Riders told the East Bay bus agency's directors Wednesday evening what they thought of proposals to raise fares by
25 cents, to a base fare of $2.
"We know that every time we raise fares, we lose riders," said board member Greg Harper, who represents Emeryville and parts of Oakland and Berkeley. A substantial drop in riders could even negate the increase in revenue the fare hike was supposed to generate, he added.
"I'm not going to vote for another increase in fares until we get a good grasp of ridership," said Harper, who was appointed by board President Chris Peeples to analyze ridership data the board asked AC Transit staff to provide.
While such data have been difficult to come by in the past, Peeples said that new devices in many buses can now count riders.
Rider advocates at the meeting noted that they had just been informed about the proposals in the previous day or so, and so had little time to respond to them.
"This is going to have incredible impact on riders, especially youth," said Lindsay Imai, Transportation and Housing Program associate from the Oakland-based nonprofit Urban Habitat Program. She encouraged the board to "really look at funding beyond the farebox" before advancing any fare increase proposals.
Fears of losing subsidies to pending mid-year budget cuts and an austere state budget for next year have prompted AC Transit staff to recommend four fare increase scenarios, three of which would raise the base fare to $2 and one of which would tie fares to inflation using the Consumer Price Index.
The earliest the increases would go into effect would be July 1, the start of the 2008-09 fiscal year, but with the board's delay a required public hearing likely would not be held before May.
The staff has projected a $5 million shortfall in the agency's proposed $300 million budget for the coming fiscal year. Even the most modest of the proposals keeping senior and youth fares the same and making now-25-cent transfers free would raise $4.5 million, while across-the-board increases could add $9 million to AC Transit coffers.
Several board members and riders at the meeting agreed that ending the transfer surcharge was a good idea.
"A surcharge for transfers amounts to a redlining of certain neighborhoods," said Oakland resident David Vartanoff, explaining that people who live along feeder routes are forced to use transfers if they need to use long-distance routes.
Board members and advocates for lower-income riders also raised concerns about how a fare increase could harm the high proportion of riders who rely on buses to get around.
"I see so many low-income adults walking," said board member Joe Wallace, "because they can't afford to ride the bus now."