The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2008-08-08/658291/

Committee Approves Bus Fare Hike

By Justin Ward, August 8, 2008, News

It looks like seniors and those with disabilities may be the only ones spared by Capital Metro's proposed fare increase, which is slated to take effect as early as October. The Local Government Approval Committee, a grab-bag assortment of city and county officials from Cap Metro's service area, voted 6-4 Monday to approve the proposal, with the caveat that fares remain free for those with senior and disability fare cards. Under the proposal, Cap Metro will phase in an increase of the base fare from its current rate of 50 cents to $1 by 2010, and prices for monthly passes and paratransit ride booklets (regarding services for the elderly and disabled) will be adjusted accordingly.

The council committee, which, according to state law, must approve any fare increase, reached its decision after hearing more than two hours of testimony from the riders who will be hardest hit by the fare increase: the disabled, seniors, the homeless, and the working poor. Many at the meeting spoke of living on a fixed income and relying exclusively on mass transit to get around. Susana Almanza of PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources) summed it up: "These are not choice riders."

Cap Metro is framing the debate as a choice between reduced service and increased fares. According to Cap Metro, an increase is needed to keep the agency sustainable in the face of ever-growing fuel and labor costs. But opponents of the proposal said the amount of revenue raised is marginal when compared to the impact it would have on those most dependent on mass transit. Currently, more than 75% of the agency's revenue comes from sales tax, while fares account for $6.7 million out of $202.7 million in total revenue. The agency is projecting that the fare hike will bring that number up to $11.4 million.

There were a few dissenters at the meeting who spoke in favor of the increase, including Glenn Gadbois of the Alliance for Public Transportation, who said, "We cannot continue to starve the system of money if we expect it to grow."*

Some speakers argued that if riders are expected to pay more, they should be getting more service in return. The fare increase comes just as Cap Metro is implementing cutbacks to services for the disabled and route adjustments as part of a belt-tightening in anticipation of commuter rail's debut. Jennifer McPhail of ADAPT of Texas noted that Cap Metro's own study concluded that two-thirds of its bus stops are inaccessible to the disabled. In response to the argument that Cap Metro's fares are lower than those in peer cities nationwide, McPhail said, "When you provide equivalent service, you can charge equivalent fees."

Representatives from nonprofits that assist the homeless and disadvantaged say Cap Metro is passing the buck on to them. The agency's plan for providing transportation for the working poor consists of selling monthly passes at half-price to nonprofits, who in turn provide them for free to the homeless. Richard Troxell, president of House the Homeless, said his agency can no longer afford to provide free passes.

Before the final vote, Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken failed to push a motion through to increase fares for Express and MetroRail in order to offset the cost of exempting seniors and the disabled from the fare increase, which is expected to lose the agency $1.2 million in extra revenue. "Capital Metro is dangerously close to going in the red," McCracken remarked, snickers and hisses from the crowd ensuing.

The proposal will go back to the Cap Metro board for final approval on Aug. 27. Pending approval, fares will be increased to 75 cents by the end of the year and be raised again to a dollar in 2010.


For the complete list of proposed Cap Metro fares, see www.capmetro.org/fares.asp.


*[Editor's Note: The original version of this article mistakenly reported that Capital Metro's 2008 budget projects a profit of "more than $30 million," when in fact, according to Cap Metro spokesman Adam Shaivitz, that number ($33.5 million, to be exact) represents Cap Metro's projected net income, prior to capital expenses – not profit. The Chronicle regrets the error.]

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