Valley transit operators may boost bus fares

Bus driver John Herbst, with Grand Valley Transit, mans the wheel as a rider deposits her fare, before heading to Fruitvale from a transfer station on South Avenue in Grand Junction.

Grand Valley Transit operators are considering hiking bus fares for the first time in seven years, saying the additional revenue is needed to keep up with inflation and avoid cuts in service.

The Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee, the bus service’s governing board, is in the midst of discussions about boosting the price of a single bus ride from $1 to $1.25. Other cash fares and discount passes would rise from 20 percent to 80 percent.

The committee, which consists of elected officials from Mesa County, Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade, could raise prices even higher than that. Three of the four elected boards have shown support for increasing the cost of a bus ride to $1.50, with Palisade the only local government to express reservation about going that high, according to Todd Hollenbeck, manager of the county Regional Transportation Planning Office, which oversees GVT’s operation.

Committee members have asked for more information about similarly sized transit systems to which GVT was compared in a recent study and the impact a fare increase could have on the system. Hollenbeck said there isn’t a firm timetable for the committee to make a decision. Any hike likely wouldn’t take effect until this summer or the beginning of next year.

If approved, the price increase would be the first 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.

Hollenbeck said increased operational costs, coupled with the fact that funding from local governments has remained flat the last couple of years, are driving the proposed price hike.

“Certainly at this point we’re hearing a lot of demand for increased levels of service,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more people ride the system, but yet our overall fare collections are staying relatively level in comparison to past years.”

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.

About 12 percent — $300,000 — of GVT’s operational fund comes from bus fares. 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.

An onboard survey of customers in 2008 found that 64 percent wouldn’t be willing to pay a higher fare. Another survey conducted last year found that 73 percent of those who participated indicated that $1.25 would be a reasonable fare, although that was the lowest choice offered on the survey.

But several riders waiting at the transfer station at Fifth Street and South Avenue last week told The Daily Sentinel they either oppose a fare increase or would accept one only if the buses ran later at night.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t get off work until 7 p.m. and (the buses) are done by then,” said 28-year-old Clinton Jensen of Grand Junction.

Jensen, who has a yearlong bus pass and has been a GVT customer since its inception, said he would support a 25-cent increase only if the bus service extended its hours.

Ryan Baca, a 19-year-old Clifton resident and R-5 High School student, said he has to catch the bus at the downtown transfer station at 5:15 p.m. in order to make it to the Clifton transfer station by the time the bus stops running out there at 6:35 p.m.

The fare hike “would be worth it if they kept the routes going later,” Baca said.

Hollenbeck said there are no plans to expand service.

In fact, he said, it could be reduced unless officials approve the price increase.

“Certainly we understand how tough times are and we don’t want to leave anybody out there, but at the same time the true cost of maintaining this level of service continues to go up, especially with gas prices increasing,” he said.


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