BOARD OF DIRECTORS APPROVE CURRENT TRANSIT FARE STRUCTURE

On Friday, September 5, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District's Board of Directors voted to retain the current fare discounts structure and NOT implement "premium" fares on direct commute bus routes. Following is the staff report submitted to the Board for approval.

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To:               Finance-Auditing Committee/Committee of the Whole
                    Meeting of September 4, 2003

From:        Alan R. Zahradnik, Director of Planning
                   Joseph M. Wire, Auditor-Controller
                   Celia G. Kupersmith, General Manager

Subject:   APPROVE RETENTION OF CURRENT BUS FARES ON DIRECT

                   COMMUTER ROUTES PENDING DEVELOPMENT OF NEW FARE

                   PROGRAM IN SPRING 2004

Recommendation

The Finance-Auditing Committee recommends that the Board of Directors approve retention of current bus fares on direct commuter routes pending development of a new fare program for all bus services in spring 2004, based on the strong customer opposition to the proposal to raise fares in November coupled with the serious technical problems identified by further staff analysis of the initially proposed fare increase plan.

Background

The Districts financial plan calls for $145 million in expense reductions and $57 million in new and additional revenue generation over the next five years in order to achieve financial stability. The following actions have been taken to implement the financial plan:

  • Phase 1 service reductions saving nearly $2 million annually were implemented in March 2003.
  • Reductions in work force, saving over $2 million, were made in April 2003, with a second round to follow this fall.
  • In May 2003, the Board approved a 30 to 40 percent fare increase for commute ticket ferry riders and a 70 percent increase for weekday Larkspur ferry cash riders; bus fares were increased 5 percent effective July 1. Revenue generation was projected at over $1 million annually. Staff was directed to develop a comprehensive five-year fare program for July 1, 2004.
  • In July 2003, the Board approved a Phase 2 bus service reduction plan that is projected to reduce expenses by about $17 million per year starting in November 2003.

Following approval of the new route structure, the Finance-Auditing Committee directed staff to consider an increase in fares for premium commute bus routes for concurrent implementation in November 2003. This direction was provided in response to several comments at the service meetings regarding a willingness to pay more for direct service to San Francisco. Given the short timeframe, staff proposed elimination of the 20 percent discount provided to bus riders with purchase of books of 20 Ride Value tickets for riders on 16 direct commute bus routes. Ride Value tickets would be replaced by new convenience commuter ticket books priced at the full cash fare. This proposal was estimated to generate approximately $0.5 million annually. A public hearing was set for August 22, 2003, and notice was issued.

Staff received over 2,300 comments in 426 emails, 6 letters, 2 phone calls, and 4 petitions from riders, nearly all urging the District to not approve a fare increase. Thirteen persons testified against the proposal at the August 22 public hearing. In many cases, the comments referenced the fact that while more direct service is in place in the ultimate service plan approved for implementation in November, the service level is still less than is currently offered. Both the Bus Passengers Advisory Committee and the Ferry Passengers Advisory Committee sent letters advising against the fare increase proposal. Those who were supportive of the general concept of a premium fare increase suggested that more time be allowed for development of an alternate approach to eliminating discount ticket fares, so commuters would retain an incentive for using buses and tickets. Exhibit 1 (Excel spreadsheet) provides a tabulation of public comments received. Exhibit 2 provides a summary of key comments and staff responses.

Concurrent with the public comment period, staff reviewed the technical details involved with implementing a premium fare on commuter bus routes. Several concerns and hurdles with the original staff proposal were identified:

  • Proliferation of Tickets. There are currently 12 different ticket books for Ride Value bus, ferry commuter, and Marin local bus pre-paid fare programs. The proposed premium commuter bus fare ticket would require 6 more ticket books be printed, distributed, sold, and counted. Various staff working with transit ticket programs and outside ticket vendors have expressed significant concern that a greater number of ticket books would create unmanageable operational and administrative burdens. Safeway, the largest ticket book distributor, informed District staff that it will not add any more tickets to its local store inventory. This would present a serious problem for customers who use Safeway as their primary source of ticket books.
  • Complex fare collection procedures. The proposed premium ticket was intended for use only on direct commuter bus routes. Some customers, however, use shuttle routes to access the direct commuter routes. Ride Value tickets offering a 20 percent discount would still be valid for use on the shuttle routes. Shuttling to a commuter bus route could be handled by allowing a free transfer from the shuttle to the commuter bus so the customer would not have to pay a premium fare. But on the return trip, the premium fare would be charged first on the direct bus, and a credit would be due on the second, connecting shuttle bus. Bus operators do not handle cash directly and a refund process would require extensive documentation and staff time to implement.
  • Difficulty with inclusion in Translink. Initially, staff felt that long-term concerns about ticket proliferation and the complex fare collection system would be temporary due to the introduction of Translink throughout the bus system as scheduled for summer 2004. Translink is designed to replace ticket books and to accommodate premium fares on specified routes. During the current limited roll-out of TransLink, the new premium fare could not be included due to both timeline concerns and the expense of system programming necessary to allow this to be included with our current fare structure. Staff is working with TransLink to develop the necessary flexibility for long-term implementation of such a concept but short-term it is not available.

Based on the strong customer opposition to the proposal to raise fares in November coupled with the serious technical problems identified by further staff analysis of the proposed fare plan, staff is recommending that the Board of Directors approve retention of the current bus fares on direct commuter routes pending development of a new fare program for all bus services in spring 2004.

Fiscal Impact

Approval to continue with the current fares on direct commuter routes will result in no increase in fare revenue at this time.

Attachment 1 (Excel file)

Attachment 2