The price of a ride on a new fleet of buses equipped to carry the wheelchair-bound will be just 50 cents for a disabled passenger, but the cost to the Utah Transit Authority could be as much as $20.

About half the cost of operating the 15 scaled-down buses scheduled to go into service July 5 should be offset by payments from Medicaid and other federal programs that pick up the transportation costs for the disabled.UTA Operations Manager John Inglish told board members at their April 21 meeting that the Flextrans system, which is short for flexible transportation, will be much more expensive to operate than regular bus service.

A seat on a regular UTA bus also costs a passenger 50 cents. But the actual cost of transporting that passenger was $1.63 in March, according to the most recent figures released to the board.

If the Flextrans system operates at capacity, the cost per passenger would still be almost $4, based on the system's $1 million operating budget.

But Inglish said he expects the Flextrans system to carry only 300 passengers daily, about one-third of its capacity, raising the cost for each passenger to about $12.

And if even fewer passengers use the yet-untried system, which will allow disabled passengers access to three regular wheelchair-equipped bus lines as well as take them anywhere else in the city from the sidewalk outside their homes, the cost could rise to as much as $20.

UTA plans to pay for half of the $1 million operation cost. Inglish said the $500,000 set aside for operating the Flextrans represents the disabled community's share of the one-quarter of a cent sales tax UTA collects from the areas it serves.

The difference between the amount budgeted for operations and the actual cost of running the Flex-trans system will have to be made up through the 50-cent rider charge and transportation costs reimbursed by federal agencies. Otherwise, Inglish said, the service may have to be cut back.

Flextrans service will be available to residents who sign a registration form certifying that their disability prevents them from using regular bus service. Registration information will be available next month, Inglish said.