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SCAT's Basic Fare for Adults to Rise to $1 : Transit: Officials for the large bus system retain the current price for monthly passes and advance-purchase tickets.

April 23, 1993|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The directors of Ventura County's largest bus system voted Thursday to raise the basic adult fare from 75 cents to $1--the system's first fare hike in more than a decade.

But concerned that the new increase would hurt low-income riders, South Coast Area Transit officials decided to maintain the current price for monthly bus passes and booklets of tickets purchased in advance.

By buying ahead of time, bus riders can save from 33% to 44% of the new single-ride price, transit officials said. The fare changes will affect bus riders in Oxnard, Ojai, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Ventura and other areas in western Ventura County.

"I thought that as a compromise, we'll raise the single fares, but keep multi-ride fares at their present level," said Ojai Mayor Robert McKinney, a member of the board that governs the bus system, commonly called SCAT. "I'm convinced that some people will have trouble paying more than that."

In a second significant change, enacted at the urging of bus drivers, the SCAT board voted to require riders to pay exact fares beginning July 5, the same day the increased single fares take effect. Under current policy, drivers make change for riders who do not have the exact fare.

The new policy was approved after several bus drivers complained to the board that they have suffered serious thumb injuries from the repeated stress of pressing a change-making device.

The drivers also said making change is the main reason they fall behind schedule on their routes. In addition, they said that carrying a large amount of cash and change increases the risk of robbery.

SCAT is a joint-powers agency formed by the county and five cities: Ventura, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula and Ojai. It operates 14 routes and provides about 3 million rides for people each year.

In 1982, after a long and boisterous public hearing, the bus system raised fares and cut services, causing its annual ridership to plunge by more than half a million boardings.

Anticipating a similar outcry, the SCAT directors, who usually meet in their own small boardroom in Oxnard, reserved the larger Oxnard City Council chambers for Thursday's hearing.

But SCAT officials said they were surprised that the meeting drew only about 35 people. At least half were bus drivers, who expressed support for both the fare increase and the exact-change provision.

"I'm satisfied with this," said Larry Wear, associate director of the Service Employees International Union local chapter that represents the bus drivers. "From a business point of view, I think they would have been wise to raise even the discount rates by a small percentage."

But Wear said he was also concerned about losing riders, particularly those with little money to spend on transportation.

"We'd like people with the least income to be able to ride as economically as possible," the union official said.

The fare increase was requested by the cities of Oxnard and Ventura, which pick up the largest share of the $3 million in SCAT costs that are not covered by fares and federal and state transit funds. Officials in these cities said riders should share the burden of increased operating expenses.

SCAT directors reviewed several new fare options, including a staff recommendation that the basic adult ride be raised only to 90 cents. The average adult bus fare statewide is 84 cents. In Los Angeles County, the Southern California Rapid Transit District charges $1.10.

Although SCAT riders can avoid the July 5 fare hike by buying monthly passes or booklets of 10, 20 or 30 tickets, only about 3% of the system's passengers now use these discount programs, said Maureen Hooper Lopez, SCAT's director of planning and marketing.

Under the new plan, student fares will rise from 60 cents to 75 cents. Senior citizens and handicapped riders, who now pay 30 cents, will need 50 cents when they board.

One of the few speakers Thursday who opposed the fare hike was Jim White, who administers a Ventura residential center for people with disabilities.

White told the SCAT board that higher fares will cause the system to lose riders at a time when public officials, concerned about traffic congestion and air pollution, are trying to persuade more people to take the bus.

"I don't think the timing is right, now," White said.

But after the board's vote, White acknowledged that the new plan would have little impact on the disabled people he works with because most of them buy monthly passes.

Janelle L. Pendarvis, a Ventura office clerk and regular bus rider, told the board that any increased revenue should be used to repair SCAT buses and prevent breakdowns.

If the new funds were used for maintenance, Pendarvis said, she would not object to a fare increase. "I think it's justified," she said.

Fare Schedule South Coast Area Transit rides cost more beginning July 5

Current New single single 10-ride 20-ride 30-ride Monthly fares fares tickets tickets tickets pass Adults 75 cents $1 $7.50 $14 $20 $30 Students 60 cents 75 cents $6 $11 $16 $24 Seniors and Handicapped 30 cents 50 cents $3 $5.50 $8 $12

Children under 5 ride free. Seniors over 75 ride free during off-peak hours. No charge for bus transfers.

Source: South Coast Area Transit

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