Bus fares will rise in January under a plan by the Orange County Transportation Authority to eliminate a $3-million deficit.
The proposed increases, the first in 13 years, include a doubling of rates for disabled and senior riders, who account for about 15% of the bus system's ridership.
"A lot of people are going to be hit very hard," said Gary Mudge, a regular bus rider who uses a wheelchair. "My costs are going to double."
Mudge now buys 30-day bus passes for $10. If the proposed increases are approved by the 11-member OCTA board of directors when it meets Oct. 25, the price of a monthly senior/disabled pass will increase to $20.
OCTA officials say the increases would help the struggling agency deal with rising employee and operational costs and a growing demand for services.
"We need to take these prudent steps now to ensure the long-term viability of our bus services," said Ted Nguyen, an OCTA spokesman.
One-way fares would be among the least affected, increasing from $1 to $1.25 -- still 50 cents less than San Diego and the same as Los Angeles. A 30-day pass would increase from $37.50 to $45.
Normal curb-to-curb fares for para-transit vehicles, small buses that transport disabled people, would increase from $1.70 to $2.50, and premium door-to-door service may be eliminated.
"The door-to-door service is costly, presents logistical challenges and exceeds the ADA mandate," said Ken Phipps, OCTA's director of finance and administration.
OCTA will hold several public hearings over the next six weeks to discuss the proposed increases. "We know that these proposed changes will have impacts to our customers," Nguyen said. "These are difficult choices we need to make, choices we don't relish."
OCTA faces a budget shortfall of $3 million in the 2004-05 fiscal year. But officials say the proposed increases for January 2005 will generate $3 million over a six-month period, and an additional $6.5 million the following fiscal year, to erase a projected deficit of that same amount.
Since OCTA last raised bus fares in 1991, its ridership has increased from 47.2 million boardings to 67.5 million this year. Since then, it has added routes and confronted rising costs for fuel and employee pension and health benefits.