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City Council discusses raising bus fares

BY EMILY HOERNER | JANUARY 25, 2011 7:10 AM

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Iowa City city councilors say they will continue to discuss methods for dealing with possible budget cuts for public transit.

Chris O’Brien, the director of the Iowa City Transit Service, pitched ideas and shared public-transit data at a City Council meeting Monday night. O’Brien stressed the need to improve efficiency without raising bus fares.

He said the department has used its new Bus on the Go program, which tracks real-time data of buses’ arrivals and predicted arrival times, to look at bus use.

He said the Transit Service has been reluctant to raise bus fares to help with possible state budget cuts. But because some city buses are outdated, he said, the agency will need money from somewhere.

“The funds just aren’t there to replace [buses],” O’Brien said.

The Transit Service doesn’t want to increase fares because people depend on the city buses to get to work and school, he said. Transit Services hasn’t increased its bus fares in 15 years.

City Councilor Connie Champion said she is also against the agency raising fares because it could decrease ridership, thus increasing pollution.

“We don’t have a pot of gold,” she said. “But ridership never pays for transit.”

Raising fares wasn’t the only transportation issue on the agenda.

Champion also noted 18,000 students use the city’s free shuttle service.

“We could charge 10 or 15 cents for the shuttle,” Councilor Mike Wright suggested at the meeting.
Champion pointed out that a fare would eliminate the point of a free shuttle.

The Transit Service has looked into options for making the city buses more efficient, such as modifying specific routes by combining some of its roughly 600 stops, O’Brien said.

The service may also take routes that are low-performing and tweak them in order to get more service out of low ridership buses, he said.

Eliminating stops could increase efficiency of the buses because some stops rarely have passengers, he said.

But Champion said elderly people who take the bus often may not be able to walk another block to reach a bus stop if one closer to them was eliminated.

“I can understand cutting bus stops,” said Champion. “But you have to be careful.”


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