The Utah Transit Authority is experiencing the same pain any driver feels at the gas pump. Except that UTA has an entire fleet of buses and new commuter trains that require motor fuel. It needs to raise fares to keep up with these escalating costs.
This is a tricky proposition. UTA directors need to encourage greater use of transit. Raising fares too much may discourage new riders from taking the bus, TRAX or commuter rail.
Special consideration must be given people with disabilities. Many live on meager, fixed incomes. For many, mass transit is their sole means of transportation. They rely on buses and trains to go to work and to doctors' appointments, to shop, attend worship services, meet with family members or otherwise participate in the community. Like other consumers, their incomes have been stretched by higher prices for food and consumer goods. But unlike other consumers, their incomes are stagnant.
UTA is considering fuel surcharges, or perhaps a series of surcharges depending upon how much fuel prices increase in the future. To cut its costs by $2.7 million, UTA has instituted hiring delays, eliminated certain contract services and restricted travel, among other cost-savings measures. Still, it is not enough to offset the rise in fuel prices and a projected $5 million deficit by the end of the year.
It is not unreasonable for UTA to raise fares to address this cost increase. It would make the most sense to raise fares among monthly pass holders and other regular riders who do not qualify for government assistance. Many low-income riders are in the same boat as people with disabilities. There is little, if any, give in their household budgets to absorb fare increases. Like riders with disabilities, many of these individuals have no other means of transportation or they are extremely burdened by increased fuel costs.
For other transit riders, however, a modest increase in fares will not place the service out of reach. It remains more economical than driving, paying for parking and routine vehicle maintenance and licensing fees.
Unfortunately, rising fuel prices are affecting many aspects of private life and public amenities. UTA is especially impacted, perhaps because it is in the public transportation business. A fuel surcharge or even surcharges appears to be necessary. UTA directors need to exercise great care in determining how these increases will be applied.