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City considering fare increases for bus system in Greensboro

by Eric Ginsburg

Both city and household budgets are strapped as the Greensboro Transit Authority considers a fare hike. (photo by Eric Ginsburg)

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After a two-year hiatus on raising bus prices, the Greensboro Transit Authority is considering an increase of roughly 15 percent across the board, both for cash fares and passes. The proposed increases would go into effect Jan. 2, 2012 after approval by city council.

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The transit authority is hosting four meetings, most recently on Aug. 11, to gauge the public’s reaction and collect its input. In addition to the numerous transit employees present at the meeting, at least a dozen people showed up. The majority of attendees were black women, and most attendees listened quietly during the information session and question and answer, though a few spoke about their concern about the proposed changes.

“Did you consider people who are living on set incomes?” one woman asked, saying she wanted them to avoid an increase, at least until the economy improves. “The cost of living is going up.”

Fares currently cover about 21 percent of the operating costs for the agency, and administrators project they can bring in an additional $210,000 annually through the hikes. The base cash fare, which rose from $1 to $1.30 in 2009, would be increased to $1.50.

Other costs are slated to increase more dramatically, including an $8 increase in the 31-day adult pass to $58 and a $13 increase in the adult super pass to $98. All prices would see an increase except for transfers, which will continue to be free.

“The system has grown since the last fare increase,” said Bruce Adams, the city’s senior transit operations planner, who facilitated the meeting. “We get a request on a daily basis for bus service.”

Part of the cost increases would help prevent possible service cuts, in part because

of the end of a grant the agency received to help cover costs. The increases would also help them meet demands for expanded route offerings, including buses running more frequently or longer on some routes.

Adams said that since the last fare increase, the transit authority has made a number of significant improvements, including expanding evening routes, introducing three hybrid vehicles, introducing two new routes and providing more regular service.

“Is there any way to get an increase from other sources?” attendee Julia Kimmel asked. “People who ride the bus usually don’t have other transportation options.”

Adams said the transit authority receives most of its money from local, state and federal sources, but only requests enough money from the city budget to maintain its current service offerings, pushing it to look elsewhere in order to expand.

“Our budget has passed but that doesn’t mean that council couldn’t consider such a request and make a change,” said Assistant City Manager Denise Turner Roth.

Kimmel is working with a number of local groups, including Transition Greensboro, to organize an event called “Moving Planet” to push people to move away from fossil fuels. She said she found out about the meeting on the transit authority’s website, and wanted to learn more and hear what other people had to say.

“These are quality of life issues,” she said after the meeting. “We need public transit that is both comprehensive and affordable, and in this economy, we need it now more than ever.”

Lelia Robertson said she came to the meeting with her son to find out what routes could be eliminated and to learn about the fare changes.

“I’m dependent on GTA,” she said after the meeting. “I ride it every day, [but] you do what you have to do.”

Robertson usually buys the 31-day disability pass, which is set to increase by $4 to $29. She said the increase won’t be too bad, but that she is on a fixed income and is currently unemployed.

Attendees had a number of suggestions and questions, almost all of which revolved around opposition to fare increases or advocating smaller changes. One man said he always thought it was unfair that students were charged more than seniors, and said he would be willing to pay more money for the bus so students could pay less.

The base student fare would rise 15 cents to $1 while the senior fare would go up 10 cents to a 75-cent base.

When fare increases go into effect nationwide, the industry standard is a four percent drop in ridership. A transit spokesperson said that Greensboro has not seen ridership fall that significantly in the past, and that a 4 percent decline would be the worst case scenario with the proposed changes. Exact numbers of the number of anticipated lost ridership were unavailable.

After holding two more public meetings on Sept. 12 and 21 and an initial presentation to council later this month, the city council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed new fare structure on Oct. 25, when they might vote on whether to approve the changes.

Transit administrators will still have time to modify the fare structure changes after the four public hearings before submitting the plan to council for approval, Adams said, and public comments would be noted so they could be shared with the entire board.

The task force working on the changes includes a number of board members and the board chair, some of whom were present, a city councilmember and a few rider representatives.

The Greensboro Transit Authority will hold public hearings on possible fare increases on Sept. 12 at 5:30 p.m. and Sept. 21 at noon at J. Douglas Galyon Depot’s West Concourse (next to Amtrak).

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