Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Public chimes in on MTD rate hike

BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

Local transit officials heard from the public on a proposed increase in bus fares yesterday evening during the first of two open meetings before a decision is made.
Faced with rising fuel costs and a struggling economy, leaders with the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) estimate that at least $1.5 million is needed to keep the agency on level ground for the next few years.

Other than lifting rates, officials said there are few options other than cutting services.
“Obviously when you are a transit operation, there’s only so much you can do,” Jerry Estrada, MTD’s assistant general manager, said in reference to fuel costs that have jumped nearly $1 million in one year.
Diesel fuel is the second-largest expense for the transit operation and is expected to cost $2.8 million this year.
But while those who spoke to the MTD board yesterday evening said they recognize the agency is struggling with its budget, they are concerned about any steep increases that could put the financial squeeze on low-income residents who rely on the bus for transportation.
“We understand you are in a deficit, but we believe there are different ways to find revenues,” said Belen Seara, executive director of the local nonprofit economic and environmental justice organization PUEBLO.
Seara translated for one Spanish-speaking woman who said she uses the bus frequently and couldn’t handle the increases proposed yesterday as examples to spark discussion.
“I get the monthly pass for $18 and I can’t see myself being able to pay $27 a month for the pass,” she said. “That would be a huge increase for me.”
Several speakers echoed those concerns, urging the board to be sensitive toward those who take advantage of a discounted 10-ride pass or 30-day pass.
Dave Davis, a member of the board, said he would rather not raise rates for transit-dependent residents, but said cutting service is the only other viable option.
“If we’re going to be over $1 million short, where are we going to find that money?” he asked.
Some speakers, including Seara and UCSB professor of sociology Dr. Howard Winant, suggested looking at changes to the city’s downtown parking rates.
Dr. Winant said he’s familiar with a study that showed the city could raise $1 million by dropping the 75-minute free parking to 60 minutes — funds that could be redirected to help MTD’s wallet.
“It’s the only thing the city can do to keep from regressively distributing the cost of running what is in my opinion the most fantastic public transit operation in the state,” he said.
Others pressed the board to eliminate diesel costs altogether by moving to alternative fuel sources.
Jim Hudson, a former MTD mechanic who now produces his own fuel with a small group of local residents known as the Santa Barbara Biodiesel Co-op, said the agency should look at biodiesel as a viable option.
Davis agreed, calling the use of fuels made from plant oils a “great concept.”
“The real goal should be heading in that direction,” Davis said.
However, he added, changing out the entire fleet would take 10 to 15 years at a minimum, not to mention the cost of generating enough biodiesel to run all the buses.
Estrada noted MTD currently has the largest fleet of battery-electric buses in North America with 20, in addition to eight hybrid diesel-electric buses.
Ultimately, the board started tinkering the bus fare structure and examining how the payoff calculates out with each adjustment.
After several variations, transit leaders settled on a structure to bring back to a public hearing on Sept. 8 that includes an increase in standard adult cash fares to $2. Senior and disabled passengers would pay a cash fare of $1 under the model, which officials stressed is not set in stone.
Prices for a 10-ride pass would go up to $11 from $10 under the proposed structure. A 30-day pass would cost $52, with senior and disabled passengers paying $20.
With that setup, the agency would reach its goal of raising $1.5 million, based on a series of underlying assumptions about how passengers would respond to the increases.
The board will meet again on Sept. 8 at 5:30 p.m. in the MTD boardroom at 550 Olive St., where they will hear another round of public comment before moving toward a decision on the fare structure.
Comments on the proposed changes can also be made at www.sbmtd.gov or by calling 963-3364.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seems like like things were hunky dory according to MTD's report in the Daily Sound on March 31, 2008, ridership was up, things were "on-track", so what happened?? Don't try and balance your budget on the backs of those of us who commute. How about eliminating free parking downtown? Santa Barbara is one of the few big cities that I have beeen in that offers free parking. Time to feed the meter!@

free buses for everyone said...

Santa Barbara will eliminate free car parking when Goleta and Carpinteria do the same at all their pay lots.