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2/6/2013 2:27:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Link proposes fare reductions to increase ridership
Ian Dunn
Editor



Link Transit is hoping to increase ridership by way of adjustments to some of the fares. Link Marketing Director Eric West said boardings have decreased by about 100,000 between 2011 and 2012.

They know this is partially due to the fare increase in mid-2011 and partially due to the service reduction in October of 2011. Because the ridership is down, West said Link Transit will no longer receive about $175,000 as part of a federal incentive program called Small Transit Incentive Cities.

It is one of four incentives Link will be losing due to the drop in ridership.

"It's operating money we are losing. We're basically looking for a way to get back up to the levels we were in 2011 or higher," West said. "We figure a fare decrease of some magnitude might do it. The one zone fare going to 75 cents and perhaps a smaller drop in the two zone fare to maybe $2 or $2.25."

The hope is to attract new riders or get back more returning riders to get back to the 2011 levels. Two proposals have been floated out there for public comment, although to date not much public comment has been received. Mostly, the comments pertain to the proposed service reductions and route eliminations.

Proposal number one would be a great benefit to those commuting between Wenatchee to Leavenworth. This would reduce all fares to a flat $1 instead of the zone system in place. Currently, it costs $2.50 for a two zone trip between Wenatchee and Leavenworth.

"Those longer distance riders would be the biggest beneficiaries of that change. Unfortunately, that would also have the most severe revenue implications for us, probably look at a $300,000 to $400,000 per year loss if we went with something like that. I think that is unrecoverable."

Even if Link were to get the federal incentive back, that mostly likely would not make up the difference. West figures they would still lose $200,000, which would severely strain the budget.

Plus, it would amount to a fare increase for the one zone riders. It would be the same cost for someone going two miles or 30 miles, meaning Wenatchee area riders would, in a sense, be subsidizing the longer distance riders.

"That's not really equitable to a lot of people. The longer distance people say I'm going to be saving $40 or more. It's a benefit to them," he said. "On the other hand, the Wenatchee area folks feel like they are getting the short end of the stick."

In order for option one to pencil out, ridership would have to increase between 50 and 75 percent.

The second option would eliminate the trolley fares, and have 75 cent single zone fare and a flat fare of $2.50 for anyone boarding Route 20, 200, 21, 22 or 25 regardless of the distance of their trip. This would be a fare reduction for single zone riders on inner city buses.

For any outbound route, the fare would remain the same, thus eliminating some confusion for bus drivers, he said.

"What we've proposed, regardless of distance, you would pay the same. If you get on in Wenatchee and go to Olds Station, you would pay just as much as if someone was going to Cashmere and Leavenworth," West said. "It takes out the confusion over what it costs to ride the bus. There's no question."

It is hoped this would speed up the boarding process and speed up travel time. West said the bus may only make certain stops during the Wenatchee-Chelan or Wenatchee-Leavenworth runs, in order to speed up the travel time.

This option would have less of an impact on revenue. Still boardings would have to increase about 25 percent under this plan. Entiat riders will not like it since they would be forced to pay the two zone fare instead of the one zone fare they currently pay.

People paying cash to ride from Columbia Station to Wal Mart on the Route 22 bus would be paying the two zone fare rather than one zone.

"It impacts more people negatively than the other option," he said.

Buses could be branded as inner city buses to make it easier for riders to identify them, particularly since the outbound buses will cost more. West said it takes the guesswork out it. The hope is to attract new riders to the system by making it a little easier.

Option one greatly favors the Leavenworth commuters, but West doesn't think the ridership increase is doable, unless there is a gas price spike.

"It would probably out of reach. That option is probably not achievable," he said. "The revenue side is the kicker. That is the driver. If we could maintain revenue neutrality when when we throw the incentives into the mix, that's certainly something to consider. Even with the incentives, I don't think option one is achievable."

Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or editor@leavenworthecho.com.



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