Fares may increase for Valley Metro bus, LINK, light rail service - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Fares may increase for Valley Metro bus, LINK, light rail service

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Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2012 2:33 pm

Valley Metro may increase fares valley-wide for bus, LINK and light rail in the spring as an attempt to preserve current service levels, Valley Metro officials said. The proposed increases are predicted to generate an additional $6.5 million in revenue for Valley Metro, which would fund about 3.2 percent of service.

Valley Metro pays for its service costs through sales taxes and rider spending, but the costs of labor, maintenance and fuel have risen and revenue from taxes fell short of predictions, said Valley Metro spokesperson Susan Tierney. People shopped less from 2008 to 2011, and now, the organization is having difficulty making ends meet, she said.

“With the downturn in the economy, we haven’t been able to collect the sales taxes we projected,” Tierney said. “We have to look at increasing the fare or decreasing service.”

If approved, fares would increase 25 cents for single rides, 50 cents for day passes, $9 for 31-day local passes and $11 for express passes. Valley Metro is also considering a 15-day pass to replace the three-day pass and a one-way flat fare of $4 for Rural Route and Dial-A-Ride services. Costs for Arizona State University U-passes and employer-provided Platinum Passes could also go up as the costs would go up for those organizations.

The cost of service increases like inflation, and fares have not gone up since 2009, Tierney said. However, Valley Metro is also looking for ways to save money internally, she said. If the fare increases are approved, service levels would not go up, but current service would be maintained.

At Valley Metro’s public hearing to discuss the proposal with passengers on Nov.1, few said they minded paying more, but all demanded better service.

Agnus Cooper, a regular bus rider, said that the proposed fare increases seemed “fairly reasonable,” but that Valley Metro needs to ensure passengers they will have a greater benefit if they pay more.

“Regardless of what amount in increase there is going to be, I am more interested in the service,” Cooper said. “The current service is abusive.”

Shelley MacDonald said she would support a fare increase if Valley Metro were to bring back her bus route, which was cut in July 2012. She used to be able to take a bus directly to the Phoenix transit center from the Sunnyslope area, but now she has to transfer buses twice and only has a minute for one of the transfers, which she misses often because the buses tend to run late. She missed the transfer once when it was 116 degrees outside and walked more than 10 miles to avoid standing out in the heat, MacDonald said.

Tom O’Brien is a senior living in Glendale and uses a wheelchair. Even with a fare increase, taking the bus is still less expensive than driving a car, but Valley Metro’s limited service makes daily tasks inconvenient and time consuming, O’Brien said. He has to travel about a mile from the bus stop to get to the closest grocery store, and sometimes worries about running out of charge on his wheelchair battery or missing the last night bus home.

“There are a lot of things I would like to go to that I can’t go to,” O’Brien said.

In 2011, Valley Metro proposed a blanket 25-cent increase to all transit services, but decided that the increase would force some passengers to pay a larger amount of the service costs than others. This year, the greatest concern among passengers is that increasing fares for the elderly and disabled would force those on fixed incomes to limit their current spending in other areas.

Jim Jackson lives on monthly Social Security Income and budgets his money very carefully, he said. After paying all of his bills and buying a bus pass, he only has a couple hundred dollars left over for food. Fare increases for those on fixed incomes should coordinate with the increases to the amounts paid by the government, Jackson said.

“Social Security hasn’t gone up in a while,” he said.

S.L. Ramos is a senior and does not want to limit his bus rides to make up for the added $300 in cost he would have to pay each year if the fares were to increase.

“It decreases the quality of living for seniors who want to go to both church and the movies without paying more,” Ramos said.

However, Ramos might be a bit more willing to juggle a higher cost if Valley Metro were to add more early morning and late night routes, allowing him to go out more often without worrying about the possibility of missing the last bus and having to call a cab.

Other passengers pointed to areas where Valley Metro could cut spending, such as on the light rail and on covered parking spots in the park and ride lots, as well as misguided attempts to make Valley transportation look like a deal.

“We were supposed to fix the bus system before we even put in the light rail,” said Diane Barker, an advocate for public transit.

Light rail projects are taking away from needed spending on the buses, and light rail riders aren’t sharing equally in service costs because getting on the light rail without paying is too easy, Barker said.

Valley Metro compares its transportation with that of other cities, but its demographics and priorities don’t match up, said William Crowley. The peer cities of Dallas, San Jose, Calif., Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Portland, Ore., San Diego and Sacramento, Calif., which Valley Metro compared its fares to are all smaller in population, offer service at more hours and have bigger discounts for seniors and disabled passengers, Crowley said.

Valley Metro mostly looked at cities with similar transportation systems and very loosely used demographics to determine which cities to compare its service prices to, said Scott Miller, the senior transportation planner at HDR engineering, which contracts with Valley Metro. When determining peer cities, less established, Western cities were also used, Miller said.

For the next month, the organization will review its findings, and in December, the Valley Metro Board and Phoenix City Council will decide whether to implement the new fares, which would go into effect March 1, 2013.

• Michelle Peirano is a senior studying print and multimedia journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or tribintern@evtrib.com.

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