A nickel here and a dime there will enable the Utah Transit Authority to continue operating its six-county public transit system, agency officials say.
UTA has proposed a five-cent increase in the adult, one-way bus and light-rail fare — from $1.35 to $1.40 — beginning as soon as April 1. It also wants to increase that fare another dime — to $1.50 — by January 2006.
The agency also has announced a series of public hearings, to be held in each of the six counties in February, to receive comment on the proposal.
Also proposed are more than a dozen other fare increases. The senior and disabled one-way fare would climb from 60 cents to 70 cents this year, then up to 75 cents in 2006. The one-way paratransit fare would increase from $2 to $2.10, then up to $2.25 next year.
UTA spokesman Justin Jones said the fare hike is needed because of an "overall increase in our operating costs, and this is to maintain fiscal integrity and avoid reductions in service."
He said a periodic increase in fare is not unusual for public transit agencies, "especially in the current climate of increased costs . . . (and considering) agencies around the nation are struggling and cutting back severely on their levels of service."
But while the increase may seem fairly moderate, not everyone believes it is fair or necessary.
"No, it isn't, for several reasons," said longtime UTA critic Michael Packard, a Sandy resident who works as a private construction safety consultant. "One, they promised fare increases of only 10 percent every three years — they've done that several times in several official documents — so they are having to come back to the well more often than promised."
Barbara Toomer, secretary of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, is outraged UTA is asking paratransit riders — people on fixed incomes — to pay more.
"We think that they are unconscionable," Toomer said of the proposed fare increases.
Jones said UTA can legally charge as much as twice the amount of a regular adult fare for paratransit services, but it has worked hard to keep those fares down.
"We could charge up to $3 in 2006 . . . but we're not," he said. "We're charging $2.10 (in 2005) and $2.25 (in 2006) because we are committed to serving this population as efficiently and economically as we can."
He said transit agencies in Chicago and North Carolina recently proposed doubling their paratransit fares, while UTA's proposed increase is much smaller by comparison.
But Toomer isn't impressed.
"We are not Chicago. We are not those people. We are here in Utah, where supposedly compassionate conservatism reigns supreme . . . she said. "As people with disabilities, we cannot afford public transportation."
This would be the third UTA fare increase in slightly more than three years, following a five-year period (1997-2002) without an increase.
Previous UTA rate hikes in regular adult fare:
January 1991, from 50 cents to 65 cents.
January 1995, from 65 cents to 75 cents.
August 1996, from 75 cents to 85 cents.
January 1997, from 85 cents to $1.
January 2002, from $1 to $1.25.
January 2004, from $1.25 to $1.35.
After public comments are received, the UTA Board of Directors could approve the fare hikes as soon as its Feb. 23 meeting, in which case the 2005 fare hikes would take effect April 1. The 2006 increase would then be effective Jan. 1 of next year.
But the UTA Board does not always approve fare hikes as proposed, Jones noted. In 2003, UTA's staff recommendation was to increase paratransit service by 50 cents, he said. But the board — after receiving and reviewing public comments — decided against any increase in paratransit fares and passed only a 10-cent increase in the standard adult fare, beginning in January 2004.
The public hearing schedule is as follows:
Tuesday, Feb. 1, 7 p.m., Provo City Library, 55 N. University Ave., Provo.
Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1 p.m., UTA offices, 3600 S. 700 West, Salt Lake City.
Wednesday, Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m., Brigham City Hall, 20 N. Main St., Brigham City.
Wednesday, Feb. 8, 6:30 p.m., Farmington City Hall, 130 N. Main St., Farmington.
Thursday, Feb. 10, 5:30 p.m., Tooele Library, 128 West Vine St., Tooele.
Tuesday, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m., Weber County Library, south branch, 1950 W. 4800 South, Roy.
Thursday, Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m., Salt Lake City Library, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.