Tuesday, May 21, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Consultant recommends fare hikes for most Capital Metro bus routes

If Cap Metro riders ever secretly thought that nice, simple, round $1 fare was insanely reasonable, perhaps they were right all along. And the relatively cheap ride may be just about up. If the Capital Metro Transportation Authority follows the advice of the Texas transportation consultant it contracted to analyze and make recommendations on future bus fare structure, riders will be hit with a 25-cent fare hike in 2015.

“Our region has serious growing pains, and we need continued investment in mobility to keep the quality in our quality of life,” said Capital Metro President/CEO Linda S. Watson. “We’ve improved nearly every aspect of our business so that Capital Metro is in a position to lead the charge to keep our region moving, but we need a modern fare structure if we are going to be a modern transit agency.”

The proposed restructure would happen through a 4-phase process over the next 2.5 years and could mean a $4 million annual revenue increase for Cap Metro.

“If you don’t change your fares, you’re losing purchasing power,” admonished Nancy Edmonson, transportation expert, at the podium at the board of directors meeting Monday morning at CapMetro headquarters. Cap Metro riders, according to Edmonson, pay much less than some of their peers in other Texas cities to ride public transportation.

Currently, San Antonio and Houston bus riders pay among the lowest bus fares at $1.10 and $1.25 respectively. Dallas riders pay some of the highest rates at $2.50 per ride.

Under the proposed fare restructure, in addition to the single ride fare going up a quarter, a day pass, which is currently $2, would go up to $2.50. A 7-day pass, currently $9, would go up to $11.25. And a 31 day pass, which right now riders pay $33 for, would go up more than $8 to $41.25.

“Two years from now, $1.25 will probably be the lowest in the peer group,” Edmonson said, suggesting that Cap Metro set policy now for future fare increases beyond 2015. “Cap Metro has some breathing room because your base fares are already so low. Prepare people for the fact that fares have to go up regularly just to keep up with inflation.”

In a breakdown of the bus service’s fare history, Edmonson said riders paid 50 cents from 1985 to 2008 except for a free fare experiment in 1990. “There have really been no other changes since the inception of the agency,” she said, insisting that if Cap Metro wants to keep up with inflation, now is the time to institute a fare hike.

In 2012, revenue from fares covered 13 percent of Cap Metro’s cost to provide transit service. But, upping the cost to cash customers alone won’t be enough to help Cap Metro achieve its goal of a 20 percent fare recovery.

The consultant also recommended a revamp of the Rideshare program, eliminating free local passes currently provided to participants and establishing rates based on trip mileage and participation rather than a flat rate.

She also suggests a renegotiation of retail outlet contracts, implementing a solution for dealing with UT students who ride for free on expired school identifications, and restructuring an enforceable employee discount schedule for employees that would create a 20 percent discount for non-profit workers, a 15 percent discount for colleges and governments and a 10 percent discount for corporations.

Another proposed change is adding a premium fare for use on MetroRapid and Flyer service on routes numbered 100-199.

In what riders may view as a bright side to this news, Cap Metro has plans to make it easier for customers to pay with a new mobile ticketing app set to debut in time for the 2014 launch of MetroRapid. Today, the Cap Metro board approved a contract with Bytemark, Inc., to develop, host and maintain the mobile ticketing app.

Officials say nothing will change in the immediate future; Cap Metro has until September to consider recommendations and make a decision before finalizing its 2014 budget. In the meantime, Cap Metro will be asking for public input and feedback regarding the proposed fare hike.

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