Iowa City bus fare to see first hike since 1996

BY ALY BROWN | JUNE 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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As temperatures climbed above 100 degrees Thursday afternoon, noticeably uncomfortable locals awaited their air-conditioned transportation to arrive.

Although some Iowa City bus riders are equally uncomfortable with the small increase in bus fare starting July 1, many said they will continue to ride because it's their primary means of getting around town.

"There are many people like me who rely on the bus to get to class, work, or the grocery store," University of Iowa junior Kelly Loch said. "It is unfortunate that soon they will be charged $1 every time they go to these places."

The standard bus fare will increase from 75 cents to $1 on July 1.

Chris O'Brien, director of city transportation services, said the fare increase is the first since 1996, and it will help to accommodate rising fuel costs.

City officials estimate a $330,000 revenue increase from rider fees once the mandate is enacted, The Daily Iowan previously reported.

The Iowa City City Council unanimously approved the fare increase April 3. The hike is a step toward city officials' goal of having user fees cover 30 to 35 percent of operation costs, according to the proposal.

Councilor Connie Champion said the rate increase will help the Transportation Department achieve financial independence.

"We are trying to make the bus service independent of any money from our general fund, which is part of the increase," she said.

The ordinance follows a deal with the federal government in the subsidized construction of the Court Street Transportation Center.

"The deal with the federal government was we would not pay ourselves back that money," she said. "But all profits from the parking ramp would subsidize the business. It has been a great boost."

O'Brien said there has been "very little public reaction" to the increase, but people are curious.

"We have gotten a lot of questions about the specifics of the change," he said.

Signs detailing the hike has been posted on each bus and at the main Old Capitol Town Center interchange, according to the release.

The youth fare for riders kindergarten through 12th grade will increase to 75 cents.

Children under the age of 5 accompanied by an adult will still ride for free. The 24-hour pass will now cost $2, a 31-day pass will run $32, $27 for youth. A 10-ride pass will now run $8.50.

But students who rely on public transportation to get to and from class will have to pay $2 round trip, unless they purchase a bus pass.

Loch said she rides the bus to Kirkwood Community College for classes during the summer.

"I thought 75 cents was a lot, but I can't imagine having to pay $2 to get to and from class. That would add up so quickly," she said.

Even though the price is increasing, some bus riders say they will continue to use public transportation.

Tiffany Oepping, who was waiting for the bus at the Old Capitol mall interchange Thursday afternoon, said she is disappointed by the increase.

"I wish it was still the price before, but I'm going to keep riding the bus," she said.

Mayor Matt Hayek said the increase is "a long time coming," and it is reflective of the ever-increasing costs of transportation.

"If we weren't watching the fees and the actual costs, and the fees remained the same despite the ever-increasing costs, taxpayers would pay more and more to cover these costs," he said.

Champion said the new fares will ease the city budget, which is "already stretched the limit."

"I still think the bus fare is incredibly reasonable," she said. "But we have a lot of subsidized passes, so those that can't really afford it can get discounted or free passes. They aren't really affected."

Hayek said city fee-based operations have to maintain a balance of funding sources.

"You have got to pay for it somehow," he said. "And the $1 doesn't even begin to cover the costs of the operation."

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