Easy Rider fares may rise

PARKERSBURG – The Mid-Ohio Valley Transit Authority is considering the first fare increase in nearly 30 years.

If the plan is approved, the base fare for the Easy Rider buses would go from 50 to 75 cents, with the half fare for seniors, students and those with disabilities increasing from a quarter to 35 cents. Thirty-day passes would rise by $5 to $25 for full fares and $15 for half fares. Day passes, currently $1.50, would cost $1.75, said Tim Thomas, general manager of the transit authority.

Before action is taken, the transit authority will hold a pair of public hearings and accept written comments for 30 days.

Fares were raised to the 50-cent level in 1986, Thomas said. Meanwhile, expenses for fuel, vehicles, personnel and other operational costs have risen.

“We run a tight ship when it comes to finances,” Thomas said. “We see potential issues down the road that we need to address.”

The transit authority is financially stable now, but that won’t last indefinitely as expenses are projected to continue increasing while federal funding is likely to head in the opposite direction, he said.

The bulk of the authority’s funding comes from levies in Parkersburg and Vienna, which are projected to generate $2.4 million in fiscal year 2015. The federal government is providing about $800,000.

Individual fares are conservatively projected to bring in $92,000, with monthly passes yielding $31,000 and day passes $9,000.

That leaves little left over to replace a bus, which costs about $140,000, Thomas said. The authority tries to get as much as it can out of a vehicle, but eventually replacements will be needed.

“We keep our buses in great shape,” Thomas said. “We run them a lot longer than transit systems in other parts of the state.”

The authority is also considering adding commuter routes in the evening to serve people who work after the regular service ends for the day. Thomas said the proposal is for three loops from the authority’s downtown facility and back – one to Vienna, one to south Parkersburg and one to North End.

Raising the rate to 75 cents would still leave the transit authority on the low end of the spectrum compared to other transit systems, Thomas said.

“Most transit systems, when I have done my research, are charging $1, 75 cents, $1.25,” he said. “We are the cheapest in the state.”

That’s why Parkersburg resident Stephanie Wilkes isn’t concerned about the increase.

“This is actually the cheapest I’ve ever seen it,” said Wilkes, who is from Huntington, where the Tri-State Transit Authority’s basic fare is $1, 31-day passes are $35 and day passes are $4. “I don’t think 75 cents is bad.”

Pettyville resident Robert Donahue, who pays a half fare, said an increase is “all right with me.”

“I’d like to see it go to half a dollar for a half fare,” he said.

Jon Skidmore, a resident of the Parkersburg Correctional Center in the former Holiday Inn just outside Parkersburg, said the price is fine where it is.

“I don’t like it, honestly,” he said of the proposed increase. “I think 50 cents is fair.”

Skidmore said it seems like more people are using the buses, especially considering how many from the work release center ride. He suspects that’s why an increase is being considered now.

Thomas said ridership numbers have nothing to do with the decision.

“It’s all about operating. If you’re going to provide a quality service, you’ve got to have extra funds to make it run,” he said.

The hearings are scheduled for 6 to 7 p.m. Monday in Vienna City Council chambers and 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday in the conference room at the transit authority offices at 520 Juliana St.

“We will take every comment and research it in-depth” and get answers back to people within the 30-day comment period, Thomas said.

After that, the proposal will be presented to the transit authority board, which will vote on it in a public meeting.