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Impact of Long Beach Fare Hike : Revenue Rises, Riders Decline on Transit Line

December 19, 1985|SUE CORRALES | Community Correspondent

LONG BEACH — Transit district operating revenue has increased substantially since fares went up in July, but ridership apparently declined 20% in November, said Laurence Jackson, president and general manager of Long Beach Transit.

Jackson said the passenger count, which showed 551,336 fewer people boarded Long Beach Transit District buses in November than in the same month in 1984, may be inaccurate and will be repeated in February. It is the first count taken since the new fares went into effect.

He said ridership figures are "less critical" than year-to-date fare collections which, as of Nov. 30, were up $812,522, a 42% increase over 1984.

"We need more money in order to survive," he said. "From a humanist point of view, it's a tragedy to force people off buses, but the administration that's in Washington now says you've got to start getting more money from your users."

Five Months Since Fare Hike

In the five months since fares went up, the district collected more than half of its 1985-86 budget, according to a report presented this week at a meeting of transit district's board of directors.

After the meeting, Jackson said that any year-end surplus will not be reinvested in the transit district. Instead, it must be returned to government agencies that subsidize the district. But he defended the practice as an important hedge against the projected loss this year of the federal subsidy to public transportation.

"I would in no way want to have user fares rolled back now," he said. The surplus "can be wiped out with one stroke of the pen in Washington," he said.

Effective last July, fares for regular riders went from 50 cents to 60 cents, and monthly passes went from $20 to $25. Pass rates for college students, who were among the hardest hit by the increase, went from $4 to $16. Pass rates for senior citizens and the disabled went from $4 to $6.

Besides the obvious revenue increase, Jack Gabig, director of planning and marketing, said he sees a more subtle effect.

Discretionary Riders

"The increase had a significant effect on discretionary riders," he said. "People who used to buy passes and just ride a few times a month are paying cash to ride now, or they just aren't riding at all. That's how revenue has jumped 40% but ridership has declined."

Jackson said "there is no question that the increase in fares is a major reason for any drop in ridership," but he and others cite other factors as well.

Ridership also has declined because the transit district, which used to deviate from its normal routes in order to transport students, discontinued that service in September, Jackson said. Also, passenger volume on buses serving the Naval Shipyard in Long Beach and Todd Shipyard in San Pedro has dropped significantly during the last year because of shipyard layoffs, transit officials say.

They also are not sure the count is accurate, because it depends partially on new equipment that drivers may have been misusing.

Eventually, the automated system will provide accurate, daily passenger counts, Gabig said. Transit officials tested the new system by physically counting passengers on some buses. Jackson said it was "probably a coincidence" that the physical count and the automated count were within 12 passengers of each other, because counters saw many drivers misusing the equipment.

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