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Cache Valley buses are still free, CVTD board says

November 28th, 2015 Posted in Opinion

By Melanie Fenstermaker

LOGAN — City buses in Cache County will remain fare-free, the Cache Valley Transit District board of trustees has decided unanimously, with the stipulation that the zero-fare policy be reviewed every three to five years.

Getting around Cache Valley by bus — still free.

Getting around Cache Valley by bus — still free.

The board first considered charging bus fares in 2014 rather than proposing higher sales taxes to fund operations. In October, in response to public calls for fares instead of imposing a broad-based tax, the board held a public hearing, where 46 citizens spoke in favor of the zero-fare policy, according to a Cache Valley Transit District press release. Only three people spoke in favor of imposing a fare.

The board also conducted a survey of more than 400 registered voters, the press release said, and 62 percent said they “strongly or somewhat opposed charging a fare.”

Abolishing the zero-fare policy would have negative consequences, said board member Shaun Bushman. “We would lose money and we would lose riders,” he said. “The math just doesn’t add up.”

Charging fares would cost the bus system more than $25,000 for new fare machines, and a projected 30 percent ridership decrease, Bushman estimated.

Many board members said they would like to see the policy reviewed in the future.

“There’s a point at which it will be the right thing to do to charge a fare for the bus,” said board member Jeannie Simmonds, explaining why she chose to vote for the zero-fare policy. “Today I will say, ‘No.’ It’s not today. But I believe that we as a board have a responsibility to continue to look at it on a regular basis.”

Board member Ron Natali agreed that population growth may influence the board’s future zero-fare policy.

“There may come a time when a fare is reasonable,” he said. “As our population grows, down the road maybe, but not right now. I think you’ll lose more than you’ll gain.”

Any sales tax adjustments can only be made with approval from voters, said Doug Thompson, chair of the CVTD board of trustees, so there will be no immediate sales tax increases.

Many bus riders were pleased with the board’s decision.

“I think it’s great,” said Utah State University freshman Katie Frehner, who has no car and takes the city bus every few weeks to buy groceries. “Especially here for all the college students who don’t have cars, it’s nice to have free transportation.”

Idaho resident Angie Drury rides the bus from Preston to Logan four to or five times each week. She said the zero-fare policy is good because many citizens, including schoolchildren, use the buses. One downside to the policy, she said, is that some people abuse the privilege.

“I think there are pros and cons,” she said. “Younger kids just get on the bus and ride around. They pretty much take over the whole back of the bus, and the language and stuff they talk about it just awful. They just sit on there just to ride around with their friends. Charging a fee would eliminate some of that, but it would hurt those who really depend on that transportation.”

The board will review the zero-fare policy periodically when short-term transit plans are drawn up, or if the buses have financial need.

TP

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