Most fares on the Bus Line Service of Turlock will increase by about $.25 per ride, in an effort to meet state-mandated fare collection rates after a vote by the Turlock City Council Tuesday night.
Effective March 1, an average, one-way regular fare will increase from $1.25 to $1.50, while an all-day pass will increase $.50 from $3 to $3.50. Senior and disabled passes will rise $.15 to $.75, with senior and disabled all-day passes going up $.25 to $1.75. Monthly passes will increase $5 to $50 for general customers, $2.50 to $25 for seniors, and will remain flat for students.
“It's not a huge increase,” said Roger Fall, retiring Turlock transportation manager. “If our current trend remains the same we should be able to make our farebox ratio fairly easily.”
The vast majority of Turlock’s funding to operate BLAST comes from the state and federal governments. Currently, the two sources combine to fund about 90 percent of BLAST’s operation costs, as revenues from fares only pay about 10 percent of Turlock’s costs.
But, in order to continue receiving funding, the state and federal governments require Turlock to recoup 15 percent of total costs from farebox revenues. Turlock had an exemption from meeting that 15 percent requirement last year, but if BLAST fails to recoup 15 percent of costs in the current fiscal year – about $124,000, total – the state would withhold fees equivalent to the amount Turlock fell short by in the 2012-2013 year.
"It's not our intent to go there," Fall said.
The need to meet fare box ratios has driven past BLAST changes, including a drastic shift in 2007 which saw rates double and routes change. Those changes, coupled with the economic downturn, caused a 30 percent decrease in ridership and a subsequent decline in farebox revenues.
More recently, BLAST negotiated a reduction in farebox recovery percentage – from 20 percent to 15 percent – with the Stanislaus County Council of Governments, cut service hours by one hour and 15 minutes on Saturdays, reduced the fleet to cut maintenance costs, reduced staff to one full-time position, and emphasized the use of natural gas vehicles to save money on gasoline.
BLAST is attempting to increase fare revenues in other ways, as well. Drivers are strictly enforcing fare payments, BLAST is engaging in low-cost marketing efforts and reaching out to senior groups and service clubs, and the bus line participated in the Christmas parade for the first time this year.
But still a fare increase is necessary to meet that 15 percent figure, Fall said. Such fare increases are becoming common around the county, he said, with Ceres raising rates to $2 per ride. The county is investigating a fee hike, and the Riverbank Oakdale Transit Authority is also examining a fare increase.
“This isn't unusual,” Fall said. “It's something that, quite honestly, we need to do.”
No members of the public were present to speak against the fare increase at Tuesday’s Turlock City Council meeting. Fall said that, of five attendees at a previous public workshop on the issue, none had concerns with the proposed fare increase.
Some concerns were levied, however, against the current route BLAST follows. An upcoming survey, to be conducted with the aid of California State University, Stanislaus, will help guide route reform to better match riders’ wants.
“I've been a big proponent of the survey, and I hope we can actually find out what the riders want and if we're going to the right places,” said Councilwoman Mary Jackson.
Jackson also proposed increasing service to the university, offering a shuttle from campus to Monte Vista Crossings.
Both Jackson and Vice Mayor Amy Bublak asked whether reducing fees to 2007 levels – about $.75 for an average ride – would increase ridership and help Turlock meet its farebox ratios. Fall said such a move doesn’t appear to pencil out.
“We could do it,” Fall said. “I'd be really hesitant to say you'd make your fare box.”
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