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Kitsap Transit to hike bus fares

Riders could see fares jump by 25 percent – a quarter on the basic $1 ride.

The cost of fuel, labor, health care and supplies is driving up bus fares.

Kitsap Transit is proposing fare increases of 25 to 50 percent and restructuring rates to close some loopholes, transit officials said Monday at a public meeting at the Bainbridge Island Senior Center.

Several variations on fare hikes are being considered, but the increase itself appears inevitable.

“It’s more on the issue between the options, which does the community seem to accept better?” said John Clauson, Kitsap Transit’s service development director.

High gas prices are inducing people to choose public transportation, Clauson said, with buses filling up where before ridership was “really flat.”

September saw about 15,000 more riders, or a 5 percent increase on Kitsap Transit’s fixed bus routes from the same time a year ago. Year-to-date, worker/driver vans have gone up 15 percent, vanpools 23 percent and the Bremerton-Port Orchard foot ferry by 18 percent.

In a series of public meetings, Kitsap Transit is laying out the reasons and the options and asking the public for feedback on which ones they prefer.

The public can also make request for additional services such as bus shelters and local kiosks that sell passes. The final public presentation on Bainbridge Island is at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Bainbridge Commons. Other meetings around Kitsap are scheduled through Nov. 8.

Clauson said gas costs rose 87 percent from 2002 to 2004. With the system burnng through about 1.1 million gallons a year, or 3,000 gallons a day, the $1.50 per gallon budgeted for 2005 was long ago exceeded; the system most recently paid $2.64 a gallon.

For fixed bus routes, the proposed fare “Option A” would introduce peak and off-peak fares. Off-peak rides from 8:30 a.m. to 3:29 p.m. would remain at the current $1 for regular fares and 50 cents for those eligible for reduced fare – senior citizens, ages 5-18, disabled persons and low-income persons. During peak hours – from start of service to 8:29 a.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to end of service – a single $1.25 would cover all riders, eliminating a reduced fare category.

Clauson said the reasoning is that as more people take the bus to work, Kitsap Transit will eventually have to run extra buses to accomodate all the commuting riders. These “tripper” buses, used for just a few trips in the morning and the evening, are costly to run. Also, late-night runs are more costly because there are fewer passengers.

The current two-hour free transfer that some people take advantage of to make a roundtrip on a single fare would cost 25 cents for a transfer, which could only be used to complete a one-way trip.

Option B is an across-the-board fare increase from $1 to $1.25 for regular fares and from 50 cents to 60 cents for reduced fares. Transfers would be free as they are now, but again only used to complete a one-way trip.

For Bainbridge residents, this second option is slightly more favorable, especially for those on reduced fares, since there are only two buses on the island that run during off-peak hours: the No. 90 from Bainbridge to Poulsbo and the No. 100 Winslow Shuttle.

Access service, which provides a door-to-door shuttle for those unable to ride fixed route service due to physical limitations, has its own proposed changes.

One would raise fares to $1.25 (up from the current $1) for those living within 3/4 of a mile of fixed bus routes – which Kitsap Transit is required to service by law – and $1.50 for those living outside the 3/4-mile band.

A second option is simply a flat increase across the board to $1.50, whose only merit might be in its simplicity Clauson said, but as most Access riders are regular users, they would come to know the new rates quickly.

In addition, a proposed fuel surcharge would increase cash fares by 25 cents a ride and $5 a month for passes if the price of gas is continuously above $1.75 a gallon for six months, expected in February 2006.

If gas prices dropped below $1.50 a gallon for six continuous months the surcharge would be recinded. In the case that prices are over $1.75 for two years continously, the surcharge would become permanent.

Other changes affect the worker/driver vans that service points in Kitsap, including the Bainbridge ferry terminal, to the Naval Shipyard. Fares would essentially be hiked from $25 a month for a pass, which would be eliminated, in favor of a $65 coupon book of 40-ride tickets

But Clauson said that as the federal government reimburses those workers’ commuting expenses to more than $65, the impact would be minimal except for contractors.

The vanpool program, currently 40-percent subsidized by Kitsap Transit because it is the least costly for the system to provide, would be reduced to a 20 percent subsidy calculated from the full costs.

Clauson said most rides are within a 30-mile radius and costs to passengers decrease with more passengers. The driver rides for free to compensate for the required driving and paperwork.

An eight-passenger van’s monthly cost to riders for a 30 mile commute would thus increase from $208.59 to $312 – an extra $15 per person per month, assuming seven passengers. Actual van costs are $390 a month.

The changes will be decided after a public hearing at 9:15 a.m. Dec. 20 at the Norm Dicks Government Center in Bremerton. If approved by the transit board, on which which Mayor Darlene Kordonowy serves, the fare hikes would go into effect Feb. 1, 2006.

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A fare hearing

Kitsap Transit holds public meetings on its proposed fare increases and future plans at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Bainbridge Commons on Brien Drive and 3-7 p.m. Nov. 4 at Poulsbo Fire Department, 911 NE Liberty Road. A copy of the proposed changes will be posted at www.kitsaptransit.org. Send comments from the website or to Kitsap Transit, 60 Washington Avenue, Suite 200, Bremerton, WA 98337.

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