Ben Franklin Transit riders expressed mixed reactions to a proposed fare increase of about 20 percent Thursday.
Several people voiced concerns and asked questions during two public hearings at the Three Rivers Transit Center in Kennewick.
Alexandra Anderson of Richland said she gets a bargain with the monthly Freedom Pass, which allows unlimited rides on fixed-route bus service, Trans +Plus, the shared taxi night service, and special event services. Those who qualify for Dial-A-Ride can use it too.
Anderson said she can understand how gas prices could prompt higher fares for night service. The $9 increase of the pass to $53 won't affect Anderson much. But it will affect others, she said.
Ben Franklin Transit is considering raising fares for fixed-route buses, Dial-A-Ride and the night taxi ride service and raising the age for seniors to ride for free on fixed routes from 60 to 65.
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.
No price changes are suggested for taxi feeder, Finley connections and general demand response, the service in Prosser.
The cost of gas, tires and insurance is going up, said Kathy McMullen, Ben Franklin Transit's service development manager.
Ben Franklin Transit's fares are lower than other transit agencies and haven't increased since 2009, McMullen said.
Administration and nonunion employees will not receive cost of living or merit wage increases this year, she said. There was an increase for those employees in 2011, but not in the two years prior.
Anderson said she thinks raising the senior age to 65 will mean that some seniors on fixed incomes no longer will be able to ride the bus. And the senior population is growing, she said.
Dan Wingert of Kennewick suggested raising the age for free senior rides to 62 as a compromise.
If someone is old enough to be on Social Security, they should be able to ride the fixed routes for free, he said.
Linda Kitchen of West Richland said she doesn't feel it's fair to raise prices when riders aren't getting all the services that should be provided. For example, when she rides Dial-A-Ride as she has for about 15 years, Kitchen said she is limited to four bags.
And, there no longer is Sunday service, she said.
Anderson uses the bus to get to and from her retail job. With no bus service on Sundays, she said she has to take a taxi, which means she is paying $18 just to get to work.
McMullen said she isn't sure if the transit agency will be able to bring back Sunday service. It won't happen for sure until Ben Franklin Transit has more revenue, she said.
Carol Hardacre of Kennewick said she appreciates the service she receives while using Dial-A-Ride and has no problem with the proposed fare increase. She's used the service for about nine years.
Hardacre said limiting bags a passenger can bring on Dial-A-Ride isn't a problem for her, and helps the drivers, who have to do a lot of heavy lifting.
But she said she is concerned about the gap in times between when day service ends and night service begins. It means she sometimes has to wait outside when she arrives at her destination early.
If the fare increases are approved, bus tickets bought now still could be used, McMullen said.
The proposal also would eliminate the college passes. Columbia Basin College pays the transit agency for its students to use the fixed route buses, and students get a sticker to ride buses on their student ID card. McMullen said she hopes to have a similar agreement with Washington State University Tri-Cities.
The transit agency's board will consider the proposed fare increases at its April 12 board meeting.
To comment on the plan, call 734-5201 or email email@example.com by 5 p.m. today.