There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Monday, June 22, 2009

Squawks and tweets

Sacramento Regional Transit's board of directors tinkered around the edges of a staff-proposed solution to the district's budget mess, but in the end accepted that fares had to be increased and services reduced. Only directors Roger Dickinson and Steve Cohn balked.

In September, the basic fare will increase from $2.25 to $2.50 and the discount fare paid by students and seniors from $1.10 to $1.25. Gone will be the central city fare, the shuttle service fare and the discount shuttle service fare. Basically, there will be just two fares -- full and discount -- and you'll have to pay that fare each time you board a bus or light rail train. The 50 cent transfer fee (25 cents for students and seniors) will be no more.

The result of these changes could have the odd of effect of increasing ridership, or at least increasing the number of trips by the riders who don't just get back into their personal autos. That's because the daily pass, which will remain at its current $6, will become an instant bargain for anyone making a roundtrip that requires a transfer. Forced to buy a daily pass, you may decide to take advantage of the "free" ride for the rest of the day.

Where the board balked at the staff's proposal was on the topic of limiting Paratransit monthly passes and taking back the lifetime free ride granted to people over 75 years old.

The staff proposed both increasing the Paratransit monthly pass from $100 to $125 and limiting the number of rides that could be taken in the month to just 15 roundtrips. Nearly all of the people who came to address the board during the public hearing were concerned with Paratransit, and the biggest complaint was the limit on the number of rides that could be taken.

Early on in the hearing, the board members indicated it was unlikely they would go along with staff on that idea, or with the idea of taking away the "lifetime" free rides the district had granted to seniors over 75 years old, but the staff had made it clear that any change in the fare proposal had to be covered by reduction in service worth the same amount of money.

That led to some old-fashioned horse trading. Director Bonnie Pannell wanted to save weekend service for her district's No. 54 and 65 lines by instead cutting the No. 63 route in half. The 63 will now connect with light rail, and riders who used to ride the 63 to City College will take the train instead.

In order to protect existing "lifetime" riders, the board dedicated the remainder of the savings from the No. 63, cut the No. 83 from half-hour to hourly service and threw in the potential revenue from an as-yet-to-be-approved parking fee at Watt/I-80, Watt West and Roseville Road.

The idea of dumping the staff's proposal to limit use of Paratransit monthly passes proved easier to deal with when the staff admitted that the 30-ride limit didn't have an associated cash savings value. Therefore, nothing had to be cut to cover the change.

This is not the last that will be heard on this topic. In late July, the staff will be back with a second round of service cuts. The question of how much will depend on whether the budget outlook improves. One possible source of funding may come from the Iraq War funding bill. That bill, oddly enough, includes a provision that would allow transit districts to use as much as 10 percent of their stimulus funds (RT will receive $14 million) for operating expenses. General Manager Mike Wiley said that if the president signs the bill, the money could be a significant help.

Below is my Twitter reporting from the meeting.


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