Source: Sherman Publications

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NOTA mulls ride fees

by CJ Carnacchio

December 19, 2012

The committee has decided how much to charge for rides, but will the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) Board of Directors agree and implement a fare system when it meets on Thursday, Dec. 20?

A special committee has proposed that NOTA begin charging $1 each way for rides within the three townships it services Oxford, Addison and Orion.

Riders travelling to destinations outside the three townships, but still within NOTA's service area would be charged $2 each way under the proposal.

These proposed fares are less than the $2 and $4 rides originally proposed by NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson.

"They didn't like the idea of a $2/$4 (fare)," she said. "They thought it would be easier to go with a lesser amount."

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.

The committee felt charging "a lesser amount would get (riders) used to" the idea of paying, "then maybe (NOTA could) adjust (the price) later on in the year," Gustafson said.

The proposed 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 if receives from the federal government. This money is used to cover disabled riders.

Losing this $80,000 could force 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.

Under the committee's proposal, folks who are part of Training & Treatment Innovations, Inc. (TTI) would still ride for free to and from the organization's Oxford facility known as Clubhouse Inspiration.

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.

"If TTI riders want to go other places, they have to pay (under the proposal)," Gustafson noted.

Gustafson explained the committee is proposing to give each rider a $20 credit limit. This way if a rider doesn't have the fare because they're running a little short on cash, they can still be transported. However, once they hit that $20 cap, they would have to pay all or a portion of it in order to continue utilizing the service, she said.

There was some discussion about seeking donors to help those riders who can't afford to pay the fare, Gustafson noted.

The committee also agreed that only those riders eligible for NOTA's services should be allowed to use them.

It opposed the idea of allowing any resident of the three townships to ride if they pay the fare, something originally proposed by Gustafson. "I was hoping to open it up a little bit, but their suggestion was not to do that at this time," she said.

If NOTA begins charging $1 and $2 fares to its existing ridership, Gustafson estimated that would generate close to $51,000 in revenue next year, which could keep one of the two buses facing elimination on the road.

It costs roughly $40,000 annually to keep one bus running its five-day-a-week routes.

As for the second bus, Gustafson's not sure how the NOTA board would handle it.

"The question's going to be (will) they decide to reduce a route to make up the difference," she said. "How do they want to deal with that shortfall?"

Seeking other sources of revenue or perhaps asking the townships to contribute more to NOTA were some of the ideas bandied about by the committee.

Next year, the townships will contribute a total of $205,000 to NOTA's operations, which makes up about 25 percent of its budget. Oxford will contribute $84,153, Addison will give $15,976 and Orion will pay $104,871.

Gustafson's $2/$4 fare proposal was projected to generate an additional $97,000 next year. That would make up for the $80,000 grant loss, keep both buses on the road and give NOTA an extra $17,000 to help offset rising costs such as repairs to aging vehicles and spikes in gasoline prices.