Seniors and the disabled would get a break from impending higher bus fares under a plan expected to be endorsed by an Orange County transit board committee today.
The committee is expected to recommend that more than $1 million a year be used to reduce what is expected to be a dramatic increase in bus fares for the elderly and disabled. One proposal the committee will consider would result in lower fares for seniors for all but off-peak hours.
Under the current fare structure, a senior can ride the bus round-trip during off-peak hours for 30 cents with unlimited transfers. Under fares proposed in January, the same trip would cost $1.25.
When proposed changes were announced last month, advocates for seniors argued that the increased cost would be devastating for those living on fixed incomes.
But Orange County transit officials said a fare restructuring--the first in eight years--was needed at one of the nation's fastest-growing transportation agencies.
The committee will consider a compromise that would allow the agency to tap into Measure M funds specifically earmarked to stabilize fares for senior citizens and the disabled.
The funds--a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990--have been used before to help defray the cost of bus fares for the disabled but never for seniors, who make up about 4% of county bus riders.
"This is a win-win situation for us," said Rick Teichert, deputy director of finance and administration for the Orange County Transportation Authority. "This is money that we need to use under this program and we can use it to help offset the costs for seniors."
One proposal the committee will consider would call for an across-the-board subsidy of 35% to 40% for all proposed senior fares. Such a subsidy would give seniors a substantial break on both the current peak fare and the current monthly bus pass. Seniors who now pay 45 cents each way during peak hours would only need 30 to 35 cents to board. Those who buy the $18.50 monthly pass would save around $7 a month.
Seniors who rely on the bus to get around the county say the fare hike has weighed heavily on them these last few weeks.
"Everyone on the buses has been talking about it," said John Gabriels, 75, of Santa Ana. "One of the benefits of old age is to pay less, and I know a lot of my friends have been concerned about these new fares."
The recommendation on senior fares will be made to the full board of directors before a Feb. 22 public meeting on the fare restructuring. The board will vote on the new fares March 8.
For the average bus rider, the main impact of the fare changes would be the elimination of the free transfer, which would affect most OCTA riders. The basic $1 fare would remain the same, but riders needing to transfer buses to reach their destination would face a 25% rate hike. A round trip with transfers now costs $2. Under the new plan, it would cost $2.50.
OCTA officials said they plan to use the projected $1.5 million a year in additional revenue to increase bus service by about 5%, adding 70 to 100 bus trips on existing routes. The Measure M funds, they said, would keep revenue projections the same without hurting the elderly.
Although the exact subsidy amount for seniors has not yet been resolved, OCTA officials said seniors are almost certainly assured some sort of break.
Gabriels, a daily bus rider for the past 26 years, said it was good news to hear.
"I guess they do have a heart after all."
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Bus Fare Funding
Elderly and disabled bus riders would get a break in fares if an Orange County transit committee recommends the use of more than $1 million to reduce costs. Here's how much ridership costs seniors and the disabled now, what it would be under proposed new rates and what the subsidized fares would be:
Current Proposed Subsidized Round trip Peak $0.45 $0.50 $0.30-.35 Round trip Off-peak $0.15 $0.50 $0.30-.35 Day pass None $1.25 $0.75-.80 Monthly pass $18.50 $18.50 $11.00-12.00
Source: Orange County Transportation Authority