The Transit Authority of River City (TARC), Louisville’s government-owned bus company, announced today that it wants to raise fares and make service changes, including elimination of nine express routes, to offset a projected $4.6 million budget shortfall next fiscal year which begins July 1.
The changes are proposed at a time when ridership is increasing and TARC is improving service on some routes with targeted federal funding, TARC Executive Director J. Barry Barker said. TARC will continue using federal funds to provide 15-minute bus arrival service on two major routes - Broadway and Bardstown Road (Rt. #23) and Dixie and Preston Highways (Rt. #18). TARC is optimistic it will have additional targeted funding to expand frequent bus arrival times to Fourth Street (Rt. #4) next fiscal year, Barker said. The frequent and fare-free trolley service downtown will also continue with the help of contributions from business organizations, he said.
"We simply do not have the operating revenue to continue the level of service we now provide everywhere because of rising expenses for fuel, health care, pensions and other costs," Barker said. "The proposed changes are designed to keep as much service as possible to meet the greatest needs with a balanced budget."
The fare increases would take effect July 1 and changes to routes would begin Aug. 12, under the proposal. "We encourage public feedback on all the proposals and we will carefully consider comments before any decisions are final," Barker said.
TARC's Board of Directors earlier this week approved an upcoming annual budget including proposed fare increases and route changes. The Board is expected to take final action on a rate increase at a regular scheduled meeting on May 21 when TARC also expects to finalize schedule changes.
Under the proposal, one-way adult fare would increase from $1.50 to $1.75 and a monthly pass would increase from $42 to $50. The proposed rates are in line with public transportation fares charged in Indianapolis and Cincinnati where one-way adult fare is already $1.75. TARC has not raised its base fare since 2008.
Barker said the proposed route changes are based on an analysis of ridership trends and operating costs. TARC currently operates 46 routes in Jefferson, Bullitt and Oldham counties in Kentucky and Clark and Floyd counties in Indiana. The nine express routes proposed for elimination out of a total of 16 express routes have experienced low ridership and high operating costs, Barker said.
One other route, #74-Jeffersonville, would also be eliminated as part of a major restructuring of TARC service in Southern Indiana, under the proposed changes. The proposed Indiana service is designed to better address population and employment centers, with the level of overall service in Indiana unchanged, Barker said. The proposed service would extend to River Ridge Commerce Center in Eastern Clark County and the Veterans Parkway corridor between Jeffersonville and Clarksville. Routes will continue to cross the river but the Southern Indiana express routes are among those proposed for elimination.
"We are working hard to make our service as responsive to the needs as possible," Barker said, adding that ridership is up about 10 percent compared to last year and demand is expected to continue to grow as more people seek relief from rising gas prices.
Barker said downtown business organizations are continuing to contribute funds to offset costs relating to TARC's two fare-free and frequent trolley service routes which will continue to operate without changes. In the coming year, Barker noted, TARC will use federal grant funds to add a new electronic fare collection system and 16 new clean-diesel buses to the fleet.
"We're a vital part of the community and people depend on us everyday to get to work, school, medical appointments and to access what life has to offer. For many people, we are their lifeline. We are going to do everything we can to continue to provide the best service possible," Barker said.
Four years ago, TARC raised its “base fare” to $1.50. This figure is somewhat deceptive, however, since the “average cash fare,” or the average amount collected from each customer is $.52. Average cash fare is lower than the base fare due to discount programs and discounted rides. Local government employees, for example, ride for free.
TARC is a little vague about what percentage of its operating costs comes from passenger fares. On their web page , they claim: “About 2/3 of the money to operate TARC comes from local, state and federal tax revenue and about 1/3 comes from fares paid by our customers.” In last year’s annual report, however, they state: “Fare revenues are projected to be 15% of the overall revenue and cover approximately 15% of the total operating costs of the service in fiscal year 2012.” Our computation indicates the true percentage is closer to 12%.
With a little effort, one can scan the various annual reports from TARC and learn that the average number of passenger trips is 16 million per year. With a total operating budget of $67 million, this computes to just over $4 per ride. If TARC collects, as they claim, 52 cents average cash fare per ride, then the fares are generating a little over $8 million per year; or about 12% of the cost of operating the bus service. We do the math, so you don’t have to.
The bulk of TARC’s funds comes from working people; generated by a percentage of the Jefferson County Occupational License Fee, which is a 2.2% tax that employees in Jefferson County pay. The occupational license tax rate is applicable to the “net profits” of business entities, independent contractors and self-employed individuals, and to the gross employee compensation of employed individuals. The occupational tax is imposed for the “privilege” of engaging in a business, profession, occupation, or trade within Louisville Metro, Kentucky, regardless of legal residence of the person so engaged.
The folks who have this License Fee (tax) deducted from their paychecks are paying $3.48 for each bus ride, and the rider is paying 52 cents. But this sharing of the wealth is not sufficient to satisfy the people over at TARC. In their most recent “long range plan ,” the TARC planners call for a 100% increase in your bus taxes: “TARC anticipates that an increase in the occupational tax – from .2% to .4% of every dollar earned -- could generate approximately $40 million annually in local revenue dedicated to transit. This local investment in public transportation would provide TARC with stable, consistent funds for service expansion and provide the local matching funds that could leverage many sources of federal funds.”
So, even though a lot of folks are going to complain about paying a buck seventy-five for a bus ride, that’s still just a little less than half of what the ride really costs. Maybe the citizens and voters of Louisville should let the free market set the price: If a bus ride is really worth 4 bucks, then the riders should pay it. If it isn’t, they won’t.
In case you’re interested, TARC pays its beginning bus drivers $14.38 per hour. Experienced drivers can earn as much as $20.55 per hour. TARC Executive Director J. Barry Barker makes $170,763 annually.
Below are the proposed route changes and fare increases. Descriptions of the route changes can be found at www.ridetarc.org .
Routes proposed for elimination:
- #37x - Iroquois-Fairdale Express
- #38x - Deering Road Express
- #45x - Okolona Express
- # 49x - Westport Road Express
- #53x - Breckenridge Express
- #54x - Manslick Express
- #65x - Southern Indiana Express
- #68x - Prospect Express
- #73x - Charlestown Road Express
- #74 - Jeffersonville Park and Ride
Routes with proposed service adjustments:
- #18 - Preston St.-Camp Taylor
- #22 - Twenty-Second Street
- #29 - Eastern Parkway
- #31 - Middletown
- #50x - Dixie Express
- #55 - Westport Road
- #71 - Jeffersonville
- #72 - Clarksville-New Albany
New proposed route:
- Route #82 would operate exclusively in Southern Indiana, linking New Albany, Jeffersonville and Clarksville.
Proposed Rate Increases:
Current Rates Proposed Rates
Adult Cash Fare: $1.50 $1.75
Student Ages 6-17: $.75 $.80
Senior Citizens: $.75 $.80
Citizens w/disabilities: $.75 $.80
Circulators: $.50 $.75
TARC3: $2.50 $3.00
Monthly Pass: $42.00 $50.00
Express Passes: $80.00 $85.00
Express Fare: $2.50 $2.75
10-Ride Tickets: $12.50 $15.00
Six public meetings are scheduled from May 15-17; to allow for public input concerning the proposed TARC changes. Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodations, including the provision of information in an alternative format, will be provided for qualified individuals with disabilities upon request. Language translators will also be provided upon request. You can call 561-5112 or 561-5115 with specific information on your needs.
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