Panel tentatively votes to increase bus fares

Rise would start July 1, if executive gives final OK

April 28, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Members of Howard County's public transportation board tentatively voted last night to increase base fares from $1 to $1.50, starting July 1.

Board Chairwoman Andrea Paskin called for the vote after noting the low turnout - two residents - at last night's public hearing on the proposed increase.

If riders were upset about the change, "I thought they would be here tonight," she said.

The deadline for public comment on the proposal is May 25, when the board may take a final vote. Then the recommendation from the board goes to the county executive, who will decide on a fare increase.

Ray Ambrose, manager of Corridor Transportation Corp., which operates Howard Transit, listed several reasons for the board to recommend an increase, including lagging fare box revenues that fall below state guidelines and a reduction of public funding for transit while vendor costs have increased.

In addition, Howard Transit has not increased its fares since the county took ownership of it in 1997, Ambrose said. He also stated that new revenues could help stave off further service reductions.

Even if the increase results in a reduction in ridership as high as 9 percent, Ambrose projected it would still bring fare revenue to about $383,000 - $100,000 over current income.

In addition to the base fare increase, the reduced fares paid by senior citizens, students and the disabled would be doubled, from 25 to 50 cents, Ambrose said. The change would also eliminate the reduced fare for federal, state and local employees, because few people were taking advantage of it, he said.

The two Columbia residents who attended the meeting spoke in favor of the increase in fares.

"It's worth it," was the view of Maria Teng, who said she rides the bus to the village centers to shop for groceries.

Board member Carol Filipczak asked the other resident, Mercedes Proctor, a 16-year-old junior at Long Reach High School, if the fare increase would be a barrier to students.

She didn't think so. "It's still less than a dollar," Mercedes said.

About 30 people attended a hearing in March to oppose proposed service reductions, said Carl S. Balser, a transportation planner in the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

A free shuttle bus was provided from The Mall in Columbia to encourage people to attend last night's meeting - a suggestion from the meeting about service reductions.

Board member Theodore Buxton said after the meeting that bus riders testified at the last public hearing they would pay more for the service if that would prevent it from being cut.

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