Fare-increase hearing attracts few residents



This would be the first fare increases in seven years.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A public hearing on proposed fare increases by the Western Reserve Transit Authority attracted only a handful of the public, and no objections to the system's plan.
Even with the increases, Kasimu Osayava of Youngstown, who's used WRTA's bus service since the 1970s, said the fares are still very reasonable.
"Considering the price of gas, it's still cheap," he said. "WRTA is a godsend. It's the only way I get around."
The WRTA held a public hearing Friday on the proposed increases. The transit system's fares haven't been increased since 1999.
Jeff Fogleson of Youngstown, who uses WRTA's night bus service to get to and from his job in Austintown, said at the hearing that he was expecting the system to implement a larger fare increase than what is proposed.
"I'm all for it," he said of the increase. "I use the service all the time. I use the bus to get everywhere. It's very convenient."
The small crowd primarily consisted of WRTA officials, employees and board members.
The system will take comments on the rate increases through next week.
The WRTA board will meet May 25, and vote to approve the increases, effective June 1, said Jim Ferraro, its executive director.
Details
Adult fares will increase to $1.25 from $1, and fares for the elderly and disabled will increase to 60 cents from 50 cents.
Transfers, currently free, will be 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for the elderly and disabled. WRTA will become only the second transit system in Ohio, the other being in Toledo, to charge for transfers.
Monthly adult transit passes jump from $32 to $38; monthly passes for the elderly and disabled go from $16 to $19.
Adult coupon books of 50 bus tickets will increase to $62.50 from $50.
Student rates remain the same; 75 cents for a fare and $35 for coupon books.
The fare increases are expected to generate about $300,000 annually for WRTA, Ferraro said.
"We're not trying to hurt anyone he said, but we need to get more money out of the fare box,"
Financial woes
Even with the fare increases, the WRTA is facing layoffs and service cuts, Ferraro said. The system is anticipating a $1.4 million to $1.5 million deficit, he said.
The WRTA has lost state and federal funding and has seen increases in insurance, and fuel and gas prices, Ferraro said.
The system's board had budgeted $500,000 for fuel costs this year, but that cost will be closer to $1 million, Ferraro said.
Also, state funding is about $200,000 this year, a decrease of 50 percent from 25 years ago, he said.
WRTA's primary source of funding is two levies on Youngstown property owners that raise about $2 million a year.
Ferraro would prefer to replace the city levies with a Mahoning County sales tax of 0.25 percent to fund WRTA. A sales tax of that amount would raise about $7 million to $8 million annually.
The additional money would be used to extend bus routes, create new ones, and provide Sunday service, among other things, Ferraro said.
Ferraro acknowledges it will be a significant challenge to persuade county voters to approve a sales tax increase for the transit system.
Most other transit systems in Ohio are funded through sales taxes, he said.
skolnick@vindy.com

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