Tomorrow (Wednesday) evening, AC Transit will be holding another hearing on “fare changes and policies,” which mostly means fare increases, but with some policy changes that would reduce overall fares for some riders.
Why is AC Transit considering fare increases? Well, I think we all know AC Transit has been in financial trouble for quite some time, due to reduced state funding, little federal operations funding, increased gas costs, and increased health care and pension costs. But beyond that, the overall fare policies haven’t been reviewed as a whole for quite some time so staff and the Board decided to engage in this process. From AC Transit’s website:
All local and transbay cash fares were last raised in July 2009. Adult pass prices increased at the same time. The youth pass price was last changed in 2002, when it was lowered from $27 to $15. The senior/disabled pass price has remained at $20 since 2003.
During the last year, AC Transit staff, Board of Directors, and the public have been engaged in a process to develop a comprehensive Fare Policy. All aspects of AC Transit’s fare system have been under review, with the aim of making fares and pass prices more logical and equitable, and the fare-change process more rational and predictable. Hundreds of bus riders and other interested members of the public gave their input during an outreach period this February.
On March 9, the Board of Directors received a report on this input, along with staff’s recommendation that a public hearing be held to receive comments on the following proposals:
Proposed Fare Structure
• Establish the local adult cash fare as the “base fare.”
• Set monthly pass prices at 36 times the relevant cash fare for adult, youth, and senior/disabled.
• Set transbay fares at 2 times the local fare (cash and pass).
• Set discount fares (youth, senior/disabled) at 50 percent of the adult fare (cash and pass).
Proposed Schedule of Fare Increases (See table of proposed fares)
• Maintain relationships among different fare types when fares increase, keeping the fare structure understandable. Set cash prices for easy coinage.
• Establish a 10-year cycle of gradual increases, raising the base fare 25 cents every 5 years.
• Schedule increases in a 2-year/3-year cycle, with the base fare rising by 10 cents in Year 1 (for Years 1 and 2) and by 15 cents in Year 3 (for Years 3, 4 and 5), etc.
• Increase youth and senior/disabled pass prices gradually to reach alignment with the proposed 36-ride rate in Year 8.
• Retain the local adult 31-day pass price at $80 until it is aligned with the proposed 36-ride rate in Year 3.
Proposed New Fare Media
• Implement a 7-day pass priced at 10 times the cash fare for local adult, transbay adult, local youth, and local senior/disabled, available only on Clipper cards.
Proposed Transfer Change
• Consider providing free, multiple-use, and/or extended-time transfers for Clipper users. Retain 25-cent transfer charge and two-hour/one-use policy for cash riders.
Proposed EasyPass Pricing Increase
• Adjust pricing matrices for EasyPass employer, residential, and college programs by 5 percent. (See tables of current and proposed prices.)
Proposed Fare Changes for Dumbarton Express Service
Proposed Dumbarton Express fares are the same as those proposed for AC Transit. Any changes to Dumbarton Express fares would also need approval by BART, SamTrans, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and Union City Transit.
I listened to the March 9th meeting, and it was clear that many of the directors were struggling with these fare increases, especially the proposed increase to the price of youth passes. One director asked about pricing based on income, which may sound great in theory, but staff explained that AC Transit doesn’t have the systems or staff capacity to do appropriate means testing.
The directors also had questions and concerns about elasticity. They wanted to know how much ridership ACT loses as fares increase and whether, ultimately, money was saved or lost in this process. Staff responded that because most fare increases over the past couple of decades have been paired with service cuts, it’s very difficult to measure how many riders and how much fare is lost because of fare increases. Staff said that if fares are increased at a regular rate moving forward, as is proposed, it will be easier to measure elasticity and to find out how much of an impact fare increases have on ridership.
On the brighter side for riders, the directors did sound interested in changing the transfer policy. We’ll have to see what they ultimately decide on, but especially since the last couple rounds of service cuts, increasing the transfer time window and/or increasing the amount of times a transfer can be used would be a huge help to many riders.
V Smoothe wrote a great post about the changes being considered in February, and the proposals haven’t changed too much since then, so I recommend reading her blog for more analysis.
You can comment on the fare policy proposals at the hearing tomorrow, Wednesday, April 27th from 4pm-6pm in the AC Transit Boardroom, on the 2nd floor of 1600 Franklin Street in downtown Oakland. Can’t make it to the meeting? You can fill out a brief online survey until 6pm tomorrow.