Costs may force rise in bus fare

Island service is not expected to be reduced.

Despite plans for service cuts elsewhere, transit officials say buses will continue to circle the island at their present rate.

But it may soon cost riders an extra quarter to get on.

“We need to take action now,” said Kitsap Transit Service Development Director John Clauson, at one of two public meetings at the Bainbridge Fire Station Thursday.

Skyrocketing fuel and employee costs, and lagging sales tax revenue have led to a proposal by KT to cut service and raise fares.

Beginning in August, fares would jump 25 cents per individual ride – to $1.50 – if transit officials approve the proposal later this month.

Under the plan, the cost of monthly passes would increase by $5; reduced fare monthly passes would see a price increase of $3.25; costs for vanpool passes would jump two percent.

Officials say the change would help fill a $200,000 monthly gap in the agency’s budget.

The fare hike would come via a fuel surcharge approved by KT in 2005, but not yet implemented, and would raise an estimated $50,000 per month.

The surcharge was initially supposed to be temporary, and was scheduled to go into effect after fuel prices for the agency – which gets price breaks on fuel – exceeded a certain threshold for a sustained period of time.

That threshold was exceeded fairly soon after the surcharge was approved, but transit officials didn’t want to enact the fare hike so soon after another 25-cent increase that had taken effect in 2005.

KT burns through one million gallons of fuel each year. Its per gallon fuel costs have risen by gallon fuel costs have risen by nearly a dollar since January.

Though officials tried to project conservatively, Clauson said, the increase is well above what the agency expected.

“We tried to look into our crystal ball,” Clauson said. “But our crystal ball really was broken.”

In addition to that, Clauson said health care and retirement costs for employees have gone up, and sales tax receipts – which are the system’s biggest source of revenue – in February actually decreased from the year prior for the first time in the organization’s 26 year history.

Service and administrative cuts would total another $50,000 in monthly savings. The rest of the budget gap would be filled by changes to pass pricing for the federal Transportation Incentive Program, which encourages federal employees to use public transportation.

Transit officials last fall said they were considering cutting midday service on Route 100 – also known as the “Winslow Shuttle” – which runs between the ferry terminal and Bethany Lutheran Church.

Though it can be busy at certain times of the day, the route is typically empty around lunchtime.

Clauson said service on the route could be reduced eventually, but no plan for doing so is on the table now.

“We’re going to look at that,” he said. “But we’re not anticipating any additional changes right now.”

The only proposed service change that would directly impact Bainbridge would be on Route 90, which runs between the island and Poulsbo. If the changes are approved, an early morning Bainbridge-bound bus on the route would be eliminated.

The 4:40 a.m. bus would continue to make the trip, Clauson said, but the route would be served by one instead of two buses.

On average, there about two dozen riders distributed between those two buses, according to passenger counts.

Bus ridership is on the rise, with routed service is up 7 percent from this time last year. Still, low ridership on specific routes leads to extremely high per-passenger costs.

One early morning Bremerton route – which may be cut – costs the system $23.61 per passenger to operate.

In all, eight routes, mostly in Bremerton and Central Kitsap, will see changes. The transit board will vote on the proposal on May 20.

The increase in ridership is encouraging, Clauson said, but not enough to keep the system afloat amid a confluence of unfavorable economic factors.

“By themselves, it doesn’t seem like any of these things would be so bad,” he said. “But when you add everything up, it just gets more and more expensive.”

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