Beeline rate hike causes buzz

Glendale Beeline bus riders will see fares increase over the next two years, along with possible service adjustments, as city officials work to stem significant operating losses.

The first bump for Beeline fares to 75 cents from a quarter will kick in Oct. 1, and a final increase to $1.25 will take place July 1, 2013. Dial-A-Ride customers who currently pay $1 will be charged $1.25 and then $1.50 on the same timeline, according to the new rate structure approved by the City Council Tuesday on a 3 to 2 vote.

Senior rates and their qualifying ages will also be increased. But multi-day bus passes will be sold at discounted prices.

Council members said the price hike was necessary to keep the service from running out of operating cash.

“Unless we institute these fare increases, the Beeline system as we know it and all the benefits it gives to the community will vanish,” said Councilman Ara Najarian.

The fare increases follow drops in funding used to run the system, which mostly comes from a portion of sales taxes dedicated to transportation. Sales tax revenues have dwindled with the recession, throwing transportation costs out of line with available cash coming in, according to a city report.

About 10 people spoke out against the changes Tuesday night, saying the fare hikes were an unfair burden on bus riders at a time when they rely more heavily on inexpensive public transit.

“During this current crisis, we’ve seen a significant number of people that rely on family vehicles decrease and the number of students relying on the Beeline increase significantly,” said Cuauhtemoc Avila, director of educational services at Glendale Unified School District.

The higher fares, he added, could encourage students to skip school.

Resident Bob Getz said he believed the Beeline rate should be more than a quarter, but thought the planned increases were too high.

“I realize the Beeline needs additional revenues to continue operating effectively, but I seriously question the wisdom of increasing the fare by 400% over the next two years,” Getz said. “The Beeline should be trying to attract new riders, not chase them away.”

The council also approved reducing service on Route 3 between Glendale Community College and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but held off on eliminating Route 13 along Glenoaks Canyon until officials could bring back other options.

City officials will also explore the possibility of partnering with the school district to offer a student discount.

About 2.7 million riders use the Beeline system each year, 26% of whom are students, according to the city.

Councilmen Rafi Manoukian and Frank Quintero voted against the changes, arguing that it was unfair to raise fares during the protracted economic downturn.

“We’re during an economic crisis and we’re increasing the fees on those that are hurting the most?” Manoukian said. “I think we should hold off until we have a sense of what these next few years are going to be like.”

But city officials warned that without the changes, the impact could be far greater. The Beeline fare has not been increased since 1995. Changes may save the city $613,000 annually, according to a city report.

The average cost per passenger trip on the Beeline is $2.67 with fares covering just 6.4% of the cost. Dial-A-Ride’s average cost is $18.05 with fares offsetting 4.4% of the cost, according to a city report.

Public Works Director Steve Zurn said if the city didn’t increase the fares, the system had about two years left before running out of steam.

“If we were to hold the fares steady, you’re looking at a massive restructuring of the system,” Zurn said. “It would be literally a shadow of what we operate today.”

Mayor Laura Friedman, who said she rides the Beeline often, said she didn’t want to raise the fare, but it had to be done.

“We’re in a position here on council where we can’t win tonight,” she said.

***

Info Box:

Regular Beeline:

Now: 25 cents

Oct. 1: 75 cents

July 1, 2012: $1

July 1, 2013: $1.25

Senior Beeline:

Now: 15 cents

Oct. 1: 35 cents

July, 1, 2012: 50 cents

July 1, 2013: 65 cents

Age for discount: increase from 60 to 62

Dial-A-Ride:

Now: $1

Oct. 1: $1.25

July 1, 2013: $1.50

Age: increase from 60 to 65

Express route:

Now: $1

Oct. 1: $2
 
 

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