SALT LAKE CITY — The Disabled Rights Action Committee decried a Utah Transit Authority proposal to increase fares for paratransit riders by 60 percent by 2013.
Fares would increase $2.75 to $4 for a one-way trip for the specialized transportation under a proposal approved by the UTA's Finance and Operations Committee on Wednesday. The UTA Board of Trustees will vote on a full schedule of fare changes March 23. General passes and fares would increase 25 percent by 2013 under the proposal.
DRAC members said the fare increase would force users — largely people on Social Security or disability incomes who have not received increases for the past three years — to make difficult choices.
"I don't see any of them being able to go on more than three trips a month if this goes in," said Cindy Stephens, DRAC's associate executive director at a news conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill morning. Stephens said many of the people who rely on the service have monthly incomes ranging from $539 to about $900 a month.
A fare increase means some people will have to choose between going to physician appointments, purchasing food or refilling prescriptions, she said.
DRAC's executive director Jerry Costley said all Utahns may face higher taxes on food. "Now were talking about not being able to get to the grocery store to purchase the food," he said.
UTA officials said they had held a number of conversations with organizations representing people with disabilities about the need to increase Paratransit fares, which has been discussed since 2008, said Andrea Packer, UTA chief communications and customer focus officer. "At the time, we held off on fare increases in response to the disabled community," she said.
However, it was made clear that in the future, the agency needed to capture a greater share of the service's costs. A one-way trip costs about $35. Under federal law, UTA can charge up to two times the general one-way fare, which is currently $2.25.
"We are far below the double fare we could be charging," Packer said, explaining that people who qualify for Paratransit serve can also ride all UTA fixed routes for free. Many public transportation riders with disabilities also qualify for federal subsidies that defray their out-of-pocket costs for public transportation, she said.
Laviena Peacock, who relies on the curb-to-curb transit service, said she simply cannot afford $8 for a round trip.
"It would be a hardship," she said during the DRAC news conference. "It would be a heartbreak."
As for the general fare increases, UTA General Manager Michael Allegra said the proposed fare schedule was devised before the price of fuel had increased 40 cents a gallon.
"We're still a good value, and we're not outrageous in our increases," Allegra said.
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