The Westmoreland County Transit Authority is soliciting comments on a proposed 33 percent fare increase that would go into effect in November -- if approved by its board of directors.
The base fare would rise from $1.50 to $2 under the proposal. A one-way commuter trip from Greensburg to Pittsburgh would rise from $4.50 to $6.
It would be the first increase in fares since February 2008.
"We need to keep up with rising costs," said executive director Larry Morris. "The costs for parts for our buses, to fuel, to insure are all going up. We're going to have a problem if we don't tackle the issue every couple of years. We don't want to get into a situation where we have to reduce service."
The authority will take comments by email on the proposed hike until Sept. 20, when it will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on the rate increase at its regular transit board meeting at the Greensburg Center, located in the parking garage along Bell Way, between Pittsburgh and West Otterman streets.
"There's been no decision made yet on the fare increase," Mr. Morris said. "The board wants to hear comments from the public."
But he noted even with the fare increase, its fares would be lower than most other regional bus carriers.
"The Port Authority's basic fares [in Allegheny County] are at $2.75," he said.
The Westmoreland County's basic fare covers travel in one zone. There are two zones in the county, and a third zone for outside the county. Riders with disabilities pay half-fare, and senior citizens with a Medicare card ride for free.
Mr. Morris said most daily commuters to Pittsburgh wouldn't pay the full fare increase because they normally purchase a monthly pass at a 20 percent discount, or a 10-trip pass with a 10 percent discount.
For example, the cost of a monthly pass for Greensburg commuters to Pittsburgh, with the fare increase, would be $192, up from the current $144.
"We know from time to time people are standing on the buses going to Pittsburgh," he said. "We don't want that, but it does happen sometimes."
He said the authority added four to five trips to Pittsburgh last year. Commuter routes to Downtown Pittsburgh include one that travels the Route 30 corridor, another from the Mt. Pleasant area, a bus that leaves from the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, one that travels from New Kensington and a local bus leaving Greensburg that stops in Oakland.
The authority's annual budget is about $5.8 million to provide bus service, of which fares are a small portion.
"Fares currently make up only 20 percent of the cost, and with the proposed fare increases, that would still only be 22 percent," Mr. Morris said.
"Most of the operational costs are subsidized from federal, state and local funds. And state subsidies are flat."
The authority gets about $2.5 million a year from state funds and $1.7 million in federal funds. The county chips in $175,000, and local municipalities served by its buses contribute about $60,000.
But demand for the authority's bus service is rising dramatically.
The authority experienced a 15 1/2 percent increase in ridership for the year ending June 30 over the previous year and has seen a steady increase in recent years, in part because of high gasoline prices.
"Ridership was up in almost every category this past year," Mr. Morris said. "Commuter traffic to Pittsburgh was up the most, but we saw increases in routes to Westmoreland County Community College, too. We bring people from other areas of the county -- Irwin or Latrobe -- to the Greensburg Center every two hours and college students can transfer to buses going to the campus [in Youngwood]."
Another popular bus travels Route 30 to Westmoreland Mall near Greensburg.
Mr. Morris said the authority has trouble keeping up with demand for commuter buses to Pittsburgh.
About 650 Westmoreland County commuters ride its buses to Allegheny County each day [for 1,300 one-way trips], or about half of the total daily ridership of 2,500 one-way trips.
Last year, the authority purchased nine large buses that hold 49 passengers each for those commuter routes. Each bus costs $500,000.
The new buses were meant to replace older buses, but some of those purchased in 1988 were kept in service because of the demand.
"We do not have enough of the big ones," Mr. Morris said, "but there is no money to buy any more. We usually use federal or state funds to purchase the buses, but there is no grant money we can find. We're still looking for other sources, though."
He said there would be no money to buy new buses with revenue from increased fares. The authority also hopes to soon announce the opening of a new park-n-ride site for Pittsburgh commuters at the old Charley J restaurant site along Route 30 in North Huntingdon Township.
"We have a plan in place, we are working to sign leases," Mr. Morris said.
About 250 spaces are now available at the Norwin Town Square site, he said, and the authority hopes to have that many spaces at the old Charley J restaurant site two miles west on Route 30. In addition, Mr. Morris said the authority had a smaller lot that will also be available.
A chart showing the proposed increases for different routes can be viewed on the authority's website. Residents can email comments about the proposed increase through the website, www.westmorelandtransit.com
Debra Duncan, freelance writer: email@example.com.