April 28, 2009 in City

Paratransit faces fare spike

Price of a ride may rise to $1.50 for all
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Video: Scott Malone: Arc clients and paratransit
Video: Scott Malone on paratransit
Colin Mulvany photo

Users of the Arc Community Center, 116 W. Indiana Ave., board a paratransit van last week contracted by the Spokane Transit Authority. Some people with disabilities and their advocates say an STA plan to nearly triple paratransit fares would cause hardship. Fares on regular routes would go up by less.
(Full-size photo)

Proposed STA fare increases

Click to view table.

A proposal to make paratransit bus fares equal to those paid by riders of Spokane Transit Authority’s regular bus routes is causing concern among some agencies serving people with disabilities.

The STA board is expected to vote in May on fare increases. They’d affect all buses, but the most dramatic increases would be felt by paratransit riders.

If approved, the monthly charge for paratransit would nearly triple, from $16.50 to $45, by 2012. The price of one ride would increase from 50 cents to $1.50.

STA also has proposed increasing fares for its regular, fixed-route buses from $33 to $45 for a monthly pass by 2012. The price of one ride would rise 50 cents, to $1.50, in the same period.

“STA is targeting those that can’t speak out,” said Michelle Smith, who owns River Haven Adult Family Home. She said two of the four residents at River Haven who use paratransit would probably not be able to afford the price jump.

STA leaders say the increase is meant to help balance the budget as the cost of delivering service rises as sales tax revenue declines because of the recession.

Bus fares haven’t risen since 2002.

Spokane Transit CEO Susan Meyer said it costs STA about $23 for each paratransit ride it gives, but less than $4 a ride for regular service. Factoring in monthly passes, the new price schedule aims to adjust rates so that fixed-route bus riders pay about 20 percent of the cost while paratransit users pay about 5 percent.

“I know that paratransit service is a lifeline for many of our customers. This isn’t something that we’ve taken lightly,” Meyer said. “We say, ‘How can we continue to provide good service to fixed-route bus riders and to paratransit and be a good steward of taxpayer funding?’ And this seems to be a reasonable way to do that – though not one that is without consequence.”

In Washington, Pierce Transit in Tacoma also charges paratransit riders less than riders of regular routes. Many other systems, including those serving Vancouver and the Tri-Cities, charge the same rates to all users.

Washington bans transit agencies from charging more to paratransit riders.

STA gives about 1,800 paratransit rides a day. The agency has about 70 paratransit vans and contracts with a company that provides an additional 30, Meyer said. Fixed route buses provide about 40,000 rides a day.

Lance Morehouse, director of advocacy and family support at the Arc of Spokane, said many paratransit riders depend entirely on Supplemental Security Income administered by the Social Security Administration. By the time all their bills are paid, some riders may only have about $60 a month for clothes, personal care products, bus passes and other expenses, he said.

The Arc provides services to people with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome.

“The constituents that we represent have an incredibly limited income,” said JJ Moody, an Arc volunteer. “An increase that is more dramatic is really unsustainable for the population that we’re working with.”

Morehouse said although the Arc opposes the full increase, a modest rise – perhaps from 50 to 75 cents a ride – would be acceptable, because fares haven’t risen in more than five years.

Fyrne Bemiller, a paratransit user who served on a citizens committee that proposed the increases, said the proposed change is fair. She noted that some users receive free passes from social service agencies.

“The amount of money that I have to pay is too small … for the assistance I get,” said Bemiller, who is blind.

But Debra Goodrich, who uses paratransit to get to her job, said she and many others pay for their own passes.

“I am really upset about it,” Goodrich said. “If the price goes up, everybody pretty much won’t be able to afford the passes and the prices.”

Spokane City Councilman Richard Rush, an STA board member, said he hopes all the fares remain frozen.

“To me, it’s a better business model to try to increase our ridership and market share for transportation by keeping it more affordable and (maintaining) the convenience of a $1 fare,” Rush said, referring to the fixed-route price.

But Meyer said that because only 13 percent of STA’s total budget comes from fares, Rush’s strategy would be unlikely to meet STA’s needs.

“It takes a huge increase in ridership to make an impact in total revenue,” she said.

Proposed STA fare increases

Current Rest of 2009 2010 20112012
Fixed-route ride $1$1.25 $1.25 $1.50 $1.50
Fixed-route adult monthly pass $33 $40 $40 $45 $45
Paratransit ride 50 cents 75 cents 75 cents $1.25 $1.50
Paratransit monthly pass $16.50 $25 $25 $35 $45

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at jonathanb@spoksman.com or (509) 459-5442.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email