A possible bus fare increase was the subject of lengthy discussion at the April 27 City Council meeting.
Stephanie Negriff, director for the Big Blue Bus, went over the reasons for a fare restructure: to prevent service cuts, reduce funding gaps, and bring fares in line with those of other bus services in the area. Sources of funding, including Transportation Development Act (state funds) and Prop A (Metro) funds are “in decline.” There has been a loss of approximately $3-6 million to the Big Blue Bus annually.
“Clearly this is an issue facing not only the Big Blue Bus but all operations in the state,” said Negriff. Other systems, she added, are reducing service, raising fares, or both.
BBB has not raised regular fares since fiscal year 2003, when “there was a deflection in ridership. [But] ridership tends to recover after fare increases.” Negriff said that bus riders who really need to ride the bus (students who need to attend classes, working people, seniors) will continue to ride no matter how much fares go up.
Negriff also observed that senior fares (25 cents) have not been increased in 25 years, while student fares were raised once, in 2007.
A PowerPoint chart compared proposed BBB increases to those proposed by Metro. BBB regular fares and student fares would be $1.25 as opposed to Metro’s $1.50, while senior/Medicare/disabled fares would be 60 cents to Metro’s 55 cents. A 30-day pass would also be available, along with a day pass good on all lines.
This recommended fare structure will increase fare revenue by $2.5 million in fiscal year 2010-11 and $3.4 million per year beginning in fiscal year 2011-12.
Negriff mentioned structural deficit mitigations that BBB may use, including new advertising revenues, legislative recovery of state funds, new articulated buses that will carry more passengers at similar operating costs, and as a last resort only, reductions in service.
Kevin McKeown suggested that developers could contribute for transit subsidies as part of their development agreements for new low-cost and senior housing.
Terry O’Day said he didn’t get “ a good picture of the deficit,” which seemed to him to have one main” dip” in 2010, with improvement after that.
Negriff explained that BBB is getting some increase in discretionary monies because of a formula applying to all the transit systems, under which BBB gets a “slightly bigger piece of the pie.”
Robert Holbrook was concerned with the raise to senior fares because many seniors on limited incomes will not be able to afford them.
Public comment ran to bus riders urging the Council to not raise fares. “It’s up to the City Council to protect the civic amenities that make Santa Monica special,” said Chuck Levin. “Don’t follow L.A.-don’t follow the MTA.”
Some who signed up for public comment had already left due to their buses no longer running at the late hour.
The Council mulled its options, but no one felt like voting on the proposed increases. Most members wanted more information from staff on funding alternatives and consequences of not acting on revenue relief immediately. Negriff cautioned that a delay will mean inevitable service reductions while City Manager Rod Gould noted that the City will lose 2.5 million per year in revenue if the issue is not resolved soon.
With no clear course for acting, the Council agreed to continue the item to May 11, at which time staff may be remanded to present a more detailed report outlining possible solutions.
Mirror Contributing Writerlynne@smmirror.com