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OSC Transportation Committee speaks at VCTC Hearing, November, 2010

posted Jan 4, 2011, 10:05 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Jan 4, 2011, 10:18 PM ]

Transit panel OKs higher bus fares

Commission acknowledges riders' concerns but calls hike necessary

By Joshua Molina Correspondent

Posted November 5, 2010 at 9:45 p.m.

Most mornings, Jessica Ramos, a senior at Fillmore High School, takes a 6 a.m. bus from her home near Rancho Sespe to get to class by 7 a.m.

The 14-seat bus is usually packed with migrant farmworkers. She usually has to sit on the floor unless one of the workers lets her have a seat.

“I understand you have a problem with money,” Ramos told members of the Ventura County Transportation Commission on Friday. “But we need a fixed bus route.”

Despite Ramos’ pleas, commissioners voted to raise fares for the VISTA Dial-A-Ride service that Ramos uses. Adding a fixed bus route wasn’t even considered.

“We are looking at the fare increase just to maintain the existing service,” said Vic Kamhi, bus transit director of VCTC.

Hurt by a decline in sales taxes, which helps fund the service, the commission raised fares for its Dial-A-Ride service and bus service within cities in Ventura County.

Dial-A-Ride fares will increase from $1.50 to $1.75 for individual rides and from 75 cents to 85 cents for seniors. The monthly pass will go up from $16 to $20. The curb-to-curb service transports residents in Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru.

For intercity bus services, the fares will go up from $1 to $1.25 and from 50 cents to 60 cents for seniors. The monthly pass will rise from $40 to $50 and from $20 to $25 for seniors.

The commission also increased the age for people regarded as seniors, from 62 to 65.

Several speakers expressed opposition to the fare increases, arguing they affect poor families disproportionately.

The commissioners, representatives from the Board of Supervisors and elected city officials were sympathetic, but said the reality was that state and federal transit funding has declined, leaving them no choice but to raise fares to keep the service going.

“This service was established 16 years ago and there’s never been a fare increase,” Ventura mayor Bill Fulton said, referring to Dial-A-Ride. “We are going to have to maintain service by increasing fares slightly.”

The cost to run both the intercity service and the Dial-A-Ride service has jumped from $400,000 in 1999-2000 to nearly $2 million this fiscal year.

The commission already has trimmed some routes, including the Dial-a-Ride service.

For people who live near Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru, Dial-A-Ride is the only way for them to travel long distances because there are no fixed bus routes.

“I am just hoping the fares stay the same and don’t keep rising,” said Monse Ortega, who leaves near Piru and attends Ventura College. “It adds up. Please keep the students in mind.”

Maritza Cruz, who lives near Rancho Sespe and uses the Dial-A-Ride service to get to school, said the fare increase is too much.

“It might seem like a little bit, but for me, it’s a lot,” Cruz said. “I could use that 25 cents to go wash my clothes.”

Commissioners later this year plan to hire a $67,800 consultant to analyze transit needs for the Santa Clara River valley in the hope of improving transit routes in the area. The study could take up to six months.

In the meantime, commissioners are focused on the bottom line.

“If we don’t do it now, we will still be sitting here in 17 years, having the same conversation,” Supervisor Steve Bennett said.

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