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Keeping Bus Fares Affordable

“Transit dependent.” That’s what Orange County officials call people whose only means of getting from one place to another is a public bus.

Without that bus, or the fare to board it, the world for the transit dependent shrinks. They become housebound or limited to wherever their legs can carry them. For many senior citizens, that’s not far. It can mean missing medical appointments, being unable to reach centers that offer free meals, recreation and the companionship of others, or even the inability to go to shopping centers.

Orange County’s older residents have been fortunate. Thanks to subsidies provided by the county Board of Supervisors, there are free rides during midday hours and reduced rates during the morning and evening peak riding periods for seniors who otherwise might remain stuck at home.

Their numbers are impressive: Every month 280,000 senior citizens board Orange County Transit District buses. That’s about one out of every 10 riders.

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That mobility, however, is now in jeopardy.

There is a possibility that the federal revenue-sharing program, through which the board began providing the bus subsidies nearly 12 years ago, may be cut off in 1987. The county agreement with the Transit District that provides $900,000 a year to subsidize senior citizen bus fares ends this June.

Although the continuation of federal revenue sharing is doubtful, there are nine bills before Congress seeking to extend it. And last Monday, county Transit District directors asked the county board to extend its senior citizen fare subsidy, offering three options that involve reduced amounts and a reallocation of carry-over funds to continue the present subsidy program through November.

The supervisors have supported the subsidy program for nearly 12 years. They should continue to do so. If they don’t, and no one else does, senior citizens will be asked to pay fares that many of them don’t have.

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In 1981, when bus fares were increased, overall ridership dropped about 7%, but senior citizen ridership fell 30%. It rose just as quickly when the county increased its subsidy to cover their fares. This time the drop could be even more dramatic--about half the senior citizens, according to transit district estimates, could be forced off the buses.

That makes the transit-dependent elderly even more dependent on the county board not to let that happen.


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