AC Transit bus riders in Alameda and Contra Costa counties will be hit with a fare increase Aug. 1, and service could be reduced again within the next year.
Warned that the bus system faces deep financial troubles, the AC Transit Board agreed Wednesday to raise the basic bus fare from $2 to $2.10. The decision also will raise the senior and disabled fare from $1 to $1.05, and the youth pass from $15 to $20 per month.
Several riders objected, telling the board it is balancing the district's financial problems on the backs of seniors, the disabled and youth who depend on public buses to get around.
"We voted for the Measure VV (parcel tax increase in 2008) with the understanding that the district would use the money to prevent fare increases for these groups," said Gaby Miller, of Oakland, a representative of the Genesis faith based group.
"This fare increase is hurting the people who can least afford it."
AC Transit acting General Manager Mary King told the board the fare increase is a small but essential step toward moving the district back toward financial health.
The increase, however, is a tiny fraction of what is needed, district officials said. It will raise just $2.4 million annually to reduce a projected deficit of $21 million in the next fiscal year, according to a district staff report.
As a result, another round of service cuts are likely to be needed within the next 12 to 18 months, King said. AC Transit cut service twice last year.
The transit district this week proposed declaring a fiscal state of emergency that would streamline any service cuts. The board has scheduled a public hearing on the declaration for 5 p.m. May 25.
The fare increase was approved on a 5-1 vote. Director Chris Peeples voted no, and Director Joe Wallace abstained.
The board vote also approved a long-term fare strategy calling for a series of regular fare increases at regular intervals over the next 10 years.
Peeples said he believes the transit system will have a credibility problem because it said it would use the 2008 parcel tax increase -- which doubled the tax from $48 to $96 a year -- to spare seniors, disabled and youth from fare increases.
"We made a political commitment," Peeples said.
Other board members said the bus system's finances have deteriorated faster than expected because of the recession, state takeaways of financing and shrunken tax revenues.