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Council votes to reduce transit fares
Turlock and county residents can ride for free on all fixed-route and commuter buses during the month of December.

The Turlock City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution which will reduce transit fares ahead of a scheduled rate increase, benefitting a wide range of bus riders from students to seniors. 

In February 2020, Council approved a Short-Range Transit Plan with recommended service changes and a revised passenger fare structure resolution for both the fixed bus route and Dial-a-Ride. These fare increases were recommended by City staff despite concerns about their impact on ridership due to a state-mandated Fare Recovery Ratio, which required transit to generate a fixed percentage of its operating costs in revenue. 

For the fixed bus route this percentage was 20%, and for Dial-a-Ride it was 10%. 

These fare increases were delayed when bus fares were waived due to COVID-19 in April 2020. As the City and other regional transit partners prepared to resume fare collection in October 2020, Council decided to reduce the newly-adopted fares through June 30 of this year and then extended the reductions further through Sept. 30. 

The reductions were further extended so that City staff could examine the ramifications of Assembly Bill 149, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 16 and greatly reduces the strain of fare recoveries on transit agencies.

“The most significant change for Turlock is that we can use our federal transit grant funds as local revenue for the purpose of meeting our fare recovery standards,” Transit Manager Wayne York told the Council on Tuesday. “It’s been a huge controlling factor — no more. The City is now free to establish fare policies, service levels and even offer new services without worrying about penalties for meeting an arbitrary percentage.”

York added that the new legislation would have a positive impact on the City’s ability to deliver transit services to the community.

“As your transit manager, it’s difficult to overstate how important and significant this change is for us,” York said. “It’s critically needed, it’s decades overdue and it’s going to allow us to do some exciting things moving forward, including what we’re proposing tonight.”

Instead of implementing fare increases and service reductions in an effort to achieve an arbitrary FRR standard, both of which hurt ridership, the City can now allocate resources to programs and projects that build ridership based on local needs. The City can also consider, for the first time in many years, hiring additional staff to support the large workload of the Transit Division, helping deliver on programmed projects, improve compliance and oversight with federal and state requirements, and support succession planning efforts. 

Thanks to this legislative change, the Council voted to adopt a new fare structure which will not feature increases, waives fares for children 18 and under (thus eliminating the need for student passes), eliminates single trip passes by reducing all-day passes to a more affordable level and provides significant Dial-a-Ride reductions for ADA passengers and seniors. York hopes that the free fare for children will decrease transit stigma by encouraging riders to start at a younger age.  

Now, rather than the increased fare of $4, all-day passes will cost $2 and $1 for the discounted rate. A 31-day will cost $30 instead of $60 with the discounted rate at $15 instead of $30. 

For Dial-a-Ride and ADA Paratransit riders, rides in Zone 1 for seniors and ADA riders will be $1 while rides in Zones 2 & 3 for the general public will be $2.50. For students in grades K-6 going to and from school, the fare will be $2.50. Dial-a-Ride will also provide free transit to and from COVID vaccination sites. 

Councilmember Nicole Larson asked York if Stanislaus State students would still be able to ride Turlock Transit for free – a partnership which ended when the university campus closed. According to York, conversations are ongoing with the Stanislaus Regional Transit Authority for a partnership which will allow college students to ride transit throughout the county for free. 

The new, revised fare structure will go into effect Oct. 1 instead of the rate increases which were previously scheduled to take place. According to York, Turlock is the first in Stanislaus County to reduce its transit rates.