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Published: 12/15/2008

TARTA fares unlikely to fall with fuel price

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Like gasoline, the cost of diesel fuel is coming down from its summertime peak of more than $4 a gallon.

But don't expect a corresponding break on fare prices from the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority anytime soon.

"We are not planning to change our fare structure. We're still trying to recover from the prices over the summer," James Gee, TARTA general manager, said last week. "And our contacts in the petroleum industry are telling us that this is very likely a short-term drop in price."

That's unwelcome news for Antoine Madden, a West Toledo resident who says elimination of 10-cent transfers on Sept. 1 have made his trips across

town considerably more expensive.

"That's $4 to go anywhere, and that's a lot of money," Mr. Madden said.

Such round trips used to cost most riders $2.20. With

transfers no longer sold, any trip involving a bus connection requires passengers to pay a fare each time they board a bus.

TARTA's standard fare is $1. Seniors and disabled people can ride for 50 cents a trip. Children under 6 who are accompanied can ride for free.

Transit authority trustees voted 8-3 on Aug. 7 to approve the revised fare structure, which also eliminated the

special 60-cent fare for

Call-A-Ride routes in favor of collecting standard fares on all buses.

During the three months before that vote, TARTA had paid more than $3.89 per gallon, on average, for diesel fuel, with the monthly average peaking at $4.05 for July.

The transit authority's average fuel price for all of 2007 had been $2.32 per gallon, while as recently as 2002 it was just 84.1 cents per gallon.

Since the July peak, diesel prices have fallen considerably, though not as fast or as far as gasoline prices.

The transit authority's average price in November was $2.105 per gallon, and that's lower than most diesel users paid because TARTA is tax-exempt. The transit authority's most recent price quote, Mr. Gee said, was $1.69 per gallon.

Through October, the transit authority had overspent its more than $3 million fuel budget by $354,756, with fuel costs for the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service running an additional $34,538 over budget.

Eight days before the fare changes, the transit authority also cut or revised service on 23 routes to reduce its operating costs by about $1 million.

TARTA officials had no estimate in August of how much additional revenue the fare changes might produce, because they predicted many frequent riders whose trips involve transfers would opt to buy monthly or weekly passes instead.

That prediction was accurate. Sales of $40 monthly passes, which had increased much more modestly in August, nearly doubled in September and October compared with the same months in 2007.

Weekly-pass sales growth was smaller. In October, $10 weekly-pass sales increased to 2,369 for the month, from 2,011 in 2007.

Mr. Madden said he can't always afford a weekly pass because he lives on a fixed income.

"I just don't have the cash sometimes," he said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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