New Year = New Transit Fares
Bus-dependent riders say Cap Metro favoring suburbanites
To Capital Metro officials and defenders, it's sound financial management. To advocates for the transit-dependent, it's continued neglect of their needs in favor of "choice" riders.
Last week, Capital Metro's board of directors approved changes to the transit agency's fare structure, which Cap Metro staff called a "standardization" of fares. Rather than having different fares for regular bus service, express buses, short MetroRail trips, and longer MetroRail trips, Cap Metro now has just two price points for most customers: local (regular bus and one-zone MetroRail) and regional (all-zone MetroRail and MetroExpress). Also, for the first time, seniors and people with disabilities will be charged a fare, albeit half-price.
It's those last two changes – the regional and elderly/disabled fares – that had some speakers at last week's board meeting steamed. Throughout the long saga of getting MetroRail up and running, activists for those living in poverty or with disabilities have argued that they are getting less while Cap Metro tries to lure in suburbanites, who usually have other transportation choices. The fare changes only reinforced that view – while the elderly and people with disabilities now must pony up, Red Line customers will be paying less.
"Capital Metro, with direction from the board of directors, is continuing to make responsible, sound decisions that will provide a sustainable future for public transportation in Central Texas," CEO/President Linda Watson said in a press statement. "The new fare structure will allow Capital Metro to improve its fare recovery rate and still offer some of the most affordable transit fares in the country."
She's right on that latter point – as management has often cited during the fare discussion, Cap Metro's fares are indeed low compared to other peer transit agencies. For more than two decades, ending just a couple of years ago, the agency charged 50 cents for a bus ride, and its financial critics said that Cap Metro's low "fare recovery rate" – the operating costs recouped from fares – was at least one factor in the agency's current, difficult monetary situation.
Those arguments didn't sway some wheelchair-bound riders. "The handicapped do you a favor when they take the fixed-route bus system," said Sandy Seekamp, a regular attendee at board meetings. "We as handicapped are told constantly it costs you $40 for every time we take the handicapped bus [MetroAccess, the agency's paratransit service]. If we are using the fixed rail system, we are saving the bus company a great deal of money. It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face."
"Capital Metro is discriminating against me and all people with disabilities, and especially now by charging $1.2 million [the revenue expected from the new fares, actually $1.7 million], and you're going to leave me sitting at one or two out of three bus stops that are inaccessible," said ADAPT of Texas' David Wittie, referring to the thousands of bus stops that are not wheelchair-accessible. "Every day I have problems getting on a bus. ... You should take that money, any money that you raise by increasing the revenues and raising the fares, we think you should put it back directly into increasing bus stop accessibility."
New Capital Metro Fares
(effective Jan. 16, 2011)
|MetroAccess 10-ticket booklet||$15|
|MetroAccess monthly pass||$40|
|RideShare monthly pass||$60|
|Stored-value card ($15 value)||$12|
*Reduced fares available to: seniors 65 and older, Medicare cardholders, people with disabilities with a Capital Metro ID card, students ages 6-18 with a valid school ID, active and reserve military with valid ID.