To help offset the rising costs of fuel associated with their services the Utah Transit Authority's board of directors unanimously approved a fuel surcharge fee that will increase rider fares by 25 cents.
With the surcharge added, a one-way ticket for adult passengers will be $2, at least until the board reviews the surcharge fee again in October. Then, depending on the price of fuel, the cost per ticket could decrease or increase again to meet UTA's fueling needs.
The surcharge will raise approximately $200,000 in monthly funds through rider fares, helping to lower a $5 million deficit that UTA officials are predicting. That is primarily because of the current price of oil, which is hovering around $130 a barrel.
Terry Diehl, chair for UTA's planning and development, said that staff has managed to trim $2.7 million from the annual budget through things such as hiring delays and reductions in contract services. Yet even with these adjustments and the fuel surcharge, Diehl said, "we are still not made whole."
Members of the public spoke to the board before the vote voicing concerns that the fuel surcharge could limit accessibility for low-income individuals and the disabled because they are often living on fixed incomes and could be priced out of public transportation. Jerry Costly, a member of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, urged board members not to pass the surcharge until they could answer how low-income and disabled riders could be helped.
"It's going to be a lot harder for some to get around," Costly said. "Choices will have to be made between getting to the doctor, getting medications, or eating, and those are decisions people shouldn't have to make."
According to the American Public Transportation Association, the average cost for an adult single-trip base fare on light rail systems like TRAX is $1.55.
Adelia Brickerstaff, a Salt Lake County resident rides TRAX and the bus system on a daily basis to get between doctors' appointments, grocery shopping and the Salt Lake City Main Library. After hearing that rider fares had increased, Brickerstaff expressed some concern, because to afford her monthly pass for May she had to make adjustments with her budget.
Brickerstaff receives a monthly pass for UTA services at reduced fare because of her disability status. She will now have to wait and see if she can afford the June pass, after the increase.
"The increase of just $2 or $3 is a lot for someone who is living on a fixed income," Brickerstaff said. "I understand the need for increases. Everything is getting more expensive, but it makes things difficult."
Members of the board said they recognized and acknowledged the concerns voiced by the public. But they said it is the responsibility of the Utah Legislature to decide who receives subsidies and who does not.
"We're to the point where these rises in cost are falling on our riders," said Necia Christensen, a member of the board. "I support the idea of doing all we can to cut costs, but this has to be done, and this is the best way to do it."
Andre Dulaney, a senior at East High, doesn't think the fare increase is a good idea and will have to consider how the new rates will effect his riding habits. Dulaney said that because his mother usually has the car, TRAX is his primary means of transportation, but is nonetheless upset over the hikes."Gas is going up, too, and its been enough of a struggle getting around these days," Dulaney said. "I won't be using TRAX the same now. Two dollars each way every day is a lot of money."