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L.B. Transit Board Weighs Fare Hike, Impact on Riders

April 21, 1985|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Adele Dorman lives on $524 a month.

Nearly $300 of it goes to pay for housing. Another $150 is spent on utilities. And $50 a month finances her one passion in life, ceramics.

"I've got to do something ," said the 62-year-old Hawaiian Gardens widow, who lives entirely on Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income.

Her remaining income--slightly more than $20 a month--pays for food and transportation. She skimps on food by eating one meal a day. And she rides the bus to doctor's appointments, ceramics classes and visits with her best friend.

Worried About Cost

But proposed increases in Long Beach bus fares have her worried. "It's my only way of getting around," said Dorman, who walks painfully with a cane and wears her bus pass on a chain around her neck.

That pass, which allows her unlimited riding privileges, costs $4 a month. Under the proposed new fare schedule, it would cost $7. "I won't be able to afford it," said Dorman. "I'll have to stop riding."

Apparently she isn't alone. One of more than 20 senior citizens, disabled people and students who testified at a public hearing Tuesday before the Long Beach Transit Board of Directors, she drew applause for her remarks. The gathering was the last public discussion of the suggested new fares before the board decides the matter at its April 29 meeting.

Underlying almost all of the comments was a common thread: that people on fixed incomes would bear the brunt of the increases as proposed. Those least able to pay would have their fares increased the most, the board was told, and many senior citizens and others would find their life styles seriously hampered by fare increases that, while insignificant to some, constitute a major expense to those on limited incomes.

Not Insensitive, Staff Says

But transit staff members who put together the new fare recommendations say they are indeed sensitive to the needs of the elderly and disabled. They say Long Beach Transit, which operates independently but is owned by the city, has traditionally subsidized members of these and other fixed-income groups and will continue to do so.

"We're trying to make sure that the burden isn't carried unfairly by one particular group," said Laurence W. Jackson, president and general manager of the transit company, which operates 18 routes in Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill and parts of six surrounding cities. "The staff has tried to be sensitive to the limited incomes of these people."

Yet the proposed fare structure calls for increases of 50% to 200% in the discounted fares, while regular riders will have to pay only 20% more. To understand why, transit officials say, one must go back a few years.

In 1980, county voters passed Proposition A, which imposed a half-cent sales tax to subsidize public transit countywide. Implementation of the measure was delayed by litigation until 1982. Among other things, the measure froze fares for three years and placed strict limits on how the money was to be used.

Anticipating the freeze, the Long Beach Transit board raised fares for regular customers and significantly lowered the price of monthly passes for senior citizens, students and the disabled. As a result, said Jack Gabig, director of planning and marketing for the company, full-fare customers, while constituting only 46% of the ridership, are supplying 78% of the revenue.

Their disproportionate burden was justified, he said, by the recognition that students, senior citizens and the disabled were less able to pay.

Federal Cutbacks Cited

But now times have changed, Gabig said. The fare freeze expires this year. The Reagan Administration has proposed cutting federal subsidies to public transit, which, for Long Beach, amounted to $2.8 million in operating funds last fiscal year. And increased operating costs have necessitated higher revenues in order to maintain the same levels of service. So last month the transit board decided to increase rider contribution to the agency's $21-million budget by raising fares. Whereas riders previously contributed only 22% of the operating revenues, Gabig said, the board decided to increase their burden to 25%.

Determining an equitable distribution of the higher fares, however, was no easy task. Gabig and his staff spent several weeks on the problem. Their final recommendation: increase regular fares from 50 cents to 60 cents for cash riders and $20 to $24 for monthly pass holders. For senior citizens and the disabled, cash prices under the plan would go from 20 cents to 30 cents per ride, while student fares would go from 20 cents to 40 cents. And monthly passes would go from $4 to $7 for seniors and the disabled, and $4 to $12 for students.

Gabig defended the higher percentage of increase for the discounted fares on two counts: Most discount users did not experience an increase three years ago, and because monthly pass buyers are heavy users--with 60 to 100 rides per month--the actual cost per ride is just 5 cents to 10 cents.

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