Westmoreland County Transit Authority board to vote on fare hike
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The six-member Westmoreland County Transit Authority board will vote Oct. 18 on a proposed fare increase that would go into effect Nov. 5.
Only five people attended a public hearing on the fare increase, held last week during the board's monthly meeting, said Larry Morris, authority executive director.
Mr. Morris said no decision has been made on the proposed 33 percent hike, which would increase the basic one-way fare from $1.50 to $2.
It would bring in an estimated $300,000 in additional revenue.
"Only two people spoke on the increase," said Mr. Morris, "and other comments dealt with issues such as late buses, or things like that."
But many riders have submitted written comments, through the authority's website or by filling out comment cards available on the authority's buses.
"We've probably gotten a total of 100 comments, by email, comment cards or through phone calls," he said.
"There have been some comments that the proposed increase is too big of a jump at one time," Mr. Morris said.
"And there are two ways of looking at this -- you can raise fares a little bit more often, or a bigger amount every few years.
"That's what the board will have to decide," he said. "The board will take all the comments we've received into consideration before they decide what to do."
He said riders can email comments through the authority's website.
It would be the first fare increase since 2008, but would keep the basic fare below the Port Authority of Allegheny County's $2.50 basic fare.
Under the proposed increase, a one-way trip from Greensburg to Pittsburgh, covering the county's two zones, would increase from $4.50 to $6.
Fares bring in only 20 percent of the transit agency's annual budget of about $5.8 million.
With the proposed increase, that figure would be 22 percent, Mr. Morris said.
The authority is a private and public partnership: It owns the buses, but the service is operated by a private firm, which hires the drivers.
The authority gets about $2.5 million a year from state funds and $1.7 million in federal funds, $175,000 from the county and about $60,000 from municipalities the buses serve.
But the costs of diesel fuel, parts for its buses and insurance continue to rise, and government funds have remained flat.
Ridership, however, is rising, he said. The authority experienced a 151/2 percent increase in riders for the year ending June 30 and has seen a steady increase in recent years.
Its commuter trips to Pittsburgh are some of the most popular, which include routes beginning at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe, Mount Pleasant, Murrysville, New Kensington and Greensburg.
About half of its riders, 650 county residents, travel to Pittsburgh each day, for 1,300 trips.
The authority bought nine new 49-passenger buses last year to help meet that demand and now has 25 of them on commuter routes.
The authority wants to add to its fleet of 43 buses but hasn't found state or federal grants for the buses, which cost $500,000 each.
The proposed fare increase would cover higher costs of operations but not new buses.
The authority will open a new, 300-vehicle park-n-ride lot Monday for Pittsburgh commuters along Route 30 in North Huntingdon.
Beside the Sheetz convenience store, it was the parking lot for the former Tomato Patch restaurant. A lot at the Norwin Towne Square is closing to commuters.
Riders can comment on the proposed fare increase through the authority's website, www.westmorelandtransit.com.
First Published September 27, 2012 5:28 am