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Published: Friday, 11/4/2005

Gas costs prompt proposal to raise bus fare to $1 a ride

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TARTA officials have proposed hiking the basic Toledo bus fare from 85 cents to $1 on Jan. 1 because of a near-doubling of fuel costs and rising maintenance expenses.

"Our fare is the least expensive in the state. We've held it as long as we can," James Gee, general manager of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, told the agency's board of trustees yesterday.

TARTA will hold a hearing on the fare hikes Nov. 18 beginning at noon in the Sky Bank Meeting Room at the Main Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, 325 North Michigan Ave.

If adopted during the TARTA board's next meeting Dec. 1, the fare increase would be the transit authority's first since Jan. 1, 1993.

Among riders at the Government Center bus stop in downtown Toledo yesterday afternoon, opinions were mixed.

"They should keep it [the fare] the way it is," said Dorothy Heard of North Toledo.

"The way times are right now, it's hard. For some people, this is the only way they can get to work."

"I can see where [an increase] would be needed. We could use some new buses," downtown resident Holly Janney said. Even with a higher fare, she said, "It's still a better deal than driving a car."

Senior and disability fares would rise from 40 cents to 50 cents, and Call-A-Ride would increase from 50 cents to 60 cents. Weekly passes would go from $8.50 to $10, and monthly passes would rise from $35 to $40. Commuter tokens, sold in rolls of 25, would increase from 80 cents to 90 cents each, or from $20 to $22.50 a roll.

Users of the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service, a door-to-door mini-bus service for people whose disabilities prevent them from using regular fixed-route buses, also would pay more: $2 instead of $1.50.

Diane Diefenbach, a paratransit rider from South Toledo who attended the board meeting yesterday, said she and other TARPS customers have been expecting a fare increase.

"It's really been long in coming," she said. "With fuel rising the way it has, we were kind of waiting for somebody to say, 'It's going to $2.'‚óŹ"

Mary DeStatte, a wheelchair user who is a member of the TARTA board, said she understands the financial situation, but predicted the TARPS fare increase would be especially hard on mobility impaired people who have fixed incomes.

Transit authorities in Ohio's seven other largest cities - Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Youngstown - all have base fares of $1 or $1.25, and some charge higher "zoned" fares for longer trips.

TARTA has gone hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget for both fuel and bus repairs this year, Craig Bruns, the agency's comptroller, told the trustees.

While the price of diesel this week is 34 cents a gallon lower than last week's peak of $2.61 a gallon, the transit authority was $274,489 over budget for fuel through September, Mr. Bruns said.

Maintenance costs were $229,533 over budget for the first three quarters, he said, primarily because of upkeep for 47 buses delivered 15 years ago that are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.

So far, replacements are on order for 10 of those buses, Mr. Gee said later.

The fare increase is expected to generate about $250,000 in additional annual revenue, with allowance made for some riders reducing their bus travel, Mr. Bruns said.

While that's not nearly enough to bridge the budget gap, the comptroller said, "It's hard to go up from 85 cents to something higher than $1."

Mr. Bruns said officials do not plan to restrict token sales before the fare hike to prevent hoarding, except that large sales will be denied on a case-by-case basis.

"If someone comes in and wants 1,000 tokens, we won't do that," he said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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