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Monday, August 18, 2003



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KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
City transportation officials say the price of bus passes for adults and seniors make Honolulu one of the most cost-effective places to ride the bus. Bus fares last went up July 1, with adult individual fares rising to $1.75 from $1.50 and an adult monthly pass to $30 from $27. Driver Garrett Inkyo made a stop at Ala Moana Center yesterday on Route 12, Salt Lake.


City calls Honolulu
bus fares a bargain

Single rides, however, cost
more here than in other cities
with fleets of similar size


Honolulu has a higher single-ride bus fare than most other cities with comparable bus fleets.

But the price of bus passes for adults and seniors makes Honolulu one of the most cost-effective places to ride the bus, city transportation officials say.

"We've got one of the best bargains around," said city public transit chief Paul Steffens. "When you can get on a bus and go all the way around the island for $1.75, that's a pretty good deal."

San Diego also charges $1.75 for a single bus ride.

A proposal before the City Council would increase bus fare revenues by $6.8 million. Total bus revenues would go to $41.2 million from $34.4 million.

The bulk of the additional revenues, more than $4 million, would come from changes to senior citizen fares.

But a comparison of fares from nine other cities that Honolulu officials say have similar-size bus fleets shows that even with the increase, the cost to ride the bus in Honolulu would still wind up somewhere in the middle and in some cases still be a better deal than other places.

Bus fares last went up July 1 with adult individual fares rising to $1.75 from $1.50 and an adult monthly pass to $30 from $27.

The new fare proposal would raise the adult monthly bus pass to $37, raise the student monthly pass by $5, to $18.50, and raise the per-trip price for students to 85 cents from 75 cents.

The two-year $25 senior bus pass would be eliminated, but seniors would pay 25 cents a ride with a senior ID card costing $10 a year. Currently, seniors with bus passes get unlimited rides.

Bus riders on morning and afternoon express routes will also have to pay an extra 25 cents a ride under a new differential fare. A new 25-cent fee for transfers, which are currently free, would also go into effect.

The bus fare increase is designed to offset a reduction of 100,000 bus service hours. Cuts in bus service went into effect in June, and more severe cuts are slated for later this month.

The cuts will likely also result in layoffs, a sticking point in contract talks between Local 996 of the Teamsters Union, which represent 1,400 employees at TheBus, and Oahu Transit Services, the company that runs the city's bus system.

The union says it will strike a week from tomorrow if an agreement on a new contract is not reached. Negotiations are scheduled to resume next Monday.

There are concerns that those 65 and older would bear the brunt of a fare hike.

But there was also criticism pointed at the creation of the new express and transfer fares.

"Historically, it's been tradition on Oahu to keep the fares as low as you can," Steffens said. "You have so many people here who are totally transit-dependent, and you try and keep it very affordable for them."

Honolulu is like other cities across the nation seeking to beef up bus revenues.

"The primary reason is reduced revenue, reduced ridership, and a lot of it stems from 9/11. Ridership went down; it drives the revenues down. Because of that event, you have this insurance cost and the price of diesel going up," Steffens said.

A 25-cent increase to the adult single fares is being proposed in Salt Lake City, although it is not yet in effect. Officials there blame the economic downturn with lower-than-expected sales tax revenues and increased fuel costs.

San Diego implemented new fares July 1 to overcome a deficit of between $32 million and $37 million. The increase would also lessen the impact of service cuts.

Portland's bus fares go up next month, but the hikes were planned well ahead of time.

"Our philosophy is one of having small fare increases on a regular basis, which makes it easier for people to be able to kind of budget that into their budgets vs. waiting awhile and then having a large fare increase," said Bruce Solberg, spokesman for TriMet, Oregon's largest public transit agency, which covers the city of Portland.

The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District has had nickel fare increases every other year, he said.

"The reason we do that is to balance the fare increase with ridership growth. We found that small increases in fares are easier for people to handle and that only doing a small increase doesn't discourage ridership," Solberg said.

As a result, TriMet's ridership has gone up nearly every year for the past 15 years, he said. "The fare increases are to keep pace with inflation, rising cost of fuel, new services."

Steffens said it is sometimes difficult to do direct comparisons of bus fares from other cities because many cities have different, more complex fare systems that include different prices for express and zone routes.

Unlike other municipalities, those kinds of fare structures will not work here, he said.

"The problem here is, you really would not want to implement zone fares or mileage distance fares because in most cities the people with more income live way out in the suburbs, so you charge them because they take a bus farther to come into town," Steffens said.

"But here if we did that, people in Waianae and on the North Shore would be paying most of the cost, and it doesn't work well."

Steffens argues that compared with other cities, the cost of riding a bus here is still a better deal.

In Honolulu a bus pass holder would have to take 17 rides a month to equal the $30 cost of the pass, the lowest among the 10 cities compared.

A bus pass holder in Oakland would have to take 40 rides to equal the $60 cost of the monthly pass.

Even if the monthly pass here rises to $37, Honolulu will have the lowest number of trips with 21.

Steffens said it is likely that the Council will come up with changes to the current fare increase proposal. "When you look at fares, you can come up with a thousand permutations, and that (proposal) was just one going in."

And while some of the fare proposals are new to Honolulu -- like the 25 cent transfer and express fares -- other cities are already using them.

Oakland, St. Louis and San Antonio charge up to 25 cents per transfer.

And most cities also charge more for express runs.

Cities, in most cases, give children 6 to 18 years old a break in fares and will often tie their reduced rates to senior fares.

And seniors have both single-ride fares and monthly passes, something the Council is also signaling that it wants to see here.

"I think we have to give the seniors the option of a monthly pass or paying cash. That's just my personal feeling," Steffens said.



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