Ben Franklin Transit mulls rate increases

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMarch 5, 2012 

Surging gas prices are causing Ben Franklin Transit to consider increasing fares and cutting some college passes.

Increases are proposed for fixed-route buses, Dial-A-Ride and the night taxi ride service.

One big change proposed is altering raising the age for free rides for seniors on fixed routes from 60 to 65, said Kathy McMullen, the transit agency's service development manager.

Two public hearings are planned March 15, and the board is seeking comments on the proposal.

Many customers have told Ben Franklin Transit that they would rather see higher fares than service cuts, McMullen said.

If approved, the proposal would raise fares by 20 percent. McMullen said she isn't sure how much money that could bring in because of how ridership fluctuates when fares rise and when gas prices climb.

The proposal is based on comparable fares around the state and estimated costs, McMullen said. It may change more depending on public comments.

The transit agency budgeted for regular gasoline to hit about $4 per gallon. The van pool and Dial-A-Ride use regular gas, McMullen said.

Gas prices in the Tri-Cities have gone up by about 11 cents in the past week. Regular gas averages $3.67 a gallon, which is 38 cents higher than a month ago and 29 cents higher than at this time last year.

Diesel also has gone up 11 cents to $4.30 a gallon, which is 38 cents higher than last year, according to AAA's fuel gauge report.

Bus fares help pay for the services offered by Ben Franklin Transit, which also collects sales tax revenue. Fares pay for about 18 percent of the cost of services, McMullen said.

The current proposal would add 25 cents to adult tickets and Dial-A-Ride fares, for a total of $1.50.

A book of 10 tickets would rise $2 to a total of $10. Monthly passes would cost $3 more, or $25.

Premium Dial-A-Ride, which includes pick-ups and drop-offs for people with disabilities more than three-quarters of a mile beyond fixed routes and in Finley, would go up 50 cents to $3.

Youth tickets would rise 20 cents to $1 for ages 6 through high school. The cost of 10 tickets would increase $2, for a total of $8, and a monthly pass would increase from $11.25 to $14.

Summer passes would cost another $5 for a total of $27.

A day pass for all ages on the fixed-route bus service would rise $1 to $4.50. And college passes would be eliminated.

But that doesn't mean college students wouldn't have access to some discounted fares.

Pasco's Columbia Basin College is paying Ben Franklin Transit for passes for most of its students, and then each student gets a bus pass sticker on their student ID card, McMullen said. Students receive the passes for free from CBC.

McMullen said they are hoping to have Washington State University Tri-Cities use a similar program. It's something the agency will offer to any college or training program.

The transit board is aware that many in the community have been hit hard by cuts to various state and federal programs, McMullen said. And the board wants to make sure the fare increases aren't too steep.

The public hearings on the proposed increases are at 2 and 5:30 p.m. March 15 at the Three Rivers Transit Center, 7109 W. Okanogan Place, Kennewick.

To comment on the plan, call 734-5201, email contact@bft.org or send letters to Comment, c/o Ben Franklin Transit, 7109 W. Okanogan Place, Kennewick, 99336.

Comments must be received by 5 p.m. March 16.

Then information will be taken to the transit agency's board in April, McMullen said.

Other proposed fare changes include:

* Trans +Plus, the shared taxi ride night service, would go up 50 cents to $3.50 for all ages on all times and days, and up $4.50 to $26.50 for 10 tickets.

* The monthly Freedom Pass, which allows unlimited rides on fixed-route bus service, Dial-A-Ride, Trans +Plus and special event services, would see a $9 increase to $53.

* Special seasonal route fares would go up 25 cents to $1.50 per person. A family of up to five would pay $4, up 50 cents; and seniors, disabled or Medicare patients would pay 15 cents more, or a total of 75 cents.

* Tickets for Medicare patients or disabled would go from 60 cents to 75 cents, with 10 tickets up by $1 to $6 and monthly passes increase by $1.50 to $12.50.

* No price changes are suggested for taxi feeder, Finley connections and general demand response, the service in Prosser.

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