Panel OKs bus fare hikes of 50 percent

Grand Valley Transit riders will have to dig deeper into their pockets when they board the bus beginning this fall.

The Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee voted 3–1 Monday to hike bus fares in a move operators say is needed to keep up with inflation and could help fund additional service.

The price of a single bus ride will rise 50 percent from $1 to $1.50. Other cash fares and discount passes will rise by a similar percentage.

The fare hike will take effect in October, although an exact date wasn’t immediately identified.

Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, Fruita City Councilwoman Stacey Mascarenas and Palisade Town Trustee Penny Prinster voted in favor of the increase. Grand Junction City Councilwoman Laura Luke voted against it.

It’s the first fare hike for GVT since 2004, when the cost for a single bus ride doubled from 50 cents to $1. GVT began service in 2000 with the 50-cent fare.

GVT operators have said increased operational costs, coupled with the fact that funding from local governments has remained flat the last couple of years, drove them to propose the price hike.

The committee initially contemplated bumping fares up to $1.25, but Acquafresca and Mascarenas questioned whether that would be enough to cover operational costs.

“It gets us where we need to be and we don’t have to hit up the riders again in a few years” for another fare increase, Mascarenas said.

Acting under direction from her fellow City Council members, Luke said she couldn’t support that large of a price hike without an assurance that bus service operating hours will be extended.

While GVT hasn’t made that commitment, Acquafresca told Luke, who is new to the committee, that the committee previously directed GVT operators to look at ways to expand service. One way to do that could be to reduce hours for some routes and add those hours to select routes. Buses currently run until 7:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday, meaning “we can get a lot of people to work but we can’t get them home,” Acquafresca noted.

GVT sought input from riders last month on the 50-cent hike and received 90 comments, far fewer than officials expected, said Todd Hollenbeck, manager of the county Regional Transportation Planning Office, which oversees GVT’s operation.

Fifty-three percent were opposed to that much of an increase, while 29 percent supported it. The remaining 18 percent used the opportunity to comment about the bus service or make other service requests, he said.

About 12 percent — $300,000 — of GVT’s operational fund comes from bus fares. Hollenbeck said the boost in fares will bump up that percentage to 15 to 16 percent. The balance of the budget is evenly split between funding from local governments and the federal government.

A study conducted by Colorado Springs-based LSC Transportation Consultants compared GVT with public transportation systems in nine similarly sized communities: Fort Collins; Billings, Mont.; Duluth, Minn.; Fargo, N.D.; Martinsburg, W.Va.; Racine, Wis.; Topeka, Kan.; Waco, Texas; and Waterloo, Iowa. GVT had the lowest daily cash fare of all of them. Transit systems everywhere else but Martinsburg, W.Va., charged either 1.25 or $1.50 per ride.

GVT ferried more than 983,000 riders around the Grand Valley last year, a 12 percent bump over 2009. Ridership is expected to exceed 1 million this year.


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