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MTD Board Expected to Vote on Rate Hikes Monday

Amid skyrocketing fuel costs, public transit officials seek fare increases to maintain services and routes.

Attention South Coast bus riders: The MTD board of directors Monday afternoon is expected to decide whether to raise rates, and if so, by how much.

MTD General Manager Sherrie Fisher says the fare hike is necessary largely to offset the skyrocketing cost of fuel, and to avoid cutting more bus routes, which have already been reduced once this year.

“I make this recommendation knowing that, for some members of the community, any increase is difficult,” she said in the official proposal to the board. “Without an appropriate increase, staff will need to recommend a reduction in service. Loss of any service would adversely affect riders.”

The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday at MTD business headquarters, 550 Olive St. It is open to the public.

Fisher recommends raising adult single-ride fares to $1.75 from the current $1.25, and adult 10-ride passes to $12.50 from the current $10. Student 10-ride passes would increase to $10 from $7.50. The cost of the 10-ride Valley Express pass for commuters would increase to $45 from $35. Thirty-day student passes would rise to $42 from $32. (Click here to see the agenda that includes all the rate-hike proposals. Note that Fisher is recommending option D.)

The rate hikes would take effect Jan. 1. They would raise about $1.7 million annually, which officials say would cover an expected $1.5 million shortfall and then some. MTD, whose service area stretches from Carpinteria to Goleta, works with an annual operating budget of about $20 million.

The proposal comes at a time when ridership is at an all-time high, perhaps due to higher gas prices.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, the district served 8 million riders, surpassing ridership by about 350,000 from the year before, and 1.2 million from about a decade ago, MTD officials said.

The popularity surge seems to be accelerating: Ridership numbers are already on pace to exceed last year’s record. MTD’s ridership during the first two months of this fiscal year — July and August — is up 11 percent compared to the first two months of last year.

“Many individuals would think, ‘That’s great news, more riders means more revenue,’” said MTD spokesman David Damiano, before adding that it doesn’t work that way.

Fares only cover about 40 percent of the agency’s operating budget, he said. The rest comes from state sales taxes, federal taxes and local Measure D sales taxes. Those amounts have stayed the same over the years even as operating costs have risen, MTD officials say. Meanwhile, the bus provider has witnessed its fuel outlay surge to $2 million from $1.3 million in one year. Officials predict next year’s costs will hit $3 million.

Plus, more riders means the agency needs to fill the routes with more buses, which requires hiring more drivers, Damiano said.

“We are always looking for drivers,” he said. Currently, MTD employs about 150 drivers, who make between $26,500 and $50,500 annually, plus benefits. Click here for MTD employment information.

The agency has already reduced its service this year. Beginning late last month, the portion of Line 8 that ran along Calle Real between Turnpike Road and Fairview Avenue pared back to six shuttle rides a day from 23 regular bus trips. The cut saved about $193,000, MTD officials said.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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