December 26, 2012 - Effective Feb. 1, riders of the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) will be charged $1 and $2 fares, so the entity will only have to take one bus off the road next year, instead of two, due to a revenue shortage.
On Dec. 20, the NOTA board voted 8-0 to approve implementation of the new fare system.
"I think the local paper has done a good enough job (explaining) why we're doing it," said NOTA Vice Chairman Bill Dunn, who represents Oxford Township. "I think we're the only (transportation system) around that hasn't done it. I think (the riders) realize that we're not being meanies. We need this to be a vibrant option for them to get to and from wherever they want to go. I think it's very simple – we need the money."
NOTA will charge $1 each way for rides within Oxford, Addison and Orion townships.
Riders travelling to destinations outside the three townships, but still within NOTA's service area will be required to pay $2 each way.
Right now, NOTA's riders, which consist of senior citizens, disabled individuals and low-income residents from the three townships – receive transportation free of charge for medical appointments, jobs, grocery shopping, personal grooming and social activities.
Given each ride costs NOTA about $20, Board Member Bruce Pearson, who represents Addison Township, pointed out that authority is still "subsidizing" $18-$19 for each trip.
"I don't think that's unreasonable (to expect riders to pay $1 or $2)," he said.
The fares are designed to help make up for a revenue shortfall NOTA will experience next year when it receives $80,000 less in New Freedom Urban grant funds it receives from the federal government. This money is used to cover disabled riders.
Losing this $80,000 would have forced NOTA to take two of its buses off the road next year. Right now, it has 14 vehicles on the road each day, Monday through Friday.
The new $1/$2 fare system is expected to generate $50,837 in revenue, meaning NOTA will have to cut one bus beginning Feb. 1.
However, Dunn told this reporter that reduction might only be "temporary" depending on how the revenue situation shapes up in 2013.
"If we find ourselves with some extra money in the budget and we can put that bus back on the road, I think we'll do it," he said. "We didn't want to cut a bus, but right now, there really wasn't another good option."
NOTA Board Member Buck Cryderman, who represents Oxford Township, expressed his concern for people who are unable to afford the new fares.
"If a person doesn't have any money, you can't tell them they can't have a ride," he said. "Some people might not have the money for a ride. We can't tell them they can't have a ride."
To help these people, NOTA is going to establish some sort of assistance fund whereby individuals, organizations and companies can make donations to help cash-strapped riders. Cryderman offered to make the first $20 contribution from his own pocket.
Under the new fare system, each rider will be granted a $20 credit limit.
"That way if they're short on cash during the month, they can still ride," explained NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson.
Once they hit that $20 cap, they would have to pay all or a portion of it in order to continue receiving rides.
NOTA riders who are part of Training & Treatment Innovations, Inc. (TTI) would still ride for free to and from the organization's Oxford facilities. That's because TTI makes a $200,000 annual contribution to NOTA to cover its riders. TTI provides mental health services to those with psychiatric issues and/or developmental disabilities. TTI riders that want to go other places will have to pay NOTA's fares, Gustafson noted.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.