The 28 percent fare hike implemented this month in Rabbit Transit's paratransit program could be just the beginning of double-digit rate increases facing riders.
Another 20 percent to 25 percent hike is likely on the way if the state doesn't pass a transportation bill, said executive director Richard Farr.
"We need a transportation bill so we can operate in good repair. The $2.5 billion Senate bill is really half of what's needed, but it should help us get enough footing to move forward and sustain services," he said.
Who pays? Without the transportation bill, riders of the paratransit program--the company's curb-to-curb service option--will see the biggest increases. Those riders include seniors on fixed incomes and people with disabilities who require service in accessible vehicles.
"We're forced to ask the most needy among us to pay the most," Farr said.
The new round-trip fares that went into effect Oct. 1 range from $15.65 to $44.25, depending on distance. Those fees are largely satisfied by a subsidized
program that pays for seniors and the physically and mentally disabled to travel to medical appointments, senior centers, grocery stores and more.
But those riders are responsible for a co-pay, and those fares also increased 28 percent and range from $1.50 to $6.70 round trip.
Approximately 3,600 riders are affected by the rate changes, Farr said.
"Paying $1.50 might not sound like a big deal to many people, but it's a lot for seniors on fixed incomes," he said.
However, without state dollars coming in, Farr said there's no choice but to raise rates.
Aging fleet: The $600,000 subsidy the transit authority designates annually for the paratransit program now has to be spent on Rabbit Transit's aging buses that carry other riders, he said.
About 52 percent of the company's fleet is eligible for replacement, and that number will climb to 64 percent next year, Farr said.
"We need to buy buses. We have vehicles that have 900,000 miles on them," he said.
Buses have about a 12-year life span, Farr said.
"After 14 years, they're a money pit, and that's where we are with most of our fleet," he said.
That aging fleet carries riders on fixed routes, and they are also facing increases. In July, fares increased 10 cents, from $1.40 to $1.50. On July 1, it will increase to $1.55, and a year later it will be $1.60, Farr said.
A state transportation bill will help ease that burden, and it will also prevent Rabbit Transit from losing federal funds.
Relocation: The company has federal grants to help transition the fleet to clean fuels and to relocate from its headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue to the former Pfaltzgraff facility on Zarfoss Road in West Manchester Township.
Rabbit Transit has outgrown its base on Roosevelt Avenue. It has federal funds to help pay for the clean fuel and relocation, but they're matching grants. Without state funds to match them, the federal funds will have to be returned, Farr said.
"If we don't have a transportation bill, we have to return the federal funds, we won't be able to move, and I'm not sure how much longer we can maintain the operational burden of our old buses," he said. "We may have to begin looking for third-party providers."
-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.