"No! No! Absolutely not!" That was the clear message board members of the Southern California Rapid Transit District were bombarded with on Saturday at a public hearing held to determine whether fares should be raised across the board.
About 175 angry bus patrons, many of them poor, disabled, elderly or students, lambasted the board, which is considering raising the basic fare to $1 and almost tripling the monthly rate paid by the handicapped and the elderly. The bus patrons were supported by officials from the City of Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Pasadena, who argued that increased fares would chase more riders away.
"Does anybody seriously believe that another fare increase is going to help?" asked Los Angeles Councilman Ernani Bernardi. "What is gained when the inevitable happens and hundreds of thousands of riders are forced to drop the RTD?"
The RTD staff has set out three options for raising fares, but favors flat fare hikes. The board also will consider creating peak-hour and special-zone fares.
Under the RTD's favored proposal, the basic fare would jump from 85 cents to $1. Monthly passes would increase from $32 to $40, while passes for the disabled and elderly would nearly triple to $20. The $15 passes for college and vocational students would be eliminated.
The increases are needed because the agency will face a $43-million deficit during the next 16 months, said Alan Pegg, RTD's interim general manager. The deficit was caused by a 3% decline in ridership during this fiscal year, inflation and reduced governmental support on the local, state and federal levels.
"This will not be an easy task nor a pleasant one," Pegg told the unreceptive crowd, which frequently broke into applause when dozens of speakers attacked the beleaguered bus system. "But it is a necessary one if we are to meet our regulatory mandate."
The board is expected to decide in March whether to increase fares. Fares were last raised in 1985 when the basic fare jumped from 50 to 85 cents.
In opposing the rate increases, the speakers said the board could reduce the deficit by eliminating waste and attracting new riders by getting rid of graffiti, cockroaches and tardy buses.