Santa Rosa boosted bus fares and cut back service levels Tuesday in what officials called an unfortunate but necessary response to a $1 million budget gap.
The City Council unanimously agreed to a plan that raises the cash price of a bus fare from $1.25 to $1.50 Feb. 1, reduces the frequency of service mostly on lesser–used suburban routes, and tightens policies to crack down on transfer abuse.
Anita Winkler, the city's deputy director of transit, told the City Council her department took no pleasure in the changes, but said it had no other choice given the drops in sales tax the department has experienced.
“We are really in a pretty bad, stuck position right now of not having a lot of options,” Winkler said.
About 46 percent of the department's $14 million budget comes from sales taxes, she said.
When the recession hit, the department was able to plug the funding gaps using federal stimulus funds, but now that money is gone, she said.
Council members were sympathetic and praised the department for coming up with a reasonable solution to the problem.
“It really is an impossible and untenable, no-win situation in many ways,” Councilman Scott Bartley said.
But a number of riders were upset with the cost increases and route cutbacks, several of which would see the frequency drop from every 30 minutes to once an hour.
Abel Jeffcoat, a Bennett Valley resident who uses a wheelchair and takes the bus to his job at a telecommunications firm downtown, said he now faced a one-hour wait if he misses his bus or if there isn't room for his wheelchair on a bus.
“How can you increase fees and cut service?” Jeffcoat said before the council meeting.
He likened it to a restaurant that increased the cost of a hamburger by $1 and only served half a hamburger.
Jeffcoat attended one of the public hearings held on the changes, and said he got the impression they were a done deal and public input was just a formality that didn't change the recommendations.