LONG BEACH — Bus fares will go up for all riders beginning July 1. But discount pass holders will pay less than initially proposed, while regular riders will pay slightly more.
That was the gist of a compromise reached Monday by members of the Long Beach Transit Board of Directors following two April public hearings at which they were lambasted for insensitivity to the needs of senior citizens, students and the disabled.
"This was a concession in response to the people," said board chairwoman Shirley Saltman following the 6-1 vote for the new fares.
Added Laurence Jackson, president and general manager of the transit company whose staff had prepared the initial fare recommendations: "I'm happy to see the board really be responsive to the public."
Under the new guidelines adopted by the board, college students will pay $16 for monthly passes instead of the $24 initially proposed. Passes for senior citizens and the disabled, on the other hand, will go from the current $4 to $6--a decrease of $1 from the earlier proposal. And students high school age and younger will pay $12--the original proposal--instead of the current $4.
To offset losses resulting from the more moderate increases in discount fares, regular customers will pay $1 more than initially projected for their passes--$25 instead of the current $20.
Individual cash fares will go up as originally planned: to 60 cents for regular customers and college students, 40 cents for students high school age and younger and 30 cents for senior citizens and the disabled. According to Jackson, the net effect of the new fares on total revenues will be about the same as if the original fare proposals had been adopted. "We accomplished what we set out to accomplish," Jackson said.
At issue was the fact that the initial proposal called for an increase of 20%--from $20 to $24--in the price of the monthly bus passes purchased by regular customers, while most holders of discounted passes--namely senior citizens, students and the disabled--would have suffered increases of 50% to 200%.
Transit officials, attributing the need for the fare increase to greater operating costs combined with projected losses in federal subsidies, explained the apparent inequity simply. Previous fare structures, they said, had inordinately subsidized discount passengers at the expense of their full-paying counterparts.
The new fares, while retaining significant discounts for people on limited incomes, they said, would force discount passengers to shoulder a more equitable portion of the total burden.
Especially hard hit by the original fare proposals were full-time college and trade-school students, who would have been deprived of their eligibility for discounted fares altogether. Under the proposed fares, the cost of a monthly pass for a college student would have gone from $4 to $24--an increase of 500%.
It was this group, in fact, that elicited outspoken support from board member Art Levine, who opened Monday's discussion by reading a resolution passed by the Cal State Long Beach student senate characterizing the proposals as "discriminatory."
On hand to voice similar sentiments were Wells Sloniger, dean of student affairs at Long Beach City College, and Cheryl Leeds, the college's student body president. Though neither had spoken at the public hearings on the matter, board chairwoman Saltman said she had given them special permission to speak at the meeting because of the gravity of the issue being discussed.
"I represent 1,000 students who look to the bus service to provide them with access to an education," Sloniger said. "These fare increases would be a tremendous hardship; instead of offering people an opportunity to develop themselves, we would be depriving them of the chance to secure educations and jobs."
Leeds added that foreign and immigrant students would be especially hard hit by the fare increases.
Burden on Working People
The one dissenting vote came from board member John Allen, who said he considered the $5 increase in regular pass fares an unnecessary burden on working people who constitute the bulk of the transit company's customers.
"I think there's some kind of unarticulated myth here that (ordinary) people who take the bus wear diamonds and furs if they're ladies and read the Wall Street Journal if they're men," Allen said. "It just isn't true."
Not everyone else was entirely happy with the outcome either.
Leeds said she was satisfied that there had been "some good discussion and a compromise" but still felt that the revised fare structure was unfair to students.
And Harold Wulke, who attended the meeting as chairman of the Long Beach Senior Citizens Advisory Commission, had little good to say about the new $6 pass fare for seniors.
"They should have made it $5," he said. "Why not make it easy for people?"