shuttle. However, the city will still pay 10 percent of the shuttle’s operating costs.
“I think we can believe that there will be a greater city match in the future, but at least they [Irvine] have some skin in the game right now,” said OCTA Director Bill Campbell, who is also a county supervisor.
Funding from the agreement would also go to a planned expansion of the shuttle to include a route that would connect to the Irvine Spectrum, a popular shopping destination. The expansion could come as early as spring next year, according to Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang.
The Irvine Shuttle has, in the past, come under fire by critics for low ridership. City leaders have touted it as part of an eco-friendly mass transit vision that would reduce the need for city residents to drive their cars. Others, however, have called it a waste of city dollars.
There was also a snag in negotiations over the agreement. Some board members were afraid of giving the city special treatment and “setting a precedent” because of an allowance to fund operations and maintenance, Kang said.
“It took me a long time to convince the board members,” Kang said.
However, board members were clearly supportive today. The directors hailed the city for the “clever” deal, saying the city was showing leadership with its acquiring of the funds and its public transit policies.
“Let’s just be blunt about it; the city of Irvine — because they were aggressive — brought $125 million into the county that wouldn’t have been there,” said Director Curt Pringle, who is also Anaheim’s outgoing mayor.
Kang, who played a key role in hammering out the agreement, said it was a “special day.”
“As Mayor Pringle said — we kept the money in Orange County,” Kang said.
The City Council is expected to vote on the agreement tomorrow night.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Measure M2 is only a tax on gas. Also, Kurt Brotcke’s name was misspelled.
— ADAM ELMAHREK