Protesters of proposed transit increase claim new rates favor suburban riders Full fares would replace current 10-cent transfers

January 16, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

When the Mass Transit Administration announced its 10-cent bus fare increase, Ben Farr felt MTA officials digging far deeper into his pockets: He discovered that his daily trip from Waverly to Baltimore County would cost nearly twice as much.

Yesterday, he joined 50 other demonstrators in front of Lexington Market to protest the increase from $1.25 to $1.35, service reduction and elimination of transit transfers.

Protesters complained that the changes force low-income city riders -- 90 percent of the MTA passengers -- to subsidize suburban commuters that MTA is trying to attract.

But Mr. Farr, like many bus riders, is angriest about the elimination of bus-to-bus or bus-to-rail transfers. The transfers now cost a dime. But on March 10, riders would have to pay another fare each time they transfer.

So Mr. Farr, who now pays $1.25 plus a 10-cent transfer fee to get to Villa Julie College on Greenspring Valley Road near Brooklandville, soon will pay two fares of $1.35 each.

"Basically, what this means for me is that I am going to have to give up going out on the weekends," said Mr. Farr, a Villa Julie student who is paying his own school expenses.

MTA officials said they will introduce a new $3, all-day unlimited pass for people who transfer. But even that would cost Mr. Farr more than he now is paying.

Sharon Ceci, a spokeswoman for the All People's Congress, which organized the protest, said, "We flat-out don't want any kind of fare hike. If anything, we should be riding for free. [Transit] is a right, not a privilege."

But MTA officials are holding firm in their decision to make the changes, said MTA spokesman Anthony Brown.

On Jan. 4, MTA officials announced the 8 percent fare increase and the end of the five-zone system that charges at least a dime each time a new zone is entered.

Officials also said 12 of the 66 bus routes will be discontinued or shortened Feb. 11.

MTA Administrator John A. Agro Jr. said the changes are the result of cost-cutting and a state requirement that 50 percent of operating expenses be collected from riders. The balance is paid from state and federal funds.

MTA officials "figure that we are lazy and passive," said Stephanie Peebles, who rides the bus from her Edmondson Village home to work and shopping centers. "We have to show them that they can't do anything that they want. We have to show them that it is not going to be that easy."

The demonstrators, who threatened the MTA with possible boycotts and lawsuits and passed out petitions, said that they would demonstrate again at 4 p.m. Feb. 8 at Saratoga and Eutaw streets and then march to the MTA headquarters at Baltimore and Light streets.

They have the Baltimore City Council on their side. All 19 members, led by 6th District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, have signed a resolution asking that the MTA back down.

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